By Rev. Brian Wilkie
Pastor of St. Andrew's Christian Community
I want to take a moment before we begin today to thank our listeners who came to encourage and support us at the event recently held in Bethany Baptist Church; I want to thank you so much for your support and encouragement throughout the year. Remember you can always visit our website, GoodNewsChristianMinistries.ca, for materials to encourage and support you in your Christian walk.
Today our theme is restoration. I'm going to read to you from God's word in Paul's letter to the Philippians chapter 2 verses 1 to 13.
Now I picture the theme this week, the idea of restoration, that we are being restored by God, that we're in a process of being made holy, made pure in our thinking and acting, and in our speaking; in every way being established in the likeness of Christ, being brought up into full maturity in Christ. I'm sure that we all desire that. Even before we became Christians God may have set a desire in our hearts to do better, to live a better life, to be set free from some of the things that entangle us. To be transformed by the renewing of God is a wonderful goal and it's a hope that our hearts are set on. We want to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, as Paul speaks of in the book of Romans. He says this is our spiritual worship to not be conformed to the world anymore, but to be transformed by God. As we read the book of Galatians and we hear in chapter 5 about what the Spirit can produce in God's people: love joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control, we long to be filled with these fruit, to be producing these fruit in abundance in our lives. For to have even that last fruit - of self-control - that we might no longer be caught in the bind that Paul so aptly describes in Scripture, when he says "I do what I do not want to do and what I want to do I do not do. There seems to be a war going on within me." Doesn't your spirit say that sometimes? Don't you find yourself echoing that in your prayers, confessing to God that you have been trying but you haven't been succeeding, or that you haven't really been trying that hard even though you hoped to give it your best shot? In this desire to be transformed we find ourselves confronted by different voices: other Christians telling us to do this or to do that. Some of them are saying, let go relax, let God do it; other voices are urging us to apply ourselves to spiritual disciplines of prayer, Scripture reading, fasting, obedience and service; to spend more time in worship, to spend more time in the word. Voices telling us that we have to work hard at our salvation and other voices saying you're working too hard. You need to relax. Don't we find ourselves surrounded by a whole bunch of contradictory or seemingly contradictory indications? And yet it is not only our fellow Christians that give us these two directions in the quest for transformation. We find these same voices in Scripture. We find the word of God telling us at one time to relax and let God do it, and at another time to apply ourselves to obedience and to meditation on God's word. We find ourselves sometimes waiting for God to change us, and at other times we find ourselves burning out in an effort to change ourselves. How shall we be transformed? When we shall we be transformed? and whose work is it anyway?
In the Scripture that we just heard Paul seems to put a lot of onus on us as Christians, telling us to consider Christ, take a look at the attitude that was in him, and let this same attitude be in you. Be filled with the same love change from selfish conceit to humility look not only to our own interests, but look to the interests of others. He ends with this astonishing phrase "continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose." Paul really does indicate here that there's something for us to do in participating in the work that God is doing in us. What is it and how shall we do it? What should be our attitude towards the transforming work Holy Spirit is doing in our lives? Before we continue this message, let's take a few moments to listen to Jody Cross as he sings Take My Voice from his album Forward to Forever.
The theme I'm taking up today, of restoration, and the dual nature of that restoration as a work of God and the work that we participate in, is not just a theoretical exercise as I seek to be renewed by God's Spirit, I find myself struggling with these two poles of our effort and God's work. The Scripture also deals with these two poles speaking about the free gift of God. Free gifts: it isn't just the free gift of salvation, but the work that God does in us by the power of his Spirit that we just can't do as we continue in this walk. And yet at the same time Scripture is filled with commands and invitations to participate. God gives us things to do.
Is this a confused realm for us? I do find some people not making progress in the spiritual life is as they come to church and receive pastoral care. Some of them have the problem that they are expecting some kind of bolt from the blue to solve their problems, while others, rather than waiting on God, just think it's all up to them, and they get very frustrated with themselves and end up becoming less effective in their Christian walk, as they worry and experience anxiety about their own obedience to Christ. It seems to me that in most of life we experience this duality; we find this difficulty and this balance in the field of physical well-being as well as spiritual well-being.
