“The kind of religion that God requires,
and will accept,
does not consist in weak,
dull, and lifeless “wouldings”–
those weak inclinations that lack convictions–
that raise us but a little above indifference.
God, in His word,
greatly insists that we be in good earnest,
fervent in spirit,
and that our hearts be engaged vigorously in our religion.”
~ by Jonathan Edwards
Where I come from, there is great emphasis on the theological reality that we are “saved by grace, through faith – and this not from yourselves , it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9) And this is truly a treasure when we discover that God loves us so much that He extends his forgiveness and grace, even to those of us who have failed in so many ways. Unfortunately, when we focus on this verse without remembering the next verse, sometimes we find ourselves in the position that Paul addressed so emphatically: “What? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means!” (Romans 6:1)
In Ephesians 2:10, Paul states the case for our responsibility in response to our salvation: “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” It seems to me that this is a clear explanation of not only the sequence of events in my life (FIRST, God offers me the free gift of salvation, by His grace and mercy, which I accept by faith and trust Him to forgive me; THEN, I have the responsibility to live a life of obedience and “good works” out of a heart of gratitude for His incomparable gift), but it also makes it clear that this is not an option for the Christian.
Well, then what about the fact that we don’t always live up to the high standard and calling of Christ upon our lives to “be Holy as I am Holy”? That’s the point, of course! If we could do all this “holiness” business on our own, we wouldn’t need a Savior. So this is not “either / or” but the proverbial and ever-present theological debate about “both / and.” But not to get too theological or philosophical, the practical reality is this: As I go through life, as a humble human being who has been redeemed and justified through faith in the blood and sacrifice of the Lord Jesus, I am to be grateful for God’s gift of salvation and express my gratitude through daily devotion to living a life of obedience.
But, I also must remember that I am a humble human being and I will fail . . . . frequently. But the good news is that God is still in the business of forgiving our sins, if we but seek His face and confess our sins. As we strive daily to walk in obedience, seeking to “be Holy” as He is Holy (and the only way we will ever achieve that lofty goal is through His Holiness!), we must never forget that this is not a competition. If we invest our emotional and spiritual energy focused on the “Coulda, Shoulda, Woulda” reality that we all experience, we will miss the opportunity that is right before us every day.
The other day my family was finishing up our weekly grocery shopping trip to our local WalMart. As we were checking out, I began to walk away and replace my wallet in my purse and push our cart out to the car. I felt a little tap on my shoulder. I turned and there, right in front of me, was one of the other check-out ladies from the aisle right next to the one where we had been. She opened her arms and threw them around my neck and gave me a great big hug! Now, I’m one who believes that we can never have enough hugs, so of course, I hugged her right back. She looked into my eyes and said, “I am so glad to see you! I just had to give you a hug!” And then she hugged me again ;o)
Virginia is my neighbor and I see her frequently when I stop in to do a bit of shopping. All that I have ever done for Virginia is speak to her when I’m in the store – at Christmas time she shared with me that she was rather sad, always at that time of year, and she got a bit teary-eyed, and I listened. That’s all . . . . does that count? Well, I’m not sure, but I’ve learned the hard way that if I focus on all of my “failures,” all of the things that I “should” have done but missed the opportunity; or if I spend all of my emotional energy “beating myself up” over all of the things that I “could” have done but for one reason or another, I failed . . . . . my life will be miserable. Life is difficult enough without beating myself up every day over my mistakes and short comings.
The balance . . . . take Ephesians 2: 8 and 9 AND 10 very seriously; take Romans 6:1 very seriously and strive daily to live a life of obedience that is honoring to God . . . . . and remind myself daily (or every hour, or every minute if need be) that God’s grace and mercy, through the blood of the Lord Jesus, have made it possible for me to “be Holy” as He is Holy. And stop carrying around the burden of my sin, since Jesus already took care of that.
I guess part of the discussion on this topic could include the idea that we must define what we mean by such terms as “Go” as in “Go ye into all the world . . . . ,” or “ministry” as in what really “counts” as ministry? Does it “count” if you take a freshly baked loaf of bread to your neighbor and just let them know you care . . . . even if every conversation isn’t a “Come to Jesus” meeting? What about loving that person you work with and sharing your heart with them until they one day ask you, “So . . . . what’s up with this Jesus thing?” Does that count? And sometimes, in the stillness of a sleepless night, I ask myself: “Does it count? Does traveling to the other side of the world to bring two little girls into our family “count” for “going” or “ministry” in God’s eyes?” Is that enough to qualify? And when I remember that there are two little girls right this very minute, living in our humble home, who most likely would never have heard the name of Jesus, all because God gave us the blessing and opportunity to make those trips to the other side of the world – I know that He knows, and He cares.
Yes, I still have plenty of those “Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda” moments when I remember all of my failures, but that is no longer where I focus my energy. I’m too busy being the mama of two little girls, lots of big boys and girls, and even more grandbabies to waste my time worrying about trying to “fix” something that God settled long ago. Now it’s time to get back to work on living life in the here and now, striving to honor Him in all that I do!
If you would like to participate in this week’s “In Other Words,” please visit Tami at her blog, “The Next Step.” You can leave a link to your blog post on this quote, and find links to visit the other participants. Hope to see you there! Have a great Tuesday, Nina