This last Lord's Day Pastor John completed our journey from pieces to peace. He began by reading to us from the conclusion of Paul's letter to the Philippians, chapter 4, verses 8 and 9: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”
Pastor John soon challenged us to examine the way we think as a prelude to adjusting our attitudes. Do you remember the silhouette of the spinning dancer? Some of us thought she might be spinning to the left, others of us to the right. And to further amaze us, Pastor John switched the left/right tags on the ankles of the spinning dancer. In this way our perceptions could be instantly altered! So also in our life in Christ. We are challenged to examine the way we think, and so change the way we see our lives. Pastor John read to us from Philippians 4:7 “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Pastor John introduced us to the critical truth that God's sovereignty and man's responsibility go hand-in-hand. As Pastor John said, while God gives man muscles, man must faithfully work to develop them. In other words, just because God is sovereign does not mean that man is a thoughtless zombie, free from responsibility. Let us look at some ways this essential relationship is illustrated in Scripture:
In the Gospel of John chapter 15 verse 5 Jesus says “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (ESV) Apart from Christ we are indeed powerless to do good, but in him we are expected to “bear much fruit”. That means constant EFFORT, not just of a day, as any vineyard owner will tell you. It is the work of a lifetime.
In the Gospel of Matthew chapter 16 verse 24 we read “Then Jesus told his disciples, 'If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.'” (ESV) There is nothing passive here. We must actively choose to deny our natural inclinations; we must consciously choose to do what we each in his way must do, to imitate our Savior.
In Paul's letter to the Philippians chapter 2, verses 12 and 13 we read “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” Certainly the indwelling of the Holy Spirit will cause us such reverence meant by “fear and trembling” but also we are told to work out our own salvation. We are told that if the Holy Spirit is within us we will “work for His good pleasure.” We, all of us, quite agree that there is nothing passive about “work”.
Pastor John evoked in our minds the picture of the powerful steam locomotive that was a marvel of transportation technology in its day, IF it had sturdy metal rails to run on. So also, the powerful locomotive of spiritual faith must have the sturdy rails of reason, as we find in studying the Bible, to run on. The locomotive and the rails go hand-in-hand, just as the power of the Holy Spirit and the truth of the Bible go hand-in-hand.
Pastor John gave a second illustration about the attitude that we must have in basing our faith, and thus our peace of mind, in solid mental reasoning. He suggested that if we are seriously ill and in need of surgery we should seek just the right doctor who has a track record of perfectly curing the problem. Then we should commit ourselves to his care in perfect faith based on the reason that the doctor is skilled. If after such careful reasoning we then panic on the operating table, it is a sign that we have lost our ability to reason. Our faith in Jesus as our savior must be similarly grounded in biblical facts and attested historical truth, so that when we are beset by storms of turmoil and trouble we don't mindlessly lose our faith.
What is known as the first Great Awakening occurred in colonial America during the 1730s and 1740s. At that time wonderfully gifted preachers like George Whitefield and zealous missionaries like Eleazar Wheelock brought people to faith first by the power of the Holy Spirit. Having been so inspired and indwelt, the newly faithful now saw that they needed to properly gird and ground their faith in the Word. Only through solid knowledge of biblical fact could their faith survive the inevitable storms of this life. Thus what would eventually become Princeton University was founded in 1746 by local Presbyterians to train ministers according to their biblical views. Similarly, Dartmouth College was founded in 1769 to train people of various native American tribes according to the precepts of the Presbyterian Christian faith.
Practice must follow reasoned thinking. In Romans 5:1 we read “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” Think about how God sees you in His only begotten son Jesus, our ultimate intercessor. Truly that is “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding.”
Pastor John gave us the example of two people who have the same mind-deadening job. However, one of them has a ten million dollar incentive to stick with the job and do it well. Instead of dwelling on the constant bits of misery that the work brings him as it does to the other job-holder, the one with the giant incentive looks at the BIG PICTURE. He patiently endures all of the petty annoyances that the work needles him with. Our faith must be like that. By Scripture we know that we are promised a boundless glorious eternity with our Maker if we believe, keep on believing, and conduct ourselves day-in and day-out as believers, no matter what the trials and tribulations that our earthly circumstances may bring us.
Pastor John started us in this series because he foresaw that in an anxiety-causing world, we could go to pieces. So he concluded with reading from the Gospel of John 16:33 where Jesus assured his disciples, and us, that “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Amen!