Philippians 1:6 being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ; (NKJV; emphasis mine)
(Previous devotionals can be found at www.seriousfaith.com)
In a movie called Jerry Maguire, there is a couple of scenes where someone says “you complete me.” Of course there’s nothing Biblical in nature about those scenes, it’s about how one person fills in what’s missing in another person’s life, or makes a person feel “whole”.
Movies nowadays rarely hit on anything truly substantive, but the reason the phrase “you complete me” became part of the American culture after that movie, is because it does speak to a basic human need. Deep down, without Christ, there is a part of us that is incomplete, and so we go through life searching for ways to complete was is missing – through relationships, work, money, sex, drugs, recreation, etc.
As I was reading Philipians 1 this morning, the word “complete” in verse 6 jumped out at me and I remembered that scene from Jerry Maguire. It’s a real stretch to compare Philipians 1:6 to the idea in that movie of “you complete me”… but nonetheless, it’s what brought the verse out in my mind this morning. In the movie, they are talking more about completion in the sense of making life whole or satisfying.
In Philipians, the thought is about God completing the work of salvation in us (sometimes referred to as “perseverance”) which is in a sense definitely related to making us a whole person and filling in what is missing deep in our souls. That’s about that extent I can stretch that comparison with the movie, so we’ll leave the movie behind and move on to the actual Biblical meaning. [That’s a little Bible teacher pyschology… hoping that a cultural entertainment memory will help you remember the phrase and meaning in the future. It can also become an opportunity for you to move the conversation into spiritual things if you ever hear someone talk about the movie, or the phrase.]
Perseverance of the Saints?
This is not a lesson about Calvinism, and regardless of your belief about Calvinism, the idea of persevering is still very real and relevant as Christians. While the common phrase is “perseverance of the saints”, that is only half the issue. The other half, and more importantly – is the “perseverance of God”. Why is that important? Because there is no amount of effort that we can give that would ensure that we would be faithful until the end…. unless God were securing the end for us:
Luke 19:17 And he said to him, ‘Well done, good servant; because you were faithful in a very little, have authority over ten cities.’ (NKJV; emphasis mine)
Hebrews 12:1-2 Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (NKJV; emphasis mine)
2 Timothy 4:7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. (NKJV; emphasis mine)
Perseverance is a two-part process. It involves every effort on our part – secured and empowered by God. There are those who teach that man has no part in “running the race”… that God does it all. This is a misunderstanding of Scripture and a denial of everything we know to be true about the human experience. What person would deny that every day we get up, we make choices to serve God or to sin, we make efforts towards holiness, service and good works. It has NOTHING to do with earning our salvation. The “race” is not about winning our salvation (which was “won” the moment that Christ’s righteousness was imputed to you and your account was ‘paid in full’ [justification]). The race, the work, the perseverance – is about living a life that is pleasing to God and will result in being greeted and rewarded in heaven as a “good and faithful servant”.
Human effort has nothing to do with earning salvation.
It has to do with sanctification.
Man works as hard as he can, makes the best choices to glorify God that he knows how, and makes every effort to live a faithful life, run the entire race, and fight the good fight. It’s impossible in my opinion to quote those Scriptural phrases and then turn around and say man has no choice, or man has no part. It is both plainly obvious from Scripture, and painfully obvious from the entire human experience, that man chooses to serve God (or not), and the man makes an effort, living out his Christian walk in fear and trembling (Phil 2.12).
Now having said that, man is incapable of running the race or fighting the good fight. Only God can. Wait! Didn’t I just contradict myself? No. The idea is that we give every effort and try with all our strength – and yet only God can give results. It is clearly demonstrated in Scripture:
2 Peter 1:10 Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble; (NKJV; emphasis mine)
The Biblical picture is of man making every effort (diligence), with God coming along side, or around, and providing the real power that produces results. We can understand this with a simple human analogy: a young boy learns to mow the grass for the first time. He is not strong enough to push the mower, guide it accurately or to turn it. Dad allows the young boy to put his hands on the mower handle and push with all his might, making every effort with all his heart to be the one actually operating the mower; but it is his father who come along with him, placing his hands next to the boy’s and in reality, operating the mower for him. The father provides the real power, direction and the results. The young boy still is making no less of an effort to do the task himself for both his own growth, his desire to do what his father does, and in obedience to his father’s direction.
That is the picture of effort, choice, work, striving – however you want to phrase it – that Christians are to engage in. We are to try with all our might. We are to make every effort. We are to persevere (not give up). In the end, the mature Christian realizes he is helpless to actually produce any results; only the Father who is providing the real power, doing the real directing, and contributing the real ability is the One who is actually persevering for us.
Our perseverance is really God’s preservation.
God is responsible for our “ability” to persevere in the faith. We run, but He empowers. We fight, but He wins the battle. We serve but God provides the results. Which brings us back to our point: whatever God starts in you, He will complete. You will make every effort (perseverance), but God is the One who is the actual reason for success (preservation).
Lord God, Help us to make every effort, to try with all our might to serve You knowing full well that when we persevere, it is really because You have preserved. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Application: We can persevere when we understand that we cannot fail because of God’s preservation. God can NOT be guilty of starting something and not seeing it through to a perfect finish – salvation being the last thing He could leave undone for someone who is truly saved. This is the irrefutable principle that gives the Christian security knowing that any person in whom God has begun the authentic work of salvation in response to the Believer’s obedience and faith in the Good News of Jesus Christ – can be assured beyond doubt that God will finish that work in them.
James 1:22 – But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. (NKJV)
- What is the most obvious Bible truth you have learned today?
- What change in your life needs to be made concerning this truth?
- What specific thing will you do today to begin that change?