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Partnering with God (Philippians 2:12-13)

Rev. Dr. William A. LewisRev. Dr. William A. Lewis, November 12, 2017


At a fabric store, a pretty girl spied a silky material that would be perfect for a dress. She asked the male clerk, “How much does this cost?” He smiled warmly. “For you, I’d sell for the price of one kiss per yard.” She said, “That’s fine, I’ll take ten yards.” With anticipation written all over his face, the clerk measured out the cloth, wrapped it up and then teasingly held it out. The girl took the bag, stepped up close to him with a coy smile. She then turned, pointed to an old man standing by the wall and said, “Grandpa will pay the bill.” When it comes to our salvation, we have someone who paid the bill: Jesus.
Hebrews refers to the Lord as the author and finisher of our faith. Jesus came to earth to reunite us to God by stepping in on our behalf to take the negative ramifications of sin and dying on the cross in our place. Jesus took upon Himself all our sinfulness and transferred to us all His righteousness. He had the ability to do this because of who He is: God, part of the Trinity. The Lord created us and this world; He redeemed us personally.
When on the cross, Jesus stated, “It is finished.” This was the payment in full for our salvation. No longer would we be separated from God in eternity.
Yet words like “work out your salvation” cause confusion. There are two approaches Christians use when seeking after God. The first is a legalist approach: “ten steps to find God.” It’s performance based; it’s about doing. It’s about my responsibility to find the elusive God. Legalism works hard to find God.
But in John 6:28, they asked, “What shall we do to achieve the works of God?” Jesus tells us, “This is the work of God—to believe in Him and whom He has sent.”
Grace says the will of God is to enjoy a relationship that God has extended to you through His Son. Instead of trying to strive to obtain God’s favor, seek Jesus.
There are two ways to get somewhere you have not been: ask someone for directions or have the person take you there. Legalism gives you directions. Grace takes you there. The focus should be on Jesus, not a biblical plan. Legalism puts the responsibility on us to find God. Grace is finding God as we rest in Him, and out of our relationship with Him, He leads us.
Legalism tells us our work is necessary to make ourselves holy. Grace declares we are holy as a gift from God. We have Christ‘s holiness. It is attained not by achieving, but by receiving God’s free gift of grace.
Often, we make the mistake of limiting salvation to just the act of being saved from separation from God. We now have total access to God here on earth through His Spirit, who lives in us and guides us through life.
This salvation lifestyle plays out in so many ways. It can heal a broken relationship, not only with God, but with our spouse, relatives, and co-workers. It redirects our inner attitudes that so easily settle on anger, lust, pride and selfishness that can lead to depleted souls, unhappiness, alienation from others, disquiet within ourselves.
Instead, the Spirit of Christ empowers us to care for others, to deny ourselves so someone else might get blessed, and to engage the presence and power of God here on earth. This is how we displace the sinfulness inherent within us, by letting the Spirit of God guide us to His thoughts, ways and heart.
Christianity is not a spectator sport. It’s a lifestyle of action, compassion and sacrifice. We are constantly surrendering “my will” to “Thy will,” fervently engaging God’s word and seeking His presence. “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God at work in you to will and to act according to His good purpose” (Philippians 2:12-13).
Why fear and trembling? Why not joy and excitement? First of all, the stakes are high. Christianity is a not merely a nice bedtime story; it is life or death. Souls are hanging in the balance; culture is on the line. The recent Texas shooter was an aggressive atheist. Someone needed to correct his facts.
Once, a kid in my son’s high school was spouting off atheist ideas, so my son took the time to answer his angry outburst and explain Christianity to him. The kid gave his life to Jesus.
Fear and trembling means being on guard against our spiritual weakness and the tendency toward pride and selfishness because pleasing God is the goal. Part of the fear is that we know we are rebellious and often don’t allow our Creator to have His way with us. Fear and trembling is not that we are afraid of God. He is our loving, compassionate, gracious Father. It is fear of breaking His heart.
We fear lest we miss what God granted to us. We tremble at the favor we have received. Have you ever received a gift that made you cry? Were you ever so broke and someone gave you money? Or have you fallen and someone showed you grace?
Fear and trembling indicates that God is involved in your life! His love is very personal to you. It’s powerful when you start reading your Bible and praying. Then, exactly whatever circumstance you are facing or struggling against in your mind gets addressed. You realize God is speaking, guiding and empowering you. It is the living God, using His living word in a real relationship with you.
You are not doing life on your own power. God is at work in you: protecting, guiding, empowering. This takes on a whole new dimension when you are pursuing the relationship and seeking to honor Him, aligning your heart with His. “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31).
The terminology used for “God is at work” is where we derive the word “energy.” God energizes us with Himself to carry out what He wants from us—to love everyone around us. It is divine power to carry out His will. This is why in Ephesians 3:20, “He is able to do exceedingly, abundantly beyond all that we ask or think according to the power that works within us.”
Here is where it gets personal. In both Jeremiah and Ezekiel, God says, “I looked for someone to stand in the gap for Me and found no one.” In Isaiah, the Lord asked, “Who will go for us?” If you are a Christ-follower, this is your calling, your assignment: to be His ambassador.
On aspect of our calling is defined in Psalm 82:3-5: “Defend the cause of the weak and the fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed. Rescue the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked. They know nothing, they understand nothing. They walk around in darkness.”
We excuse ourselves from helping those who mismanage their lives, saying, “They should have known better.” But Psalm 82 indicates they don’t know how to manage their lives and we are to be God’s helping, protective hand. Besides, even if it is their fault, we deal in mercy! Hence, our church supports the Community Hope Center as well as mission efforts in Kenya and Haiti.
