For it is God who works in you. This from Philippians 2:13 describe God’s initiating grace in our lives. On this feast of the Circumcision of Christ, we focus on how from the beginning; Jesus fulfilled the Law perfectly for us. We have the Law to exhibit to us our inability to love God and our neighbors as commanded. Jesus fulfilled the Law to enable us to submit to Him through loving each other. God slowly works in us to soften the areas of our hearts that remain uncircumcised and callous towards others. This morning, let us look to Psalm 103 to understand how Christ’s fulfillment of the Law bestows grace upon grace to us, softening our hearts to His glory.
God’s Loving Work on our Behalf. Psalm 103:1-5
The first section of Psalm 103, verses 1-5, speaks about God’s loving work on our behalf. God works within His people and takes His loving and patient time with us. We all need this sort of love because we all in various parts of our lives lack love. Our idols tempt us to withhold love from others that desperately need our love.
In spite of our propensity to promote self to ignore Christ’s command to love, He still showers us with His benefits. Psalm 103:2 states, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.” Often, we sin when we forget His benefits. In this forgetfulness, we compensate through trying to preserve self. In preserving self, the plight of others goes unheard. The benefits for God’s people are good. They are well beyond our deserving.
In my previous parish in California, my second job was with a well-known shipping company to supplement my stipend and for the benefits. I did not realize how good the benefits were with this company until I started. For working 60 hours a month, I received full medical, dental, and vision without having to pay a premium. Ninety percent of all medical services were covered. We received two weeks of vacation, one week of personal time, another week of sick time, and our birthday with the day after paid every year. I had a single co-worker that used to complain about our rough work conditions for 9 dollars or so an hour. We used to tell him that the benefits made the job more like 30 an hour. He did not change his complaining tune until he had a 30,ooo dollar bill for ambulance and emergency surgery that saved his life almost fully paid for by his benefits. Sometimes, we do not know how well we have it in terms of benefits until we need them. The same is true in our lives in Christ. We too often neglect our benefits in Christ until something happens that restores our appreciation for them.
His benefits to us involve the fact that He works in us to forgive us, to transfer us from the Kingdom of this world to His Kingdom as His children. This working in us is further described in Deuteronomy 30:6, “And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.” Benefits are not earned. They are given. We often confuse things to the point we think these passages speak of us having to figure out how to soften and change our own hearts.
Rather, He enables us to love through His grace. Yes, we still have our moments where we doubt, sin, and rebel. We are called in our rebellion that still manifests itself to return, to repent. God works in us as we read in Philippians for us to will and to work for His good pleasure. Part of the process of God working in us in sanctification is the constant of turning to Him in this life. No one has fully arrived in terms of having a ticket stating one no longer needs to turn to God in repentance. We all have this need. Living the faith entails using the benefits He has given fully as He intended, by clinging to Christ in repentance and submission. We find repeatedly that He forgives, heals, redeems, and crowns us with his steadfast love and mercy. He satisfies us with good as we read in verses 2-5 of our Psalm.
How God Deals with our Sin. Psalm 103:6-13
The second section of our Psalm, verses 6-13, speak of how God deals with our sin, even as His children that experience His loving benefits. Psalm 103:6 states, “The LORD works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed.” Sin is oppression whether we admit it or not. Often, those caught up in unrepentant sin do not know they are under oppression. They rather are in denial. For those that come to Christ in repentance, God frees them.
This mercy is wonderful as described throughout verses 8-13 of our Psalm. The more we return to the Lord even in our self-deemed best and righteous moments, the more we will know God’s mercy. Loving obedience to God exposes more and more our need for His mercy, our need to repent, to work out our salvation with fear and trembling as we read in Philippians 2:13. Working our salvation out is not to earn it, but rather to meditate all our days on what Jesus has done for us through taking away our sins with His death. It is to respond to His salvation with grateful love.
Obedience is marked by submitting to God’s sanctifying work in our lives, exposing our sins to repent of and to receive forgiveness. In such work in us, we learn firsthand that God indeed is slow to anger and abounds in steadfast love to us as we read in Psalm 103:8. God is very patient with us. Where we experience impatience in all our human relationships, God patiently works in us through His loving grace.
Part of this loving work in us is the times of discipline we undergo. We need these times as they come in various forms from God. All such are only for a season. All are meant to restore us, to enable us to love increasingly throughout our lives.
We need chastisement and discipline to learn that God does not ultimately toss us out. Rather, these are used to slowly teach us and bring us back from destroying ourselves. As Psalm 103:10 states, “He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.” Repayment for rebellion requires the persons responsible for the rebellion to be crushed and destroyed. Jesus took the repayment for our iniquities we all deserved upon Himself. He died for us, taking the fully penalty for our rebellion.
His work of redemption to suffer the repayment for our sins moves us from the status of enemy outcasts to God’s children. As His children, we are treated with great and steadfast love. The scope of this love was described in Psalm 103:11-13. These key verses of this passage speak of a Father’s love for His children. This love is so great that it removes our transgressions, “as far as the east is from the west.” Verse 13 puts all of this together for us, showing us why we are not treated as rebels are normally treated, “As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear Him.”
