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 two scriptures and ask yourself, “what am I supposed to do?” Do I “let go and let God” as some will summarize by the principle of grace, or do I “work out my salvation” by striving to enter the narrow gate?
The Word of God can seem to contradict itself when it comes to the ways people are suppose to act.
Psalm 37:5 “Commit your way to the LORD; trust in Him, and He will do it.”
Philippians 2:12 “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 those who seek a deeper walk with God, topics such as striving or working can seem confusing when grace is key to salvation. When considering the topic of works, the implication that people have to take part in their salvation seems counter to biblical teaching.
Salvation and Works
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, 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 trying to be a good christian. My issue for years was that I found it very difficult to “be” a good christian and so I was often apologizing to God for walking in a state of failure, fearing I would be judged upon the Lord’s return.
As I searched the scriptures, I found the concepts such as ‘works’ wasn’t as clear as I had once thought. Some works are good when they are done within the guidance of the Spirit. Other works are evil if a person is trying to justify themselves or prove their goodness apart from God.
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, one 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 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 the heart is key to whether an effort is blessed or cursed. Salvation belongs to the Lord (Rev. 7:10) so any attempt to earn salvation is an attempt at circumnavigating God’s perfect plan with our own reality. Every religion except christianity has a process of works that is necessary for salvation. Every attempt to be justified by works is an attempt at striving to make pure what God has deemed as corrupt, including mankind.
The Moral law reminds people just how pure they really are. When self-examination is done using the 10 commandments, a person can determine if they are justified. Murder is equated to hating your brother and hatred can take many forms. (1 John 3:15). Adultery is on the same scale as lust. (Matt. 5:22) Lying (Deut. 5:20) has been practiced by every human on earth and I don’t know of anyone who hasn’t elevated something in their life over God.(Ex. 20:3) If people want to justify themselves before God, they have to pass the moral law test before they can be found pure.
Striving for salvation is an element of bad works for the person who doesn’t want to trust Christ for their salvation. Many false religions today have followers who think they have to earn their way to Heaven. Being good is subjective and religions love to establish man-made processes by which to accomplish those works.
For the true believer who has been sealed with the Spirit of promise, bad works are still a potential. There have been many christians who have neglected the leading of the Spirit, venturing out on a mission to “do the work of the Lord”, while hoping God blesses it can be an exercise in futility. The Lord can take anything and use it for good, but for those who practice such things, all the reward they will receive is on earth.
The judgement seat of Christ is reserved for those who practice “godliness” apart from God. The intent of the heart is how God judges good and bad works and the prideful heart is usually bent toward selfish gain.
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 people produce good works if nothing man does is good?
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 the heart of the man questioning Him. Did this man 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?
Goodness implies perfection which is a revelation of God’s character. If I want to see good works made evident in may 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.
Colossians 1:28-29 “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all His energy that He powerfully works within me.”
Striving is more than attempting to reproduce the work of the Spirit in life artificially, but is the part of obedience God expects of His people as they grow in wisdom, understanding how to follow.
There is much worth striving for….
*Showing yourself approved by God. (2 Tim. 2:15)
*Showing yourself faithful. (Matt. 25:21)
*Showing forth good works. (Matt. 5:16)
Ultimately, any attempt at being obedient to the Lord will be found in accordance with God’s Holiness as reflected by His moral law. The Lord will direct His people’s path because it will bring glory to His name. Any good work is led by God and reflects the love of God toward others.
The good works of the widow who showed herself approved in (1 Timothy 5:10) was demonstrated in humility, kindness, generosity, and love. As she devoted herself to good works it proved to be an attempt at commiting her way to God’s way. The striving began with a decision of what was important, progressed into a desire to seek God’s will, then it was developed by meditating and prayer, the final step was a progression toward listening and obedience.
Evidence of good works
How do we know if our work is good or not?
*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 many. When God’s people work at pleasing God by obediently following His will, they will witness the many ways God accomplishes His plans and they will be blessed for it. When God’s people trust His process, when they follow Jesus into the unknown, the legacy left behind will be good and the reward will be rich to all who follow the King.