As Christians, we know we have responsibilities–love God, love one another, care for widows and orphans, forgive our enemies, share the gospel of Christ, make disciples, etc. But even as we put forth effort in the Christian life to grow (sanctification), we should still understand our effort as possible only because of the Lord’s grace (justification). Had God not saved us we would still be dead in sin.
It is helpful when we distinguish between “earning” and “effort.” As Christians, we should not be busy merely because it’s our duty, trying to “earn” something from God. Rather we are fulfilling our duty joyfully by his Spirit and putting forth “effort” to grow because we know him already. Did we get that? Because we, Christians, know him already. As the Apostle Paul says, “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it” (1 Thessalonians 5:23–24). The Lord’s faithfulness in our lives will guarantee we have good works. Nonetheless we will put forth effort to do good works.
We can do good works because God has worked in us–and is working in us. Philippians 2:12–13 says it clearly, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” We can do our good works because God lives in us and is working through us.
Here’s a quick summary:
- Non-Christians cannot earn their salvation from God. Salvation is all by grace.
- Christians cannot earn their relationship with God. This on-going relationship is all by grace.
- Christians can and should put forth effort to grow in holiness. Holiness (sanctification) is all by grace but we put forth effort to grow.
Do you primarily live out of religious duty, rigorous and hard, trying desperately to earn something from God? Or do you obey (put forth effort) out of delight and joy that comes from knowing Christ?