James Petticrew ~ There Are No Write Off's with God

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As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.  All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

I have some big theological books, huge tomes. In these books when the writers want to describe God they tend to use big words, words like “omnipresent” and “omniscient.”

I wonder if you have noticed that in contrast when the Bible wants us to understand what God is really like, it doesn’t use big hard-to-pronounce words more often than not; rather than using words to describe God, it uses pictures.

Perhaps the most famous one is when we are asked to picture God as a shepherd. But we are also asked to picture God as a loving Father and as a skillful potter. These images help us understand God better. When we think of God as Shepherd we see that he is committed to caring, protecting, providing and guiding us.

I wonder if you had to come up with a picture of someone or something to help other people understand God better, what would that picture be?

For me it would be Bill.

I think God is like Bill.

Now I need to explain to you that Bill was a retired neighbor who lived across the road from us in Colinton.

Most days when I was sitting at my desk in our front room I could see Bill working away in his garage.

Bill and I had one thing in common, we both love motorbikes, but different kinds of bikes. To be honest I love shiny modern Italian super bikes; Bill had a different taste. He told me that he was looking for a new bike and then eventually he asked me to come over so he could show me his new bike.

Actually what he showed me was a rusty frame and about five boxes of oily and rusty “bits.”

You see Bill is a classic bike restorer. He doesn’t really care for my newish shiny working motorbikes.

Bills great passion is to take something that’s

broken,

ugly,

dilapidated

and restore it to its original condition.

He wants to take something that other people look at as rubbish and restore it till it’s just as the designer intended it to be.

He has some shining examples of old British bikes he has already restored in his garage. Right now he is working on his new project with great purpose and he will keep doing that for the weeks, months and even years until he has fully restored it.

He cleans,

shapes,

polishes,

recoats,

paints,

refits and

remodels day after day, knowing that despite all the difficulties of finding and creating parts, of making parts fit together again and making old seized parts work that he will eventually restore this bike to the masterpiece its designer meant it to be.

For Bill it’s not buying the best bike he can that gives him pleasure, it’s the challenge and joy of restoration.

I know Bill isn’t a Christ follower but watching him work away on his restoration project he reminds me of God. This connection between God and Bill came to me recently as I read these words from Paul right at the end of that passage we read.

For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago – Ephesians 2:10

The Apostle Paul would never have seen a 1950 BSA Gold Flash, but he thinks of God like Bill. Paul is saying here that God is a great restorer, not of old motorbikes but of broken human lives.

He says that “in Christ,” through what Christ has done for us in his life, death and resurrection, through his empowering Spirit and inspiring example and our relationship with Christ, God is recreating, restoring us to what he originally intended us to be. The Greek word that Paul uses literally means a “masterpiece.”

Now that’s incredible isn’t it? Just think about it for a moment

The moment we are “in Christ”, the moment we come into a real living, relationship with God through Jesus Christ, God gets to work to recreate us as a masterpiece of humanity.

I want you to remember this: God wants to get to work in your life so that when people get to know you they will say what a masterpiece of humanity, not it terms of your figure, or your shape or even your IQ but in terms of your character, your attitudes, your actions, the way you treat other people.

This whole passage in Ephesian 2 is about salvation, how we become a Christian and what it means to be a Christian.

After explaining why we need to be saved and how God has saved us through what he has done for us, not what we do for him, here right at the end of this explanation of salvation Paul says it is about so much more than just avoiding eternal punishment and going to heaven.

Salvation is about so much more than having your sins forgiven and a place in heaven.

Salvation is the short hand word the bible uses to describe God’s restoration work in humanity, restoring his Image in us. Making us more like the human beings he always intended us to be, more like Jesus.

I want us to unpack the implications of what Paul says here for how we understand our lives.

YOUR LIFE HAS POTENTIAL.

God is not like my insurance company. My insurance company decided my bike wasn’t worth the expense and bother of being restoring.

There are no write-off’s with God ….only restorations. God never writes anyone off.

Sometimes other people write us off. Sometimes we write ourselves off – but God never writes a life off. He always sees the potential in a human life handed over to him to be a masterpiece.

I have to be honest, I would never have bought that pile of parts that Bill did. When he first showed me them I couldn’t see how they could be restored into a working motorbike. The pile of parts looked beyond repair and restoration to me. But Bill, is a master restorer and he saw the potential in those rusty, oily bits of metal.

Thinking about it I am pretty sure that my life looks as unpromising a restoration project to the angels as Bill’s boxes full of old broken bits looked to me but like Bill, God relishes the work of restoration however unpromising the raw materials.

I suspect there might be some people who can’t see any potential in their own lives. When you think about your life you look at it like I looked at Bill’s box of broken bits.

