Last week, the message “Bridle Your Tongue” laid out an excellent introduction to the idea of “good works.” This morning I’d like to build on that base. As pointed out:
- We are saved by grace, through faith (Ephesians 2:8)
- We are justified by faith, not by “works of the law” (Romans 3:28)
- Yet judgment is made on the basis of deeds (Matthew 12:37; 25:31–46; Jude 1:15)
- And the Apostle James insists works accompanies faith, and is not found without it (James 2:17–22)
- Salvation consists of an on-going, dynamic relationship between God and man.
Today, we’re going to examine how we come to produce the good works that God is looking for. To do that, we’re going to go beyond the narrow, transactional perspective that says, “All I care about is scraping through the judgment by the skin of my teeth,” and go on towards a mature view that says, “I want to know the peace, joy and love of God in my life now.”
If we’re to trace the very many ways God works and walks with people, then let’s walk through some of the significant moments in a person’s relationship with God.
We must begin by observing that God is the One who makes the first move. God is the One who calls (Romans 8:30). And if we do not harden our hearts, then we will hear God’s call.
Do you ever think, “How do I find God?” or “I wish I could reach out and find God!” A lot of people think that they need to search to find Him. Yet it is God who searches and finds us (Luke 15:4).
The author C.S. Lewis once observed:
“Amiable agnostics will talk cheerfully about ‘man’s search for God.’ To me … they might as well have talked about the mouse’s search for the cat” (Lewis, Surprised by Joy).
God calls people in many different ways, using a wide variety of methods.
- For some, hearing the gospel being preached stirs a faith response (Romans 10:17)
- Other people have received the word of God through a direct vision from Jesus (Acts 9:1–18).
- Some people have been agnostics and have come to faith in God through philosophical reasoning. We can be sure that anyone coming to faith in God through reason has been experiencing God’s call, for natural man cannot understand the things of God (1 Corinthians 2:14).
- Others hear of God’s love, grace, mercy, goodness, and power only through music.
- Some have been converted due to the kindness of strangers.
- A leftist lesbian professor was converted, in part, because some kind Christians she knew didn’t invite her to church (see her story).
- A few weeks ago, Br. Steve shared with me the story of a Russian literary professor, Ivan Panin, who lived in the late nineteenth century. This man was an agnostic who was touring the United States giving lectures on Russian literature. He believed in existential nihilism, which is a philosophy that declares that life is devoid of meaning. One day, he was reading John 1:1, and noticed what he considered a strange anomaly. That sent him searching the Bible to see if this apparent anomaly could be found anywhere else. As he searched, he found that there were an incredible number of numerical correspondences. The sheer volume of numerical correspondences convinced him that scripture is of supernatural origin, and he spent the next 50 years of his life demonstrating that Biblical Numerics proves the supernatural origin of scripture.
- And many other people have fallen deeply in love with God, but just don’t know when the finger of God first touched their soul.
Because there are many, many ways through which God calls people to respond in faith to Jesus Christ. So, be attentive and listen for God’s call.
Having heard the word of God call forth faith from our hearts, when we hear God’s voice, what we hear is God asking for a wholesale transformation of our mind (Mark 1:15, metanoia).
We’ve been living life in a certain way. We might have been:
- Searching for significance through achievements, power or position
- Searching for peace through our work
- Striving for love in all the wrong places
- Desiring vengeance on our enemies
- Cowering into ourselves for fear of being hurt
- Dragging others down, so that, by being pulled down to a level below us, we can ease the feeling of our own unworthiness
There are many, many ways in which the natural person does life. For every one of these ways of living life, God calls for a wholesale transformation of our mind (Romans 12:2). God calls us to be transformed by accepting God’s perspective on the world.
- To see that pursuing power is not the way to win the war against evil. Instead, evil is defeated by laying down our rights and becoming a servant of all (Philippians 2:6).
- To learn to embrace mercy, while ceding all of our rights to seek for vengeance (Romans 12:19).
- To learn that nothing in us can be considered right or worthy, but to rely completely on the righteousness of God in Jesus Christ (Romans 3:21, 22).
- To stop seeking to be self-sufficient, but instead to depend on every word that comes from the mouth of God (Matthew 4:4).
God has a way of doing life that is different from ours. We are to abandon our way of doing life, and adopt His way. To do that requires a thorough internal transformation—a new creation—that can only be accomplished by the power of God (2 Corinthians 5:17).
When we accept the need for internal transformation, God calls us to baptism in Jesus.
The first meaning of baptism is that we say, “I am willing to die. There is nothing good in me. I lay down my rights. I lay down my need to be someone to be something. I lay down my addictions, and all the cravings of the flesh. I lay down my life.”
The second meaning of baptism is that we say, “My life is renewed in Jesus Christ. I am made alive in Him. He is my life. He is all in all in me.”
Baptism is Immersion
Now, I want us all to be clear on what baptism actually means. Baptism is not the act of dipping something in water.
For example, I could take a rubber ducky, and dip it in water, and when I bring it up, the water just runs off. It’s like water off a duck’s back. Water off a duck’s back is not baptism; it’s dipping.
Now, I could take a sponge [the sponge is wrapped in plastic]. This sponge represents the human heart. And if I place this sponge in the water, and bring it up, the water runs off just like the duck. There’s no difference.
