Robert's Sermons

Key Principles of Christian Living

10. What God Starts - God Finishes


I want to begin the final sermon in this teaching series with the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor whose opposition to Adolph Hitler during World War II finally landed him in jail. Shortly before the end of the war, the Nazis put him to death. At one point he pondered what it means to live in wartime while still believing in all the promises of God. These are his words:

“There remains for us only the very narrow way, often extremely difficult to find, of living every day as though it were our last, and yet living in faith and responsibility as though there were to be a great future.”

This week I have pondered again the powerful paradox of his words. On the one hand we are called to live each day knowing it might be our last. That’s always good advice, but there are moments in history when it’s literally the only way we can live. Prayer can be hard for us. It means giving up the certainty that you have all the answers. When you pray, you are confessing that there’s a realm outside this world, and that God Who dwells in eternity can affect what happens in time and space. Prayer may be our last, best, and only hope in these troubled times. That’s part of what Bonhoeffer meant by living each day as if it were our last. But that’s not the whole story.

The Christian faith demands that we live in hope because we believe in the promises of God. We cannot become pessimists and give up. To do so is to deny what we say we believe. There is always a reason for hope. So, we come now to the final key principle of Christian living I have for you in this sermon series. I am sure I could find lots more – but these are my ‘top 10.’ In case you have forgotten them, here are the first nine:

  1. He’s God and We’re Not
  2. God Doesn’t Need Us – But We Desperately Need God
  3. God’s Bidding is God’s Enabling
  4. What we Seek, we Find
  5. God Responds to Faith
  6. No Pain, no Gain
  7. We are Called to Die
  8. We Live in Two Kingdoms
  9. The Gospel = Jesus + Nothing!

The final key principle brings us back to God as the beginning and the end of our whole Christian faith: What God Starts, God Finishes

This principle gives us hope in hard times and keeps us going when we’d rather quit. It’s the truth that inspired believers to be faithful in persecution and gave Moses the strength to exchange the treasures of Egypt for the unseen riches of an invisible God. This truth reminds us that in the end, everything we give up for the Lord will seem like no sacrifice at all. And when life tumbles in around us, and others have given up their faith, we stand firm because we know that what we see is not all there is. The best is yet to come. As I’ve pondered this truth, these words of the Apostle Paul have been dominating my mind:

Romans 8:31  “What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us?”

If God is for us, who can be against us? Say that again out loud! When Paul says if God is for us, he’s not saying “Maybe He is and maybe he isn’t.” A better translation of the Greek would be: “Since God is for us” or “Because God is for us.” There is no ‘if’ about it and there is no truth more fundamental than this one: God is for us. God is not against us. God is not neutral toward us. God is for us.

Because of Jesus Christ, once and for all the question is settled. God is for us. All that God is, all that God has, and all that God does, He does on behalf of His people. Even those times when it seems to us that God is acting against us, if we could only look behind the veil, we would understand that God is still for us. Name our enemies as the people of God: Can the devil stand against us? No, because he has been defeated. Can the world stand against us? No, because Jesus has overcome the world. Can the flesh destroy us? No, because in Jesus Christ we overcome the flesh. Therefore, let the people of God be bold. Who dares to stand against us if God Himself is for us?

The truth of this principle depends on two important attributes of God. First, God is faithful. That means He does not lie, He does not change in His essential character, and He acts in time and space to ensure that His purposes in eternity are carried out. He perseveres until that which He has ordained comes to fruition. There are no gaps and no performance failures with our Lord. He is faithful to Himself, to His Word, and to all His creatures. In the end, all things in the universe will be seen to have served God’s purposes. No detail will be missing, nothing will be out of place, and there will be no ‘accidents.’ Even the tragedies of life will fit into God’s eternal plan. The fact that we cannot see how this could be true, simply reinforces our first principle: He’s God and We’re Not! God is faithful whether we see it or not, and God is faithful whether we believe it or not.

Second, God is good. This attribute tells us that God is ‘for’ us and not ‘against’ us. He intends to bless us beyond our expectations, and He desires to even bless those who rebel against Him. Because God is faithful and because God is good, we can be confident that what God starts, God will finish. Sooner or later, His Word will be proven true, His justice will be vindicated, His wisdom will be plainly displayed, and the magnificence of His grace willbe proclaimed from one end of the universe to the other. His Name will be glorified, and we will be satisfied. As we work and wait and hope for that day to come, here are three truths you can depend on.

All of God’s promises will eventually be fulfilled.

