“…being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.”
Does the Bible really say that? I was stunned sitting in that pew on a Sunday night… and deeply moved.
A few months earlier I had been sitting in my dorm room at the University of Texas in Austin, when someone knocked on my door. David Procter, a staff member from Hyde Park Baptist Church, had dropped by to invite me to their college ministry. He later introduced me to a deacon, Alphonce Brown, who soon started picking me up for church on Sundays. As a year-old Christian, I had nothing to offer the church, but they invested time in me. Their love for Jesus was infectious… and their influence on me would last for decades.
So that’s how I came to be sitting in that pew on a Sunday night. That was the moment when I heard our pastor, Ralph Smith, mention a verse of scripture I had not heard before. I don’t recall anything else about the sermon, except I couldn’t wait to figure out where that verse was located in the Bible. After the service, I moved down to the front, surprised that no one else was lined up to speak to Dr. Smith (usually there was).
“Pastor,” I asked, “you quoted a verse… something about God completing a work that He begins.” He smiled. I was one of those who regularly queried him after his sermons. With a notebook in hand, I wasn’t challenging anything he said, but I always had questions. He told me where to find Philippians 1:6 and then, as we briefly discussed what it means, a truth formed in my heart that has never left: what God starts, God finishes! I really needed to hear that.
As a young believer, all I could see were my ongoing struggles with sin and my failed attempts to live for Him. I wanted to get it right, but it seemed like I was always getting it wrong. I was focusing on what I wanted to do for God, instead of what God was already doing in me. I needed to understand that when I first trusted Jesus, God began a work in me that is unstoppable. What God starts, God finishes!
In me — just me — nothing good dwells (Romans 7:18). On my own, I will always stumble and fall.
Every failure reminds me that I cannot live without Him. Jesus Himself said, “Apart from Me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Today, I am thankful that He never fails to finish what He starts, and that He long ago started to work in me. Steadily, unfailingly, and relentlessly…
He is finishing what He started.
“Things are not as bad as they seem, things could get worse, but they will get better.” ~ Ralph Smith (1931-2017)
Dr. Smith was the pastor of Hyde Park Baptist Church in Austin, Texas for 36 years. Click here for a brief account of his life from the Austin-American Statesman newspaper.
Romans 8:15-16 “For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God”
How can I know for certain that I am a Christian? God wants you to know your salvation as a fact. More than that, He wants to write that truth on your heart.
When our oldest daughter was four she disobeyed and was scolded. Afterwards I could see that she was not feeling very good about herself. In fact, she was devastated. For a moment I could see a lifetime of self-doubt trying to climb its way into her soul.
I took her by both shoulders, looked her in the eyes and said, “You know what? If I could pick any four-year old little girl in the whole, wide world to be mine, do you know who I would pick?”
I could see the question loom large in her eyes as she wondered. Who would Daddy choose?
“You!” I said with a smile and a hug. The clouds lifted from her face and her soul. That exchange became a game we played for years — she needed it.
So do you. The Bible says that when we trusted Jesus’ death on the cross to save us from our sins, we were saved. Period. The Bible tells me so. But that’s not all. There’s more…
John tells us in his first letter that we can look at our daily life. Can you see a change? People who have been born again change over time. You may look at your life and see objective evidence that your life is different. But that’s not all. There’s more…
The Holy Spirit lives within. He wants to convey to your heart an experiential knowledge of your sonship. As He moves you to cry “Father”, He wants to open your spiritual ears to voice of God. Listen to a father’s heart: “You are my child. And of all the people in the world I could bring into my family, I choose you!”
Read 1 John 5:9-13
As a group of young, neighborhood friends, we were playing a fierce game of tag, running through backyards and between houses. I was being hotly pursued, when I sped around the corner of a house and saw him: a huge, tethered dog staring at me from a back patio! He barked and lunged at me. I stumbled backward and landed hard on my pride. As the beast approached, I did not feel safe—until he reached the end of his chain and stopped abruptly.
In that moment, I wanted immediate answers to some basic questions! Was I at a safe distance? Would the chain hold the beast back? How could I get out of this predicament?
Have you ever questioned whether you were really saved? I may believe the facts of the Gospel and I may believe in God’s ability to forgive my sins—but how can I know it all applies to me personally?
Based on John’s teaching, there are three diagnostic questions you can use to determine whether you are “safe in Jesus” and be certain of your salvation.
Does the Holy Spirit live inside you as a messenger of God’s truth and love? (vs. 9-10)
John explains that God is a witness to the identity and work of His Son. He did not want to leave you in the dark! In the gospels, God the Father verbally identified Jesus as His Son on two different occasions (Matthew 3:16-17 and Matthew 17:5). God the Father clearly tells you who Jesus is: the Son sent to die for you, setting you free from sin’s power and penalty.
How does He communicate His witness to your heart? John says, “He who believes in the Son of God has the witness in himself…” (1 John 5:10). When someone hears the good news and responds—turning from sin and trusting in Christ’s work on the cross—the Holy Spirit has played a significant role. He not only convicts, but at the moment of decision, He comes inside the new believer.
In Romans 8:9, the apostle Paul writes: “…if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His.” The presence of the Holy Spirit in you—the witness of the Father—is the greatest assurance that you are safe in Jesus.
In Romans 8:16, Paul adds, “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God…” The Father wants you to know that you are His child, so He interacts with you and communicates to you through the most intimate means possible: His Spirit living inside your body (Colossians 1:27).
Are you experiencing a growing, personal relationship with Jesus Christ? (vs. 11-12)
Visiting a friend at a large corporate headquarters, I had to wait in a comfortable lobby behind locked doors while he made his way downstairs to meet me. Once he arrived, I was free to enter and move around the building, so long as I was with my friend. If I had my friend with me, I had access. No friend, no access.
John writes, “He who has the Son has life.” Eternal life is not a promise, but it resides in a Person. Other religions may offer a different path to heaven, but God does not offer a path to eternal life—He offers a Person who says, “Follow Me!”
If you are growing in an authentic relationship with Jesus Christ through His Spirit and His Word, you can know that you are safe in Jesus.
Is your faith resulting in a changed life? (vs. 13)
The Holy Spirit is at work inside us, confirming God’s Word. Jesus lives in relationship with us, engaging us to follow Him. With these powerful influences at work within us, our lives should change.
John says, “These things I have written to you… that you may know you have eternal life.” What things? Throughout John’s letter, he explains that inner transformation results in outer reformation of our attitudes and behaviors. Over time, I should see real change in my life such as:
· A readiness to obey God (1 John 2:3);
· A sincere love for other Christians (1 John 3:14); and
· A concrete, practical response to those in need (1 John 3:18).
Over and over again, John indicates that if I am not changing outwardly, I am not being honest with myself or with others about my true spiritual condition (e.g. 1 John 1:6; 2:4, 9-11; 4:20).
Staring into the eyes of that angry dog years ago, I was able to conclude that he was chained up securely and couldn’t reach me. I got up and brushed myself off. Then with great relief and confidence, I walked away from the snarling beast—absolutely safe.
In the same way, you need to reach a conclusion regarding your personal experience of salvation. Ask the right questions. Be honest with yourself as you examine your own heart. Sin and hell would devour you if they could—but in Jesus, you can find a safe place—forever!