Last week, I told you about David’s response to God’s mercy by saying, “I will not offer a sacrifice to my Lord God that costs me nothing” (2 Samuel 24:24). The rest of the story has power. David saw the angel of God and fire came down from heaven to accept the offering. The miraculous came out of David’s offering. The fact is God responds to our prayers and sacrifices. Tithers have so many stories of provision!
Then David responded to God’s mercy and visible demonstration by working to get God’s temple built. While he did not build it, he made all the preparations, collected money, and established resources for his son, Solomon, to build God’s house. Of course, this struck me, as we are currently working to build on our church campus. David’s response to God’s mercy was to build His house. “Go make disciples” (Matthew 28:19). That’s why we are building.
Many will consider that reading their Bible is the sum total of their faith commitment. This reminds me of the World Series when Hank Aaron went to bat and Yogi Berra was behind home plate as the catcher, chattering endless trash talk. Trying to distract Hank, Yogi said, “Hank, you’re holding the bat wrong. You’re supposed to hold it so you can read the trademark.” Hank didn’t say anything, but when the next pitch came, he hit it over the left field bleachers. As he started to round the bases, he said to Yogi, “I didn’t come here to read.”
Just as Hank Aaron was focused on the task at hand so are we to be the hands and feet of Jesus, bringing the gospel to people. Is this emphasis behind your living and giving? Are you forgiving people, praying for the lost, investing in sharing God’s love? It is easy to settle on being saved, but then you miss the life of God. We are to follow Him out into the world and watch Him move through us.
Richard Wurmbrand was one of my heroes of the faith when I was a young man. He was a preacher in Communist Romania who suffered for his faith. While imprisoned, he was given a moldy piece of bread to eat for the week. He decided to tithe on it and give a tenth of the slice to the Lord. So he gave a portion of his bread to a weaker prisoner. He offered it to his Master. Whatever we give is to Christ.
There’s an interesting interplay in Malachi where God chastised the priests for mismanaging the offerings. Then, He reprimanded His people for not giving their offering. Our offering is a demonstration of our commitment to God that He apparently notices and desires, regardless of what happens to it.
By the way, our church leadership strategizes and wrestles to make sure we handle the congregation’s money correctly. There is no frivolous spending. People will say, “just cut the fat.” We don’t have any. We’ve calculated every little bit for ministry.
The partnership works this way: He provides for us and asks us to live for Him, using what He gives us for His agenda.
A sign on the door of the University Christian Church in New York read “Gone out of business. Didn’t know what our business was.” Our church tag line is “To seek and share the love of Jesus Christ.”
We are a Christ-centered, Bible-based, Grace-oriented, Spirit-led church. Missions are core to our identity, as are children and youth. So is worship. But we are not settling here. We are focused on developing our discipleship. Prayer is an emphasis; my goodness, I am seeing so much power released when prayer is engaged. It’s just not an option whether we run our personal lives or the ministry.
John Wesley once said, “I want the whole Christ for my savior. The whole Bible for my book. The whole church for my fellowship. The whole world for my mission field.” How’s that for a purpose in life?
We have been talking about having a global reach. Our church has an incredible snowbird population. There is deep giftedness within the congregation. We have a heart for the world. In Acts 1:8, the original call to the disciples was go to Jerusalem (Celebration), Samaria (Orlando region), and the ends of the earth. I recently read that three out of four Europeans consider themselves religious. That makes a conversation about God’s love and Jesus easy, especially since deep faith roots are already laid here in America.
How do you step into this exciting adventure of faith? It is by nurturing your relationship with God.
I used to have a car that always needed a push. So, I would have my youth group push me to get it started. I learned how to park on inclines so I could get a running start, or leave the engine running. I did this for a long time, until one day a man looked under my hood and said, “I think you have a loose battery cable.” He tightened it and suddenly I didn’t need to push the car any more. Months of needless trouble came to an end when someone tightened my connection to the power source.
I wonder how many of us this applies to with Jesus. The loose connection keeps us from putting His divine power to work. Do you feel as though you have a lack of power in your life? Maybe it’s as simple as a revived commitment to seeking and responding to your Lord who loves you so much. I’m blown away at how real God is and how much love He has for us.
It matters because there is a heaven to be gained. On February 15, 2015, ISIS released a five-minute video, showing the beheading of 21 Coptic Christians on a Mediterranean beach. Their last words were “Lord Jesus Christ.” One of the 21 was an African man named Mathew Ayaiga. He was not a Christian when he was forced to join the kidnapped men on the beach. He was told to follow Islam or die. After witnessing the courageous faith of the other Christians, he decided to become a follower of Jesus himself. On camera, one of the terrorists asked, “Do you reject Jesus Christ?” Mathew boldly responded, “Their God is my God.” He then became a martyr.
Let’s have this kind of faith, like in Zechariah 8:23: “Let us go with you because we have heard that God is with you!” Let’s put our faith into motion and encourage others to connect to our Jesus. When was the last time your faith cost you something significant to follow Jesus?
Sources: John Gaston, Howard Mcglamery, Stephen Fournier, Steve Shepherd

About Rev. Dr. William A. Lewis: Rev. Dr. William Lewis has been the Senior Pastor of Community Presbyterian Church in Celebration since 2009. Whether at a traditional service, praise service, or the more casual Thursday night service, you’ll find that Pastor William’s preaching brings the Word of God to life D.Min. McCormick Theological Seminary Th.M. Princeton Theological Seminary M.Div. Fuller Theological Seminary B.A. University Colorado
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