The problem is this heart has a veil [plastic wrap] on it. The veil is hardened against God’s transformation. It has a layer of dead flesh around it. What it needs is circumcision—it needs the dead fleshly covering to be removed from it. It needs to be unveiled.
[Remove the plastic wrap from the sponge.] So, when I now place this heart in the water, it is now immersed in water. The water penetrates to the deepest part of the heart, filling the heart and changing it. So when I draw it out, the heart is changed; it is no longer the same. And look [hold up the sponge and squeeze], out from this heart flows springs of living water (John 7:38).
Baptism doesn’t mean “to dip,” it means “to immerse”. And that which is immersed is permanently changed. And so we now understand what Paul is saying when he writes,
“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by the faithfulness of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).
We are His workmanship
So, we find ourselves in this new life immersed in the Spirit of Jesus (Romans 8:9). Jesus says He will always be with us (Matthew 28:20), that He and His Father will come to us and they will be with us (John 14:18, 23), and that the Father’s Spirit strengthens our inner being so that Christ may dwell in our hearts by faith (Ephesians 3:16, 17). It is our joy to experience the Presence of God.
And when we faithfully respond, our mind is renewed and transformed.
“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5).
And when it is the mind of Christ in us, then …
“It is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).
And when God is willing and working within us, then it is apparent that we ourselves are the result of God’s workmanship:
“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).
So, the will to do good flows from the mind of Christ, and the works we carry out are prepared beforehand by God, and it is by faith that we walk the path that God set before us.
“Whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God” (John 3:21).
Therefore, the “good works” that form the basis for the judgment is a search for the “works carried out in God” that flow from the person of faith. We daren’t claim them as our own: they are the result of the Spirit of Christ living in and moving us.
How does God will and work in us?
Scripture presents many pictures of how God works in us.
- It presents Christ as a refiner of silver (Zechariah 13:9). You need to really picture this to get what this symbol is talking about. A refiner of silver bends over his pot of molten silver, and burns out of it the impurities. When the impurities are gone, and he’s left with pure silver, then the refiner can see his face reflected in the silver. You are that silver. You will reflect the image of Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18).
- It describes the Father as a gardener, pruning us of unprofitable growth (John 15:2).
- It describes Christ as a winnower, separating our profitable kernels of wheat from our unprofitable chaff (Matthew 3:12).
- It presents us as the very soil in which the gospel is planted (Matthew 13:1–9). If we extend the scriptural metaphor a little further: Without fertiliser, we’re not that productive. But if our soil is fertilised with a once dead man’s blood and bones, then the gospel bears fruit, producing an abundant crop.
Scripture has many ways of describing God’s work in us, but here’s a new one.
When you’re tuning a piano with a tuning fork, you strike the tuning fork while playing a note on the piano. When you hear a discrepancy between the tuning fork and the sound of the piano, you know an adjustment needs to be made. So, when we are immersed in the Spirit of Jesus, any temptations of the flesh create a note that is out of tune with the sound of the spirit. We hear this discrepancy within our conscience. When our conscience calls to us, revealing the discrepancy, and we do not harden our hearts, then we are led by Jesus’ Spirit and follow His will.
Now when our string is tuned to the same frequency as our Master’s string, and you place them side-by-side, something beautiful happens. As our Master’s string is struck, it vibrates, and our string sympathetically reverberates. You are this second string. When you are tuned to God’s frequency, then you see things through God’s eyes, your feet take you on the path God wills you to walk, and your hands do the works of God.
Jesus is the great re-tuner. For Jesus promises to transform us, to transform our minds, our hearts, and our will. He promises us treasure that is refined by fire, white clothes to cover our nakedness, and eye salve that we may see (Revelation 3:18). When we are tuned to His frequency, we vibrate in sympathy with Him. And God will do this (Isaiah 25:9). For God is the great renovator of the soul (John 15:2).
God is the great re-creator (2 Corinthians 5:17). God has taken hold of you to retune you to His frequency (1 John 3:2). Today, if you hear His note, do not dampen your strings, but allow yourself to vibrate in sympathy with Him (Hebrews 3:15). For God promises to continue to tune you until the day of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:6), to deliver you as a freshly sounding note, for the praise of the glory of God in Jesus Christ (Psalm 40:3; Revelation 5:9).
So, I encourage you to build on your faith. Do what you can to be the new creation which is sympathetically tuned to do the will and the works of God.
- If you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts, but surrender fully to Him.
- Place your full faith and confidence in the faithfulness of God. It is not you who need to be good—in Jesus Christ you are flawless. Your job is to be willing to die to self, allowing Christ to live in you.
- When you read and study scripture, look closely for God’s perspective. Always seek to see things through God’s eyes. Then closely examine yourself. Ensure that your heart, mind and soul, that your worldview, motives and actions flow from God. Live life God’s way. And if your life is not lived in God’s way, then turn around, change course, and follow in His steps.
- As you are going about your life, pay close attention to your conscience. Your conscience is the part of you most sensitive to God’s vibrations. Pay attention to your conscience, and act on it. For that is the way of faith (contra Romans 14:23).
- And be careful of the worldly influences that threaten to de-tune you. The love of life and the lust of the world want to seduce you. Let us not gaze at worldly spectacles; instead, let us be faithful to God, setting our minds on the things above (Colossians 3:1, 2).
- People who fully trust God follow this advice:
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is here, do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:4–9).
This message based on Philippians 1:6 and 2:13.