"He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ." Phil. 1:6b
The Gospel of Jesus Christ teaches that despite us being created by God, we fell into sin and rightly deserve eternal damnation from our Creator. Despite what we deserve, God the Father sent God the Son to come as a man to die on our behalf for our salvation. Now, a remnant from every tribe, language, and people is being reconciled to God through Jesus Christ. God's reign from now and forevermore is through the risen Lord Jesus Christ. As Jesus himself summarized of his ministry, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel." (Mk. 1:15)
The kingdom God has established through Jesus Christ is a metaphysical fact proven to us through the bodily resurrection of Jesus which Christians celebrate every Sunday, but especially Resurrection Sunday, also known as Easter. God has given us this revelation, this truth, but now it is upon us to respond. What is the proper response, the God-ordained response, to this reality? It is to repent of our sins and to believe in Jesus Christ for salvation. This response ought to give you joy and a healthy fear, because you cannot do it by yourself.
It is a humbling, yet peace-creating truth that no one can conjure up faith within themselves. Jesus states that no one can come to Him "unless the Father who sent me draws him." (Jn. 6:44) As our first text highlights, it is God who begins a good work in you. Faith is a gift of God, not an invention within your own willpower. Unbelievers have no idea what faith really is, and this is why they mock those who believe the Gospel. God has not began a good work in them, but we ought to pray that He will. We are no better than them. If the faith which God requires for my own salvation had to come from my own hands, I'd be long lost. There have been plenty of moments of doubt and wonder in my own mind whether this Christian thing could actually be true. The Holy Spirit alone empowers the heart and the mind to believe. It is only by the grace of God that anyone remains a Christian after becoming one. If you have faith today, praise God for it. He has given you the ability to believe through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Along with the ability to believe, the Holy Spirit empowers the Christian to repent of their sins. This is not just a desire to stop sinning, it is actually stopping and changing the pattern of one's sins. No one will enter Christ's kingdom while clinging to sin unrepented of. But we must not suppose that Christians completely stop sinning in this life. Look at our text above again: He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. The future tense is very important to recognize. Just as you cannot conjure up faith within you, you cannot conjure up obedience to Christ within you. This too is a gift brought by the power of the Holy Spirit. God's power within you, if it be true, actually breaks your sinful tendencies. Battles against temptation will be won. Addictions will be broken. Anxieties and fears will be defeated. It may not be immediate, there may be backslides, but God cannot fail at His work within you. Victory over sin can only come through the power of the Holy Spirit. The complete victory over your sin will come when Jesus Christ returns at His second coming.
Faith in Christ and repentance from your sins are never separated as the proper response to the message of the Gospel. Many times, the Bible substitutes baptism for faith (see Acts 2:38) because baptism is an act of faith in Christ itself. Baptism does not save you. God saves you, and He has ordained faith in Christ and repentance from sin as the proper response to His message. If you claim to have faith in Christ but continue in unrepentant sin, you are a liar and an unbeliever. If you claim to be repentant but do not actively trust in Christ alone to save you, you also are a liar and unbeliever. The absence of one or both of these qualities ought to provoke you to pray for God's intervention in your life. He longs to save you, and the time is right to cry out.
But I do not write this to condemn you. I write this so that you may know the Way. His name is Jesus. You are not good enough for Him and you never will be. But you don't have to be. This is what Christians call grace. You simply have to respond to God's message in God's way: with faith and repentance. The best part of that is that God begins your faith and repentance, sustains your faith and repentance, and completes your faith and repentance at Christ's return. You receive no credit for your salvation, but your new heart and mind increasingly wants it that way.
How do you know if God's begun a good work in you? Here's some questions for you: Do you want to come to Jesus? Do you long to be known by Him and saved by Him? Do you hate the sin which seems to always be at work in you? My friend, I still have these desires and emotions. They've only increased over the years of following Christ. But I'll tell you what else has increased: I know the Gospel to be true more and more. I trust that God knows what He's doing and that He has my good in mind. I cannot wait for God's enemies to be crushed, but I long to see more people come to Jesus before God does crush them. I know I am a sinner in need of a savior, and that savior is Christ alone.
But notice what questions I didn't ask: Do you want to be saved? Do you want to go to heaven when you die? Of course you do! The key to understanding where you are at is to wrestle with who Jesus is and if He is important to you. Would you trade everything else away to have Him? Most people aren't there; they surely want heaven but they're not sure if they want Jesus. Jesus is costly, controversial, and central. He demands your absolute devotion and love. Are you there yet?
If you long to be reconciled to God through Jesus Christ, I truly believe that is God drawing you and beginning His work in you. Start with knowing God's message and responding in faith and repentance. A sincere prayer for God to do His work in you is the best place to start. Test yourself for faith and repentance as produced by the Holy Spirit. This is part of the role of the local church. This is not a one-time event, but a lifelong journey which characterizes your entire life. The local church encourages you in your faith and repentance, and the local church rightly disciplines you when you slip back into unbelief and sin. This is an ongoing process of love. Faith and repentance will not end until Christ returns. Then, your faith will become sight and your sinful desires will be gone.
May you glorify God through Jesus Christ. Today, for your entire life, and for all eternity.