Transforming Ordinary People into Extraordinary Followers of Christ

Modus Operandi – How God Works In His World – Part 1 of 2: God Uses “Means”

Sermon Summary

Each week on the hit TV show NCIS a mystery is solved by figuring out the criminal’s modus operandi, Latin for “method of operation”. God also has an M.O.—a way he typically operates. How does God work in his world? Answering that question will help us pull together what we’ve been learning over the past three months as we’ve examined God’s dazzling character, the main thing that God is doing in the world (building the church), and what God wants most from us (that we be fully-devoted disciples). Today we ask the question, “How does God accomplish the things he wants to do? What exactly is God’s M.O.?” When we know God’s M.O. life becomes less confusing.

Philippians 2:13 show’s God’s M.O. in action. God doesn’t zap us into robots which are programmed always to obey him. Instead, God first changes our “wanter”—out desires—and then he gives us power to do what we now want, namely: to please and honor him. God’s M.O. is to use “means” to accomplish his will. A “means” is an instrument or a method used to accomplish something. This theme of God’s controlling hand is not a minor theme; it’s all throughout Scripture. Psalm 104:14-15 shows that if we don’t labor, we won’t eat, but if God doesn’t cause things to grow, our labor is useless, and we can’t eat. God even works through means on a geo-political level (Isaiah 10:5-7, 24). The death of Christ is the greatest example of God’s use of means (Acts 2:22-23). Who ultimately was responsible for Jesus’ death? God. “God so loved the world that he gave his Son…” Nobody twisted his arm. And yet, Jesus didn’t just fall down dead one day in order to save us. God used a “means”: execution. And nobody twisted the Jewish leaders’ arms or Pontius Pilate’s arm—each of them did exactly what they wished to do. They chose to do what they did. Through the means of the Jewish leaders and of godless men, God accomplished his eternal plan to punish Jesus in our place. Marvelous!

God also uses means to bring people into his family (Romans 10:13-15; 2 Timothy 2:24-26). Do you ever wonder if your life is significant? God has ordained that we be his co-laborers in the salvation of the world! He suffered; we share. He purchased; we proclaim. He died; we deliver. Then, God uses means to help us become fully-devoted followers. Philippians 1:3-6 and 2:12-13 reveals this through a shocking contrast. Yes, God guarantees that he’ll finish what he started. Yes, God works within us to will and to work for his good pleasure. Therefore we are to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling”! That’s the divine-human cooperation which lies behind Christian growth and transformation. God doesn’t just zap us into maturity; he doesn’t just act unilaterally. God works in us…and we work, to grow in our faith. God is the ultimate source and cause of our growth, but he uses means.

So, beware of the twin errors of passivity (“Let go and let God!”) and self-effort (“It all depends on me!”). Passivity prays—and then expects God to zap a change while I sit back. Passivity get’s angry when it doesn’t happen. Self-Effort lays out an action plan and makes sure each item is checked-off. Self-Effort get’s proud of progress made—even though it’s all just externals. Toward which error do you tend? Both of them need to be rejected. Instead, we need to buy-into God’s plan of working through means, and cooperating with him.

Many people think that their religious lives operate by a different set of rules than the rest of their lives do. So, for example, you may be very proactive and responsible in the workplace, but think that your spiritual life is a passive zap from God. Similarly, you may invest in your marriage or kids’ lives—but think that your relationship with God doesn’t require an investment. But we saw that we need to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling because God is at work within us both to will and to work for his good pleasure”. Because God is Lord of all, he uses means and works cooperatively with our responsible action in all areas of life.

And make sure that you tell God how much you love and appreciate him! Be dazzled by God’s sovereignty and power! Be comforted that he controls all. Be grateful that God is the ultimate cause. Be confident that he finishes what he starts. Your God truly is awesome! Enjoy him—and tell him that you enjoy him. He loves you and likes hearing from you.

Application / Challenge

  1. Beware of the twin errors of…Toward which error do you tend?  Both of them need to be rejected.
    • Passivity:   “Let go and let God!” and
    • Self-Effort:  “It all depends on me!”
  2. Tell God how much you love and appreciate him!
    • Be dazzled by God’s sovereignty and power! – Check out past four-part series: Behold & Be Dazzled
    • Be comforted that he controls all.
    • Be grateful that God is the ultimate cause.
    • Be confident that he finishes what he starts.


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