You can’t see any potential. You can’t see how your life can be put back together again. Maybe you have tried yourself and failed time and time again.

If you feel like that I want to tell you one of the implications of what the Bible is telling us in this verse.

Whenever you enter into a living, vibrant relationship with Christ, when you are “in Christ” as Paul describes it, your past failures, your present faults in life don’t determine the future potential of your life.

The restoration project that is taking place across the road from me is happening not because of the state of the parts but the skill of Bill as a restorer.

It’s exactly the same with God, it doesn’t matter how broken your life is, how ruined it feels, what state parts of it are in, what’s important in this human restoration projection is the skill of God as a restorer not how promising or unpromising our lives are.

WHEN YOU THINK ABOUT IT, THIS IS THE OPPOSITE OF WHAT WE ARE TAUGHT IN OUR CULTURE.

In our culture we have songs like “search for the hero inside yourself.” The books in the self-help sections of book shops have the same message. The message is that the solution to our problems comes from inside us, it’s saying that we have the resources to change our life. The message is try harder, think differently.

The Christian message is different, it encourages us to look outside of ourselves for the power to change. It says come into a living relationship with God and rely on him to restore you.

You see as Christians we don’t believe in self-improvement but in God-empowered transformation. I can see Bill’s masterpieces of restoration in his garage and I see God’s masterpieces of restoration around me among his people. You can see them too, just look around and you here and you’ll see them.

SOME OF YOU – look in the mirror! YOUR LIFE HAS PURPOSE.

I live in Edinburgh, and Edinburgh is full of masterpieces, paintings and sculptures but they all just hang there or sit there in art galleries and museums.

The sad thing about Bill my neighbor’s restoration projects is that they sit idly in his garage. He’s too old to ride them now. They go to the occasional classic bike show to be admired but they aren’t ridden. They aren’t used. They don’t do anything useful.

Paul tell us its very different with God, he isn’t interested in restoring us to display us as museum pieces. He doesn’t start this great restoration project just to make us fit for heaven in the future either.

Here is the second implication I want to draw out of what God is saying in his Word here for us. God restores us so he can involve us. So not only does your life has potential it also has purpose.

When we come into a living relationship with Jesus our life doesn’t just have potential, salvation isn’t just about God restoring his Image in us and making us a masterpiece.God also has a purpose for us, “so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.”

Paul says in essence here in verse 10, God’s doesn’t just want to make a difference IN YOUR life, he wants to make a difference THROUGH YOUR life. God’s Word says there are good works which God has prepared for you to do.

What are good works? Good in the Bible is a word connected to God’s character. So “good” is anything that embodies or expresses the character of God. Good works are things we do that express God’s character to others

when we care for someone

when we meet a practical need

when we bring peace or reconciliation or justice

when we treat someone with compassion

when we help someone to experience god’s practical love.

Some of you may know that the Church of the Nazarene looks back to John Wesley as our sort of spiritual inspiration and Wesley had something great to say about this.

He said

“Do all the good you can,

By all the means you can,

In all the ways you can,

In all the places you can,

At all the times you can,

To all the people you can,

As long as ever you can.”

If you are “in Christ,” if you have entered into a living relationship with Jesus, your mission, should you choose to accept it is to

“Do all the good you can,

By all the means you can,

In all the ways you can,

In all the places you can,

At all the times you can,

To all the people you can,

As long as ever you can.”

God promises right here in this verse that he is at work in the world, and he is at work orchestrating opportunities for you to do good to others. We hear a lot about living our dreams Well here God is asking us to live for something bigger than our dream, to live for, to be involved in his dream for this world.

Our transformation is one small part of what God is doing in this world and he wants us to be involved in this great project of transformation for the whole of creation.

“PREPARED GOOD WORKS FOR YOU TO DO.”

Have a close look, are there any exemptions there? Any small print saying that it doesn’t apply to you? No, God wants to use everyone of us to start a viral movement of goodness, a movement of people committed to making the use of every opportunity to make God tangible to others by doing good to them.

This week he has opportunities ready for you, in your family, in your street, in your community, work place, school, university, gym, sports team, to do good.

Gerard Kelly comments on this thought that, “the message of the New Testament is an invitation not only to forgiveness and reconciliation, but to purpose and meaning: to usefulness; to beauty. It’s an offer of restoration: an invitation to become a human being who shines like the first day out of the factory.”

That’s an offer I want to take up, how about you?

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James Petticrew studied at Glasgow Bible College and Nazarene Theological College, Manchester. He was a Beeson Pastor at Asbury Theological Seminary and currently serves the worshiping community of Mosaic Edinburgh in Edinburgh, Scotland. He and his wife have two grown children.

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