Luke 13:24 “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able.”
Ephesians 2:8-9 “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.”
You may look at these two scriptures and ask yourself, “what am I supposed to do?” Do we “let go and let God”, or do we “work out our salvation with fear and trembling?” (Phil. 2:12)
I have these types of conversations a lot with men who seek out a deeper walk with God. Topics such as striving or working can seem confusing from the onset if meditation on these precepts doesn’t occur or if we just brush by in the reading of scripture and forget to look deeper. First, a look at the topic of works and an evaluation of it’s implication.
Sophocles once said “Without labor, nothing prospers“, while Samuel Johnson took it a step further when he said “Great works are performed not by strength but by perseverance“.
Having been raised in the church I learned from an early age that I can’t ‘earn’ salvation. I memorized scripture such as Ephesians 2:8-9 “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” So, when I considered my position before God I had always considered that once I believed and trusted Jesus with my life, the rest was simply just trying to be a good christian. My issue for years was that I found it very difficult to “be” a good christian much of the time and so I was continually repenting and walking in a state of concern if the Lord was to appear anytime soon.
Later in life, when I began to move from the elementary teachings I learned as a child into a deeper study of God’s Word, I found that concepts such as ‘works’ wasn’t as clear as I had once thought. I believe much heresy has risen in the church by this same pattern of building theology from elementary understanding.
Good and Bad Works
Matthew 5:16 “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”
The idea of working has always been a positive ideal that my Dad taught me long ago. A man doesn’t deserve to eat if he doesn’t work was a common theme, and working to put food on the table and supporting your family was and I believe still is an honorable endeavor. Spiritually work can be good or bad depending on what your trying to achieve.
Bad works: As with anything pertaining to the Lord and how we relate to Him, the position of our hearts is key in whether it is blessed or cursed. Salvation belongs to the Lord alone (Rev. 7:10) so any attempt to earn salvation is an attempt at circumnavigating God’s perfection with our own reality. Every religion but christianity has a process of works that is necessary for salvation. Any attempt to be justified by God’s grace by striving to make yourself pure is an exercise in futility. We can know how pure we are by a quick survey of God’s Moral law. Look through the 10 commandments and see if there is anything you have kept. Murder is equated to hating your brother. Adultery is on the same scale as lust. Lying has been practiced by every human on earth and I’ve yet to know of anyone who has never elevated anything in their life over God.
Striving for salvation is one aspect of bad works but for the believer who has been sealed with the Spirit of promise, bad works are still a potential. Neglect the Spirit of God and venture out on a mission to do the work of the Lord, then watch and see the lack of fruit it produces. I don’t suggest this as a practice but for those who have experienced it, it can either be disheartening or it can be a reminder of where our power source comes from.
Psalm 127:1 “ Unless the LORD builds the house, they labor in vain who build it; Unless the LORD guards the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.”
Good works: How can we produce good works if nothing man does is good? You may ask what I mean but this isn’t my opinion, this was Jesus’ opinion.
Luke 18:19 “So Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God.”
When Jesus responded with this statement, He was speaking to a certain ruler who had approached Him with the notion that he wanted to earn salvation. Jesus was questioning first the nature of the man questioning Him. Did this ruler believe Jesus to be the Messiah, God incarnate, or did he approach Jesus with the idea of Him being only a rabbi who taught with wisdom and power?
Good works can only be manifested by God. If I want to see good works evident in my life, I must submit to the Spirit of God working in and through me. My obedience to God’s purpose, supplied by His power, prepared by His hand, produces good fruit…i.e. good works.
Striving is not attempting to reproduce the work of the Spirit in my life artificially, but is the part of obedience that God expects of us as we grow in Him.
What do we strive for?
Ultimately, we strive to be obedient unto the Lord and the character of God’s Holiness as reflected in His moral law. The Lord will direct our paths but it will be in accordance with who He is, it is by this process by which we show our love for God and ultimately love for others.
The good works of the widow who shows herself approved (1 Timothy 5:10) is demonstrated in humility, kindness, generosity, and love. Devoting herself to good works is commiting her way to God’s way. The striving begins with a decision of what is important, progresses with a desire to seek God’s will, it is then developed by meditating and praying, and then progresses to listening and then obedience.
How do we know if our work is good or not?
- It glorifies God.(Matt. 5:16)
- It produces fruit in accordance with His Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23)
- Others see the goodness of God through the work.(Psalm 27:13)
The works of God are manifold. Our work through God will likewise be as complex as there are people on the earth. When we trust in Him, when we follow Jesus unto the ends of the earth, the legacy left behind will be good and the reward to follow when we stand before the King.