The key word here is eventually. While reading through Joshua recently, I came across these verses that serve as a summary of God’s faithfulness to His people. They come at the end of the section where the Jews have defeated their enemies and taken possession of the Promised Land. It had been a hard fight that meant some people died in the process. It took blood, sweat and tears to conquer the land and drive the pagan people out. But at last, the work was done, the tribes had received their allotment, and the nation was ready to settle down and live in peace. Against that background, Joshua offers this assessment:

Joshua 21:43-45  “Thus the Lord gave to Israel all the land that he swore to give to their fathers. And they took possession of it, and they settled there. And the Lord gave them rest on every side just as he had sworn to their fathers. Not one of all their enemies had withstood them, for the Lord had given all their enemies into their hands. Not one word of all the good promises that the Lord had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass.”

Note that although the Lord “gave” them the land, they still had to fight for it. The “rest” came only after long years of warfare. They had to go into battle over and over again, and no doubt some soldiers had to die, and blood had to be shed, in order for God’s promises to come true. It’s not as if the Jews “claimed” the promise and simply moved in with no opposition. They had to fight to win what God had promised them.

So, it is for you and me. We must fight the good fight, stand firm in the armour God has given us, and be good soldiers for the Lord. That means enduring long days and longer nights; facing fears within and foes without; being misunderstood by the world and sometimes by our friends; living by radically different standards than the people around us; and claiming dual allegiance to two kingdoms – one on earth and the other in heaven.

Living for Christ means hard times; bearing the cross; despising the shame; denying ourselves; following Him wherever He leads; judging all things by the values of His Kingdom; putting others above our own interests; yielding our rights; refusing to give in to anger and rage; forgiving when we’d rather get even; loving our enemies; laying down our lives for others; bearing one another’s burdens, washing dirty feet; taking on the role of a servant; and sometimes being regarded as fools. Sometimes we will be opposed; sometimes hated; sometimes mocked; sometimes persecuted; and sometimes the followers of Christ will be put to death. It happens.

The point is this, being a Christian does not exempt you from the problems of life. Coming to Christ solves some problems and creates some others. The problems solved include salvation, eternal life, forgiveness, removal of guilt and shame, provision of a brand-new life, new desires, and new power to serve God. And it means a home in heaven and abundant life while you live on earth. So, it’s not a bad deal. Not at all. And the problems you gain are small by comparison, but they are problems, nevertheless.

Being a follower of Christ is a wonderful life, it’s the best life there is, and it’s really the only true life there is. Apart from Christ, there is no life at all. But it doesn’t mean that things will be easy or simple or that life will be a bed of roses. Or maybe it will be a bed of roses, but all those roses will have thorns. The good news is that God fully intends to keep His promises to you. What He did for Israel so long ago, He does for His people today. As we trust and obey, as we fight and pray, as we stand up for righteousness and shine the light of Christ into a darkened world, one by one, the promises are kept. And in the end (and not until then) we will look back and say, “The Lord did it. Not one of His promises failed. All came to pass.”

The Lord Will Complete His Work in Us

Psalm 138:8 “The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever.”

The truth here is very simple. Because the Lord’s love endures forever, His purposes for us will endure forever. If God’s love could somehow fail, then perhaps we could doubt His purposes. But since His love reflects His eternal character, we can be sure that God will do whatever it takes to accomplish whatever He wants to accomplish in us.

The Entire Work of Salvation is Guaranteed by God

Romans 8:29-30  “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.”

I want you to particularly note five key words in this text: Foreknew, Predestined, Called, Justified and Glorified. Those five words make up the golden chain of your salvation. It is a golden chain of five links. These five words define the entire work of God on your behalf. No other statement in the Bible so comprehensively contains what God is doing to accomplish your salvation. He begins in eternity past and finishes in eternity future. To say it another way, your salvation begins in heaven, comes to earth, and ends up in heaven. Your salvation begins with the first link – foreknowledge. That’s the link which starts in heaven.

Then we come to predestination. That’s the link that brings salvation down to earth. Then we come to calling. That’s the link where you are hooked onto the chain. Justification is the link that ensures your righteous standing before the Lord. Glorification is the link that secures your eternal place in heaven.

Notice the tense of the five key words: Foreknew, Predestined, Called, Justified, Glorified. They are all in the past tense. But how can “glorified” be in the past tense when our glorification is in the future? How can God speak of our future glorification in the past tense if it hasn’t even happened yet? The answer is this: It is so certain that God speaks of it as past tense even though it is still future to us. In God’s perspective, past, present, future are all the same. He is not locked in time and space like we are. So, to God, there really is no past, present or future. It’s hard to fathom, but our glorification has already happened. It’s so certain that God can speak of it in the past tense. We can be as sure of heaven as if we had already been there 10,000 years. Why? Because it doesn’t rest on us. It rests on God. If God has said He’s going to do it, He has already done it. What God says He will do, He has done!

Let’s wrap this up by looking at some of the ways we can apply this great truth that what God starts, He always finishes.