This compassion is such that loves us enough to discipline us when necessary. It is not love to let children go about as hooligans, without defining the boundaries and outlining the discipline for falling out of boundaries willfully. The same is true of us as the children of God. He loves us so greatly and vastly that He does not let us crush ourselves in rebellion. Rather, His love as a shepherd gently yet firmly guides us back to the safety of the fold.
Why do we need redemption? Our limitations. Psalm 103:14-16
In our next section, verses 14-16, we are given a brief reminder of why need redemption, why we need to be treated as dear children. We are weak and limited, in need of a strong and great savior. Verse 14 states, “For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.” Our days are short as verses 15-16 state. Often, our problem in succumbing to temptations is that we forget our limitations. We have a most difficult time admitting that we are inherently weak, are but dust, and will fade quite quickly.
These humbling truths are well founded here to remind us of our need for God’s strength to save us for eternity. We have an overwhelming problem as sinful human beings to self-delude about our frame, our capabilities, and our longevity. Our culture is full of such delusions. We are deluded so much that we make idols out of the means to strengthen our frames and prolong our days. In idolizing how we treat our bodies, we ditch the warnings of Christ to not be anxious about what we will eat, what we will drink, what we will wear, and so forth. There is a vast difference between being good and faithful stewards of what God has given to fretting about the natural limitations of our bodies to the point such consumes us. When we know our limitations to give to God, we are better able to weather the storms of life and thus able to use the time He gives us in the frames provided us to love Him and each other sacrificially.
His Kingdom of Mercy. Psalm 103:17-19
This entrusting self to God’s care is seen in verses 17-19, speaking of God’s kingdom of mercy. Instead of fretting and worrying about our bodies to the point we idolize them, we are rather called to focus on the point of verse 17, “But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children.” God as verse 19 states has established His throne in the heavens. This kingdom rules over all. This Kingdom is by God’s grace, increasingly teaching us to value Him and others over self. When we know our limitations and our need for God’s Kingdom over our delusions of strength and the kingdom of self, we find rich blessings, mercy, and love beyond measure. The key to this is to remember His commandments, of how He saves us from destroying ourselves.
Worship Him. Psalm 103:20-22
How do we remember in keeping His covenant? Verses 20-22 closes this Psalm with the answer, in worshipping God. Worship implies community, the Church. Too often, our problems of idolizing our bodies stem from turning inward and away from God, His Church, and His worship. This is manifested in the way we use the time God gives. Our culture screams at us to replace the time set apart by God to worship Him with worship of self. It is very telling of the difference between the ways our country did things just 30 years ago compared to now. It used to be that sports and other extras for children were relegated to Saturdays or the evenings during the week. Now, the Lord’s Day has been taken over by secular society to be used in the pursuit of building up our frames or the frames of our children through sports, productions, and other extras. In the end, the worship of God is neglected. In such pursuits, the idolatry of self takes preeminence over Christ and our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.
On this Day where we celebrate the Feast of the Circumcision of Jesus on the eighth day after His birth, we are reminded of what it means to keep the covenant in Christ’s blood. In Christ’s fulfillment of the Law, beginning with His parent’s obedience to submit to the covenant oath, sign, and seal of circumcision; we are now the Children of God. For us, Jesus commanded that Holy Baptism replace circumcision as the means of formal transfer from the kingdom of self-appeasement to the Kingdom of God, the Body of Christ.
In our Baptisms, promises were made on our behalf or we made the promises to live in Christ. This living in Christ is in connection with His Body the Church. The manifestation of this connection is seen in worship of God on the Lord’s Day, the day where we remember and celebrate the Resurrection of Christ every week.
Our Psalm calls the angels to bless and worship the Lord. Our Psalm calls all His host, all His ministers to bless and worship the Lord. Our Psalm calls all His works to bless and worship the Lord. Our Psalm calls to worship Him in all places of His dominion as we read in verse 22. From our corporate worship on the Lord’s Day stems our days in between where we continue to worship God through our words and actions in life; consciously choosing to serve the Kingdom of God through loving God, loving neighbor, and loving enemies over the Kingdom of self that promotes self love, self preservation, and self gratification. Our call is to bow the knee to Christ and to confess Him as Lord above all else both in our words and in how we spend the time God gives.
We are weak and tend toward failing miserably in these things. We fail to worship God as often or as attentively as we should. We fail at times to serve Christ and others over self. We take more time in promoting our frames than in tending to the needs of the Kingdom of God in love and grace toward each other. In such, the call for us all is to acknowledge our weakness and our shortcomings through repentance and returning to Christ in asking Him for the grace we need to live as His dear children. Let us use the time we have this morning in a few minutes to confess our sins together to examine ourselves for where we need help. Ask for His help. Submit to His help. “For it is God who works in you.” Amen.