God’s Persevering Grace

(The Rev. Dr. Curtis Crenshaw, Th.D.)

“He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6 NKJ)

Several years ago I had a discussion with someone who was ready to give up on the Christian life, saying it was too difficult, that it seemed that the Triune God did not care. In our frenetic speed of life,[1] we sometimes forget that God is persevering with us more than we are with Him. God finishes what He begins, unlike us. If He did not, we would never make it to heaven. As humans, you and I are always beginning things that we never seem to find time to finish. But consider God’s matchless grace in Philippians 1:6, that what He begins He finishes: “He who has begun a good work in you will complete it at the day of Jesus Christ.”

Look at the butterfly wing—was it begun and not finished? Look at the woodpecker—was its specialized bill not finished? Look at the atom—was it a partial work? Look at the moon—is it a work abandoned? Are the tides out of control? Look at yourself, the apex of God’s creation—will you be thrown away after the work was begun? God works by a plan. He begins a work of grace in us, not as an experiment to see if we and He can make it together, but that He may complete His design in and for us. Can you imagine an architect who begins a project without plans, just going along to see how things work out? (Of course, non-Christians have no future except the judgment. Our appointment would be the same if God the Father had not chosen us to be His: Eph. 1:3-4.).

If the Triune God began a work in us but did not finish it, who would lose more, God or us? It would definitely be God, for then He would be known as a failure. Others could say that God just could not handle it, that He gave it His best effort but finally gave up on us, that we were just too much for Him, that our sins were more than He could overcome in us. But that would nullify the cross, that God the Father could not bring justice and mercy together, yet that is precisely what Romans 3:26 says He did; namely, that He was both just in His judgment and the justifier of sinners:

“to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”

That is my favorite verse, and quite contrary to Islam. The verse says that God the Father was just in putting to death His Son but also quite merciful toward us. In other words, we deserved eternal death for our sins, but the Father is just so He offered One to take that judgment, even JESUS, the final solution for us, who volunteered to be our substitute. Moreover, the Father is merciful so He extended His mercy to us through the Son. Thus at the cross, God was both just and the justifier of us sinners. If He failed in this endeavor, He would not be God.

Islam, on the other hand, has a god who can’t be both just and justifier. Muslims say Allah does not require payment to show mercy but just hands out mercy. Thus, their god is compromised. But the Triune God, in the same act, the cross, demonstrates both justice and justification (mercy). My only hope in life and in death is the cross of the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me.

Moreover, according to Paul here in Philippians 1:6, who initiated the work in you, you or God? God! And if God did, will He decide against it later? As one man expressed it in a hymn:

  • “I sought the Lord, and afterward I knew
  • “He moved my soul to seek Him, seeking me;
  • “It was not I that found [Thee], O Savior true;
  • “No, I was found [by] Thee.”

And is it not true that we love Him because He first loved us?

“We love Him because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19 NKJ).

Notice, by the way, that most modern translations of this verse leave out the word “Him.” It is true of course that we cannot love anything without Him, but that is not the point John is making. Rather, he wants us to know that our love for the Triune God was not first, was not the cause of Him reciprocating His love back to us. No, indeed, God’s love initiates and we reciprocate. We are not masters of the sovereign King’s grace to use as we wish; we do not make Him “fall in love” (I hate that expression) with us because we are so lovely, and He could not help Himself. Our loveliness did not overwhelm Him, because we have none.  His love and grace are initial and ours responsive, for it was He who began the work in us, not we in Him!

And how do we know that God has begun a work in us? We can tell by our obedience, by the love we have for God, mankind, God’s Bible, by our faithful attendance at worship on the Lord’s Day, reading His word, the Bible, partaking of Holy Communion, praying, and so on. Faith, hope, and love will be the hallmarks of our lives.

Let me give you a good example. Years ago I led a man to Christ who was only 18 years old. He mouthed some words, good words, but I wondered how committed he was to them. He was very much in love with a young lady, but she was not a Christian. When I told him and showed him from the Bible that God did not allow a believer to marry an unbeliever, he paused for a long time and said with tears in his eyes: “If that’s what God says, that’s what I’ll do.” His life has revealed the same commitment for decades. More than anything else, one’s obedience to God reveals whether there has been true conversion or not, but our obedience does not merit our acceptance with God:

Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, “I know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him (1 John 2:3-4 NKJ).

And do you know why it is God who first seeks us, and why we are responsive to Him, why it is that He saves us in this way? One reason is so that we cannot boast (see Ephesians 2:8-10). We’ll never be able to say that God did 99%, but if it were not for the 1% I did, I would never have made it to heaven.

Let us rejoice that for all those who trust in the death and righteousness of Christ for forgiveness of sins, our Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, has taken charge of our salvation, that our sins are forgiven, that His Name and reputation are on the line, and that by His persevering grace, we shall make it home! AMEN.

PS:

(Just for the record, the word “him” is widely supported in many—if not the majority—of manuscripts. Here are some of those manuscripts: ‎‎  א 048 33 81 436 1067 Augustine Byz Lect etc. Here is why “Him” was left out of most modern versions as stated by modern critics of our NT: “Feeling the need of an accusative object after the verb . . . some copyists added Him.” How, in the name of all that is rational, can one get inside a copyist head to know he would “feel”? I call that subjective nonsense. Moreover, I can’t imagine why we would give our New Testament to unbelievers to determine what should compose it. As the 39 Articles states, “the Church [is] a witness and a keeper of Holy Writ”, Article XX). The Church, not unbelievers, should be in charge of our most precious deposit, the written word of God. Part of the problem today with so many versions is that we’ve given our most precious heritage to those who hate the Author. Publishing houses who translate and sell Bibles for money have control over the text and its translation, but that is the Church’s bailiwick. Barth Ehrman, who writes a lot in the area of textual criticism (what should be in the New Testament Greek) is an avowed atheist. I’ve read his books closely; they are full of subjective theories as the one I just quoted. More on this to come.)

 

[1] Our lack of time for anything significant is part of God’s judgment. In our refusal to obey His Sabbath, He is taking away time by rubbing our noses in so many details that we don’t have time for family or for Him. We run around doing nothing and think we are accomplishing something. We are self-deceived.

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