We can be certain of our salvation

1 John 5:12-13 tell us that eternal life is only to be found in Jesus Christ and that those who believe in Him may “know” that they have eternal life. In this world of so much uncertainty, here is something God says you can know. That’s really important.

We can be confident of God’s purposes for us

This is one of those “long-range” truths that helps us when we are down and discouraged and wonder if we’re all that we were truly meant to be. Philippians 1:6 reminds us that “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” All that God intends to do in us and through us, He will do. Even when we are faithless, He is faithful (see 2 Timothy 2:13).

We can have comfort in the midst of confusing circumstances

So many things in life confuse or perplex us. Things happen, both good and bad, in such seemingly random sequence, that most of the time we can’t begin to understand the big picture. But one thing we know is that God is good – all the time. We won’t always see how this works out in history, but it is true nonetheless. “For we know,” Paul says. Not “we think” or “we hope” or “we dream,” but “we know,” that “all things,” not “some things” or “most things” or even “the things that make sense to us” but “all things” work together for good, to those who love God, who are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28). Because God is good, we will see that goodness manifest somewhere down the road of life, if not now, then later, if not in this life, then in eternity. Everything will be well and God will be glorified.

We can remain calm when the world is in turmoil

We live in very troubled times. How do we maintain our sense of balance in a world like this? Psalm 46 points us back to God who is our refuge and strength, a very present help in time of trouble. The word “help” means that our God will be for us whatever we need, whenever we need it. He is the supernatural resource when our strength has come to an end. “Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea.” (v. 2). “Be still, and know that I am God” (v. 10).  Be still. Those who know God can actually remain calm in the midst of turmoil. We know that God is in control. As believers, we do not claim any special insight into politics or military matters. But we know this much: Our God is in control … therefore, we will not fear. We will be still and know the Lord is God.

We can have hope when our progress seems slow

All of us, if we are honest, wonder from time to time why we seem to make so little spiritual progress. Sometimes the Christian life seems agonizingly slow: three steps forward, two steps back. Why can’t we make 20 steps forward, take a breath, and make 20 more? Why must the Christian life seem so slow in terms of real change? There are many answers to that question, including the fact that struggle actually makes us grow stronger. We generally do not appreciate victories that come at no cost. What we fight for, we value highly. And even our “defeats” and setbacks teach us to rely on the Lord alone for everything, and not at all on ourselves.

1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 tells us that one day we will stand before the Lord and be holy through and through. In that day we will be “blameless” before the Lord, deeply and radically cleansed and profoundly renewed by the grace of God. No part of our being will be untouched. In that day, we will be holy and pure in body, soul and spirit. Most of us have a long way to go and we may despair of ever reaching that happy condition. But “the one who calls you is faithful and he will do it” (v. 24). Our hope rests in the Lord. He called us, He is faithful, and He will do it. Your current struggles cannot affect God’s faithfulness. He will finish His work in you.

We can encourage others who are faltering

The writer of Hebrews points us to the crucial ministry of encouragement in light of the Lord’s return:

Hebrews 10:24-25  “Think of ways to encourage one another to outbursts of love and good deeds. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage and warn each other, especially now that the day of his coming back again is drawing near.”

Eugene Peterson translates the first phrase of verse 24 as, “Let’s see how inventive we can be.” Other translations speak of “spurring” other believers on to spiritual growth. How? By a kind word. By a phone call. By an encouraging e-mail. By a friendly smile. By a thank you note. And especially by meeting together for fellowship, worship, service and mutual encouragement.

We can wait patiently because we know the end of the story

A line in a well-known Gospel song says, “I’ve read the end of the Book and we win!” If you’ve read Revelation, you know it’s true. Jesus wins in the end, and He wins big! And everyone in Christ wins!  The problem is, right now we’re living in an “in-between” time when Christ’s victory has been secured but it has not yet been fully exercised on the earth. That’s where faith comes in. Faith bridges the gap between the now and the not yet of the Kingdom of God.

As I wrap up this sermon series, it’s good to remember what we know and what we don’t know. In this life many things remain a mystery to us, especially the troubling issues of personal loss, sudden death, and unexplained suffering. At the end of the day, after all our thoughts and prayers and meditations, and even after our deep study of the Scriptures, we simply don’t know why some things happen the way they do.  Which always takes us right back to the First Principle: He’s God and We’re Not. It’s amazing how often we come face to face with that reality. But that first principle is basic to all the rest.

If God is God, He must do many things that are far beyond our understanding. But even those things which make no sense to us today will be seen in the light of eternity to have fulfilled God’s eternal purpose. Between now and then, we march onward and upward, moving toward the light that shines brighter and brighter. We march on with faith, hope and love, with deep confidence in the God who made us and who loved us enough to die for us so that we could be with Him. We march on in the sure knowledge that what God starts –  God finishes!