There is a lot of tension in being a follower of Christ. If you haven’t noticed, you haven’t been reading the manual very closely.
We often call them paradoxes: To be first, you must be last. To save your life, you must lose it. What good is it to gain the world and lose your soul? You know, little things like those.
But recently, I have been pondering a grace and works tension. Not regarding salvation – no, no!
There is nothing to add to or take from the work Christ did for us on the cross.
I’ll leave some space here for the presumed “Amen’s.”
But, sometimes, we carry that theology of salvation into a theology of discipleship where it does not fit as neatly. This is not to say you’re covered by grace until salvation and then transferred to a kingdom of works as a disciple. Not at all.
Every Christian is offered grace before, during and after our salvation “moment.” But once we become followers of Jesus, we are disciples.
And disciples have discipline. And discipline takes work.
See, there’s that tension.
As a disciple, it’s not a question of grace or works but a reality of grace with works.
Paul explained this beautifully in a single verse: “For this I toil, struggling with all His energy that He powerfully works within me.”
First, being a disciple involves ‘toil.’ The word is kopio in Greek and means to labor, work, use some energy. In this verse, Paul describes the ministry to which he was called to steward and says it requires ‘toil.’
I can’t think of a better way to say this, so I will blurt it out: This means some stuff’s just on you. Getting up in the morning, walking through your disciplines, submitting to your Lord, fulfilling the obligations of your calling.
There is no escaping it. It’s work. It’s hard. And it’s on you.
Second, we cannot ignore the beautiful end of this tension, described as “struggling with all His energy.” The word for ‘struggling’ here is agonizomai (probably no need to break that down for us).
Yet, in the agony of the struggle, we find that everything we do is with all His energy. We’ve all felt it when the task is too big, the obstacles are too difficult – and yet somehow there is enough strength. Miracles change our circumstances, serendipity is replaced by the supernatural, and you must step back and say, “Wow, Lord, thank you.”
It’s spiritual inertia becoming momentum. It begins with a step of obedience to enter the toil, then being fueled by the filling of “all his energy” – and suddenly you find you have become a spiritual juggernaut impossible to stop because of the God who saved you, called you and fills you.
Third comes the payoff for our toiled obedience filled with the power of our Savior, leading to all “that He powerfully works within me.” In Greek, “powerfully works” is pronounced dynamis energeo, from which we derive ‘dynamite’ and ‘energy.’ (If you are willing to follow the twisty path of etymology, finding some potential root words for our English language.)
And what a payoff that is. Our simple obedience and Spirit-filled energy results in explosive ministry and energy beyond our abilities!
Thank you, Lord.
Yes, the tasks are too big for you and the calling you have received is too much for you. But you are called to step into the toil and be filled with all His energy so He might do what you and I could never do on our own or even together.
Let’s not focus on strategy, resources or even abilities. Instead, let us offer a worshipful act of obedience as we step into the work, believing and knowing He is all we need. When the toil is in your strength, the toil is terrible.
But when the toil is in His strength, the toil is worship.
And that worship is wonderful.
Published September 7, 2023