Who’s Doing The Work?

I overheard an interesting conversation at church yesterday. (I was dying to jump in and give my two cents but decided that would be rude. 😳 ) One older man was essentially giving his testimony.

In short, he came to Christ when he was ten, but then he got involved with friends who weren’t the best influence on him. Until he married his wife, he led a life that was far from God. He stated emphatically, though, that he believes he was a Christian. He’d made that profession of faith that was genuine. How can you undo being born again, he asked.

Some people call this “easy believe-ism” and don’t think such a person is saved.

Christians know that nobody is made right with God by what we do. No work of ours can erase the sin in our heart. Through Jesus alone can we be reconciled to God. What we must do is confess with our mouth and believe in our heart:

that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. (Rom 10:9-10)

This believing issue is the one that gets a little sticky. James says the demons also believe (that God is One) and they shudder (James 2:19). They are, however, not saved. He uses them to illustrate that the person with genuine faith is the person who by his actions demonstrates what he believes.

A tangential issue has to do with how we can possibly do works of righteousness, which seem to be the evidence of faith.

Are the works ours? Or do they come from the Spirit within us?

Paul seems to indicate in Colossians 2 that, as we began in faith, we are to live by faith: “Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord [by faith], so walk in Him [by faith] (Col. 2:6).”

Yet he also says we are to “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord [action], to please Him in all respects” (Col. 1:10b).

So which is it?

The Holy Spirit gives gifts and He also supplies fruit:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Gal 5:22-23)

Yet the Christian is commanded not to quench the Spirit or to grieve Him, which seems to indicate we can stifle His influence in our life (and so not show His fruit or use His gifts). Are we then, not Christians?

Not at all. Too many verses in Scripture indicate that God does not lose those who are His own. So either the wayward person was never a Christian or he will change his behavior in due time, like the mouthy brother who said he wouldn’t obey his father, only to end up doing what he was told after all (see Matt 21:28-29).

Still, there is the question about our works. My former pastor was constantly reminding us that we live by grace. Alistair Begg, who I listen to on the radio, is also diligent to explain that we don’t go to church to get a pep talk, to learn what it is we’re supposed to do, then go out, pull up our socks, and try harder.

Rather, “it is God Who is at work in you both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil 2:13).

Do we have no responsibility, then?

Peter seems to say we do. “Like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior because it is written, ‘You shall be holy for I am holy’ ” (1 Peter 1:15-16).

This is one of those issues, I think, where a great case can be made for living by grace — a “let go and let God” approach when taken to the extreme. At the same time, an equally good case with supporting verses can be made for working out our salvation.

In such instances, I think the best approach is a both/and acceptance. Somehow God does work in the life of the Christian and at the same time expect the Christian to obey. Not by his own strength (“strengthened with all power according to His glorious might,” Paul says in Colossians). Nevertheless, somehow — volitionally, perhaps — we’re involved. We don’t (or ought not) sit around waiting for God to pull our wallet out of our pocket and give to our needy neighbor. We already have His command to love our neighbor as ourselves.

What about the flip side of the coin, those things like lust or greed or anger (the topics those in the pulpit at my church are tackling these next few weeks)? We have clear directions about those issues already, so are we to obey or are we to wait for God to make us obey?

Both.

It’s a both/and issue, remember? We first pray, confess our sin and our inability in our own flesh to deal with the issue. Then we thank God that we don’t have to, that He’s already given us the Holy Spirit to empower us to do the very thing He has asked us to do. Then we take a step in the right direction. One after another, trusting that God will give us the strength each time to lift our foot and keep going where He’s shown us we should go.

I think learning to live in God’s strength is harder than it sounds. It is for me anyway. But at the same time, I don’t feel so defeated as I once did. In case you missed my post at the beginning of the year, I’m the one who doesn’t make New Year’s resolutions because I was so tired of trying to do the same things over and over, year after year! It gets … discouraging. But God’s promise of strength and provision of His Spirit gives hope.

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Published in: on March 5, 2012 at 7:10 pm  Comments (6)  
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6 Comments

  1. Great post. And I think if we look at Jesus, if we read scripture and learn to hear Him speak, we end up being imitators of Christ, as dearly loved children. We are to be holy because God is holy and he’s our Father. We are to show the family likeness. I think if we look at Jesus a lot of the work we’re to do just comes naturally. Children don’t have to learn to do many of the things their parents do. They automatically mimic their parents. As they grow older, obedience takes some effort. But they are well trained and the obedience gives them joy even though it’s hard. I sometimes think that’s the way the Christian life is, too.

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  2. Always need to be reminded of this. Thanks.
    Some Puritan said something like this (I can’t remember who or exactly what): Live like your salvation depended on it, but know that it has nothing to do with it. It is the works without faith issue.

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  3. Sally, that’s a great analogy. Children do mimic their parents. They do it purposefully and joyfully. They want to grow up someday to be just like their mommy or their daddy. And why shouldn’t God’s children adapt that same mindset? I think you’re right that we can if we keep looking above where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.

    Becky

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  4. Bob, I appreciate your feedback.

    Yes, I’ve heard that expression, too. The question that came up with another writer is when are we doing work from the flesh? Aren’t those things that will burn as wood, hay, and stubble?

    So one person can go on a short term missions trip, and think it’s something that Christians should do — a duty required of us if we are to be good Christians. Someone else prays, asking God how He wants this believer to live. The next Sunday, from the pulpit is a presentation about loving our neighbors, and the opportunity to get involved in a local ministry. Christian number 2 believes this is an answer to prayer and signs up.

    Is there a difference between those? Is one doing works from self-effort, the other as a result of being led by the Holy Spirit?

    Christian 3 does not get involved in any short term ministry, reasoning that God would have had him live in another country or in an urban center if He wanted him to be involved in those places.

    Christian 4 does not go on a missions trip, but when the pastor explains the upcoming project, he writes a one-time check for the ministry.

    Christian 5 believes his gifts lie in another direction and does not get involved with the missions trip, but he commits to pray regularly for those who are going.

    The question is, which of these believers are doing a good work from their flesh, and which is depending on the Holy Spirit to work? I realize we can’t know for someone else, but is there a way of knowing for ourselves what Spirit-controlled, Spirit-filled living looks like?

    Thanks for spurring on these thoughts, Bob.

    Becky

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  5. The Lord is the Lord over our lives. With that thought, our lives should bear fruit because we love to obey Him.

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  6. Nikole, that certainly is the “why.” The issue remains “how.” Do we wait for the Spirit to prompt us? empower us? enable us? Or do we trudge forward, trying harder today than we did yesterday? Or is there a third thing, a reliance on the Spirit and a trudging forward, trusting that God will do what He said He would do — fill us, strengthen us, answer our prayers according to His will, draw near to us, and so much more.

    The more I think about this, the more I think the life of faith means going forward, not in my strength and not waiting for the assurance that I have God’s strength, but by faith that what God has called me to do He will enable me to do as I look to Him.

    The line from Hebrews just came to me — about Abraham going, not knowing. God told him to leave home but didn’t tell him where He wanted him to go. He was just to set out and trust that God would lead him. Which, of course, He did. But we have the whole story. Abraham didn’t. He was taking off across barren land to places unknown simply because God told him to go.

    Now that’s faith. God didn’t forcibly inhabit Abraham’s body or create a set of circumstances that gave him no alternative but to go. Rather, Abraham had complete freedom to go or stay, based on nothing more than his belief in God.

    Did he go from something within himself? Yes and no. His belief was counted as righteousness, and righteousness would obey. I guess I’m looking at it as God called, Abraham responded, and together they went.

    Becky

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