By Jamie Osborne
“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”
~ Philippians 1:6
Before I married Nick and inherited five lovely step-children, I thought I was doing pretty well. I spent a lot of time alone, seeking God in prayer, Scripture and journaling, and felt I had grown to a place where I had basically overcome my weaknesses and character flaws.
Yes, I know. Very funny. You can stop laughing now.
It is easy to be saint-like when you spend much of your time alone. No one is rude or annoying, no insists on their own way, and no one inserts their opinions or asserts their needs. Essentially, there is no one to test or refine you.
Marriage, week one: Blend me together with a new husband, five hurting step-children, plus my own overwhelmed son, and suddenly I was immersed into a cacophony of noise, needs, anger, and individual personalities, all pulling in opposite directions. Much to my great surprise, the peaceful, kind, quiet soul I worked hard to cultivate in those years of solitude almost instantly evaporated, only to be replaced with someone highly stressed, irritable, angry, and selfish! It was clear I was light-years away from saint-like status.
It’s now been six years of marriage, and although I have grown, I still despair (sometimes daily) over how un-Christ-like I am to those closest to me, in spite of my desperate prayers for change and my determination to be a better human being. I wake up, set out to act in love no matter what, and before breakfast is over, I’ve failed. I often wonder if I will ever reach the ideals listed in the Bible, because they seem so ridiculously impossible. Have you ever felt like that?
If these last 6 years in a blended family have taught me anything, it’s that my willpower and good intentions don’t get me very far. I need God’s help to grow! Without the Holy Spirit at work within me, I would not produce any fruit of the Spirit. I’ve made it very clear to myself and those around me that I am incapable of doing so. Therefore, when I actually demonstrate Christ-like character, I can’t pat myself on the back, because I know I had nothing to do with it.
Here’s the thing. If we could will ourselves to be better, I suspect that we would be full of pride in our self-accomplished holiness. Wasn’t that the sin of the Pharisees that so grieved Jesus? The Pharisees no longer needed God. Instead, by following “the rules,” they found a way to be holy without God’s help.
Like the Pharisees, we can do a good job of presenting a ‘holy’ exterior that masks an ugly interior. No one may suspect how much we judge others in our minds, or the anger welling up within. We need to be changed from the inside out! This is not something we can do alone.
Our discipleship journey is a partnership with God and we each have a role to play. We are called to a life of obedience, but it is GOD who helps us grow. As we begin this devotional journey through Philippians, today’s verse reminds us GOD initiates the good work of inner transformation within us, and he will not stop until he finishes the job.
In other words, spiritual growth is first and foremost a result of God at work. In fact, Galatians 2:20 says it is no longer you who lives, but Christ who lives within you. 2 Corinthians 5:17 goes even further: if you are in Christ, you are a new creation! The good fruit that comes from your life is a result of Christ within you.
So, if you despair of how far short you fall from God’s standards, you’re in a good place. When you finally realize your own utter inability to “make yourself better,” when you finally understand that your spiritual growth is a partnership (not a solo act), you become desperate for God to renovate you from the inside out, because you can’t do it on your own. Instead of seeing how far short you fall, start praising God for the great work he is doing in your life.
- Think: God is in the restoration business, and I am under renovation!
- Do: Reflect on how the Spirit is at work transforming you. How are you more Christ-like today than you were yesterday? A year ago? Five years ago? Ten years ago? Celebrate and praise God for his renovation and restoration work occurring within you.