The Near Past

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. Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. (Philippians 2:12-16 ESV).

I have often worked with people who were experiencing a devastating loss. Often their trust has been shaken. They may even doubt the goodness of God toward them. Typically this is due, at least in part, to the pain of the “near” past. We all know the truth that it is easier to remember what has just happened with more vividness than the distant past. It is because we remember that pain so vividly that we can also easily project it into our future. And, further, since we are often given to accept absolutes, we decide that our future will never be better than the pain of our past. It is at that time when we desperately need to understand the work of God’s grace in our lives.

Grace is not only God’s disposition to do good for us when we don’t deserve it. It is an actual power from God that acts and makes good things happen in us and for us. This is what’s behind the Apostle Paul’s writing to the Corinthians in our reading today. God’s grace was God’s acting in Paul to make Paul work hard: “By the grace of God . . . I worked harder than any of them.” So when Paul says, “Work out your own salvation,” he adds, “For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (vv. 12-13). Grace is power from God to do good things in us and for us. John Piper says it like this:

This grace is past and it is future. It is ever-cascading over the infinitesimal waterfall of the present, from the inexhaustible river of grace coming to us from the future, into the ever-increasing reservoir of grace in the past. In the next five minutes, you will receive sustaining grace flowing to you from the future, and you will accumulate another five minutes’ worth of grace in the reservoir of the past. The proper response to the grace you experienced in the past is thankfulness, and the proper response to grace promised to you in the future is faith. We are thankful for the past grace of the last year, and we are confident in the future grace for the New Year.

Don’t be deceived by your circumstances. God is at work to do good things in and for you!