Bible Verses that have changed my life:
13 for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.
This is a Bible verse that I have referred to a few times over the last few weeks in writing for both of my blogs. In writing for this particular series of Bible verses that have changed my life, I am finding that for each of the verses I am naturally and sincerely describing the impact it has made on my life in superlative terms. For instance “This is the verse that first made me really start taking the Bible seriously” (Proverbs 12v27) or “this is the verse that has made the greatest impact on my personal self-view” (Genesis 1v26-27) etc. It is a bit like how God made each of us to be unique and powerful in our own way, so in the same way each of these verses has demonstrated a unique but compelling power in my life. Well once again this is true for this particular verse, Philippians 2v13.
I remember when I first came across Philippians 2v13 and noticed it, possibly around a decade ago. Before that time I had sometimes puzzled over the following question: Am I the one who has to make myself holy, or is it God who makes me holy? Do I just sit there casually, and wait for holiness to hit me (many Christians seem to think this or expect this) or do I actually have to work it up myself? Now this following is a theme that has been flogged to death and beyond in many calvinistic Evangelical churches: being more holy or less holy does not make God love us any more, or any less. The conclusion I have often drawn (and equally flogged to death, and beyond) on this blog is that that means that many of these Christians don’t then truly exert themselves to be holy, or to strive after Christlike character, making interaction with their “can’t be bothered to be truly holy or Christlike” character often very unpleasant. (Don’t worry, I’m not going to get started on this yet again!) However, I come from a different church background, where the importance of holiness was always emphasised. This was never for the sake of making God love you more (it would have been such an alien concept to even strive after this) but rather because holiness is of God, and it is a good thing. Please trust me, just to make your own life more pleasant, please go for a church where they emphasise the importance of holiness and integrity and pursuing Christlike character. If you come across a church where they literally dance around the subject of grace, and talk endlessly about grace without balancing it with the importance of holiness, please just run! That is exactly the same way they will literally dance around the integrity with which they should treat you, and which you might reasonably expect from people who claim to be Christians. But I said I was not going to go there! (Rolling my eyes!)
This Bible verse changed my life because it showed me both how being holy was both of God and also of myself. It is God who works in us to create the will to be holy, to be righteous, and then to actually do the righteous actions, and everything else that He Himself delights in: “for His good pleasure”. But then this is how it could also be of myself: If I want to be holy, if I notice the lack of holiness in my life, then I know that that holiness will not come just because I want it. Rather I can go to God, and I can pray to Him, and I can seek Him, and I can cry out to Him until He grants me a holy heart. In some ways it can be easy for me to take this for granted. Sometimes I forget and fall into thinking that I am just holy in and of myself. However it is this understanding that God Himself works in me to make me holy that has been rocket fuel to my own personal relationship with God. The honest truth is that in and of myself I am just like most Christians. I can’t really be bothered to be holy. If though, it is God who creates even the will for holiness in me, then it does not matter what I can or cannot be bothered to be! I know that holiness is a good thing. It can only be good to be as Christlike as I can possibly be. So for many, many years I have cried out to God with all the determination that I can find in and of myself. My prayers have often sounded like this:
“God, to be honest, I can’t really be bothered to be holy. But I know that being holy is a good thing. So I pray that you will give me a heart that truly strives after You. I pray that You will grant me the determination to be like Jesus! God, I pray that You will give me a heart that truly thirsts for Your word, and thirsts for Your truth! In the mighty name of Jesus – Amen!”
And guess what, God always answers these prayers positively! As I say, I can tend to take it for granted because for many years I have been accustomed to coasting along at a level of supreme spiritual determination and commitment. However the truth is that it does not come from me. It all comes from God. This means that if it is available to me, then it is also available to everyone else! There have been times in my life when I have been too lazy to even pray the prayer for determination. In those cases, I have just been honest with God.
“God I know that this is the right thing. But I’m just feeling too lazy. I would rather…(list the things I would rather do.) Lord, please grant some determination to my lazy heart!”
The most important thing though is to sincerely acknowledge the truth and present myself before God in honesty regarding that truth.
Prayers that God always answers
I think that if ever we sincerely pray prayers about being more holy or more righteous, or more like Jesus, then God always answers those prayers positively – always! Because this is what God Himself wants for us, above all else. He wants us to be holy. He wants us to be like Jesus. There is always more space for us to grow in Christlikeness. So I assure you, that if you ask God to make you more determined before Him, then He will answer that prayer – He absolute will!
Totally sold out?
For many years, even though I considered myself totally sold out to God, I was scared to truly make God my all in life, because I was worried that I would lose my “me-ness”. I thought that I would have to become one of these “goody-goody” people who is really boring and goes around quoting Bible verses all the time, and often irrelevantly! But then on thinking about it as I write this, ultimately the goal would be to like Jesus, and He as a human being on earth was definitely not boring, and He definitely had oodles of personality – and He even knew how to enjoy Himself! (Phew!) And while He went around doing good, He certainly was not a “goody-goody” in that self-righteous sense. The truth is that now that I have dared to truly make God my all, I am more in touch with my own personality than ever before, especially my sense of humour and I am always laughing out loud whenever I am praying to God. I love writing these posts, and I hope that other people find them as humorous and fun to read as I find them to write.
Too boring to truly be a Christian?! (Yawn!)
These days I think that if you find a self-professed “Super-Christian” who wants to make it clear that they are “very holy”, but who is also kinda dry, and dusty, and never laughs out loud, or has mirth twinkling in their eyes, then the likelihood is that they are not really in touch with God. Rather what they are likely in touch with is super-religiosity. (They will never actually call themselves a “Super-Christian” of course, but from the way they carry themselves, from the definitive way they always approach all Biblical questions, as if their opinion must be the definitive answer to any spiritual query, simply because it is their opinion; from that serious look into which their features are always twisted, it is clear that this is how you are to consider them….) I bet that these people never honestly present their hearts to God, never really just talk to God or cultivate a true relationship with Him. In truth, they might not actually pray to God Himself, but rather to their own sense of holiness. Perhaps this is why Jesus in that Bible parable talks about the Pharisee praying with himself Luke 18v11. If you are feeling very naughty, then you could challenge these people that they do not seem to be very similar to Jesus. Hopefully that might strike home, but sadly, if they actually came across Jesus they would probably not recognise Him as a paradigm of holiness or righteousness, because He was just too real and too down-to-earth, and too much fun to be around! And then some people feign “realness” or “down-to-earthness” or spiritual humility, but they can be just as devoid of true intimacy with God…and after a while, they can be just as transparent (and just as yawn-some) as the supposed “Super-Christians” because you discover just how fake they are, and fakeness is never exciting.
(NB, I too often talk as if my opinion is definitive, but that is because I often back it up with Bible verses. It is the Bible verses that make the opinion definitive, not the fact that I am the one thinking it. I am quite confident about applying the Bible verses, because I am confident that I understand what they mean. On the other hand, I am also very candid about the thousands of things I don’t understand, or that I am still struggling with. That said I can myself definitely be a Pharisee, especially regarding prayerless Christians. Obviously I can’t just leave it at that but I would have to deal with that in my life.)
Photo of bonfire by TPSDave