One my coworkers at the St. Andrew's church in Rockland is Neil Baxter, a wonderful retired pastor and he's just so filled with the spirit of God, and dedicated to the work of God. A couple years ago he had surgery for a particular problem with his back that was causing a great deal of pain and a certain amount of immobility. He went to the surgeon and the surgeon told him about the process that would be needed and the work that would be done on his back. But the surgeon also gave him exercises that needed to be done. The next week when the when he went to the surgeon for a recall visit for further review. The surgeon reminded Neil about the exercises and Neil was able to answer. "I've been doing them every day, ever since set our last get-together." The surgeon was so impressed that he he moved up the date of surgery. The surgeon knew that there are some things that he could do for the patient and there were some things the patient had to do for himself. The surgery that Neil ended up having did allow him to do some things he wouldn't otherwise have been able to do, but he continues in physiotherapy under the instruction of a good coach to make sure that the muscles that were not being used, the muscles that couldn't be used before the surgery, are now being strengthened to allow him more freedom and more ability in his life. There are many people who expect that when they go to the doctor, the doctor is just going to give them a pill and fix everything. they are little bit dismayed when the doctor suggests that they need to change the way to eat, or change a habit in their life, or take up exercise or do particular exercises to strengthen particular parts of their other physiology. When we're told, "well go home and sleep well, eat well and exercise," we may kind of think that the doctor is failing in his job, but in fact, that's exactly what the doctor needs to do in many cases: to tell us what lies with us, what we need to do to live more healthy lives, instead of just prescribing a pill or just doing a surgery without looking at other things that need to be adjusted.
In the book of Isaiah is a beautiful passage of Scripture that ties these two things together, the part that God does in our lives and the part that we do. In this passage Isaiah addresses the people of Israel. He says, "In repentance and rest is your salvation." Is this not an interesting combination? In repentance and rest. Rest is something in which healing comes to you in which restoration is given to you. Repentance is something that we exercise, something that we act on. When we rest before God we are waiting for him we are allowing him to do a work in us. When we repent we are taking responsibility for what we've done. Very often the restoration we need in our life is a combination: a combination of repair and healing for the things that have been done to us through the sin of others, the things that have happened to us, the harm that has come to us because of somebody else's sin. In addition, our own sin has often caused us harm. Sometimes it's created habits that are very difficult to break. Sometimes it's created ill physical health and certainly it's created bad attitudes and ungodly opinions and those things are you are sometimes so ingrained that only God can move them, but the healing begins when the spirit of God leads us to take responsibility for what we've done. We recognize that there are things that we have done that contributed.
The cross of Jesus Christ, which we celebrate whenever we think of Jesus, is given in Scripture as the atonement for our sins, but Scripture also says, again in Isaiah, that it's by his stripes that we are healed. We find repair and forgiveness in the cross. We find atonement for sin and the healing of the harm that sin has caused, through Jesus Christ, who went to the cross for us. There are so many things that only God can do, which he can only do by his sovereign work. He tells us it is the spirit that will produce the fruit of of godliness in us. He does tell us that we should wait upon the Lord to renew our strength. He tells us over and over again that it is the Holy Spirit which he sending to us that will reveal to us all things, that will be our our comforter and our counselor and our strength. The Holy Spirit comes upon us with power to transform us. But if you find yourself stuck if you find yourself not really receiving the fullness of the Holy Spirit, God has said that there are other things besides just resting, just waiting. He says there is the invitation that we make to God to examine our hearts and see if there be any wicked way in us. In modern thinking it is very possible to consider that everything that's wrong with us is just a disease, just an injury or infirmity and that we really have no responsibility for our lives at all. But there is no health in that complete abdication of responsibility. There is a humility when we recognize that we need help but there is also a real strength when we listen to God's word and understand that we need to turn from things in our lives, even if we can say, "Well, I only did it because I was hurting. I only did it because I was wounded." We still can come before God and say, "Lord I did wrong. I did wrong as a consequence of other things. But I still did wrong." When we confess to God and ask for his forgiveness, we find that it is true that repentance leads to healing.
Even in my own life, as I sometimes get a little bit frustrated with the progress that God is making in my life. I sometimes ask him, "Why are you taking so long? Why is it so difficult, why am I struggling so much?" And you know what I've found out? If all else fails, try repentance. God may be very well waiting for us to ask him to examine our hearts. He may be asking us to look at the things that we need to let go of. Sometimes in my experience it has been as simple as pridefully thinking that I've done everything I need to do and putting all the responsibility on God. When simply to say, "God, I'm not the man I want to be. God, I don't have the will that I wish I had, don't have the strength that I wish I had, and my sin is my own grievous fault." To admit that, and to take the blame off God is the right thing to do.
We are being transformed and I want to encourage you to take hope that in repentance and rest will be your salvation. That in the work that God is doing, He will sometimes prod you to take a step but you will be able to do it by his strength. He will supply the Holy Spirit in abundance and even his Holy Spirit will work in us both to will and to act so that when we when we make the effort that God calls us to make he supplies the strength and we can be confident that he will complete the work that he's begun in us. Many Christians have experienced the difficulty and challenge of this transforming process. Many have even felt they've been through a very, very dark, dark time as they looked for the answer. Even Paul's writings speak of that in his own life. I just want to encourage you not to give up, but to continue to wait upon the Lord; to let him search your heart and lead you to repentance when necessary and to look for his strength, his healing and his help along the way.
Would you pray with me as we seek this for ourselves?
May you know Jesus Christ personally and profoundly. May the Holy Spirit reside deep within your heart. And may the heavenly Father surround you with his constant and abiding and accompanying love.