So, if you watched/heard/read last weekend’s sermon, you might ask, HEY BILL, HOW DOES THIS WORK OUT IN REAL LIFE?
Great question… let’s dive in.
I’m suggesting that we replace the phrase GOOD WORKS with the phrase GOD WORKS THRU ME. What comes to mind when most Christians think “good works” is NOT what God intended. It is not a burden on your back. It is not the production of your own power.
It is, rather, the work of God through you.
But how does this happen? And what does it feel like? St Paul nails its (as always):
Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus. To this end I also labor, striving according to His working which works in me mightily. (Colossians 1:28, 29, NKJV).
Let’s break it down:
- Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom… To this end I also labor, striving… Who is doing the action of the verbs? Paul and his friends (“we”). He preaches, he warns, he teaches, he labors, he strives. This is Paul’s work. He puts forth effort. He breaks a sweat. He goes home and collapses in the Lazyboy at the end of a hard day’s ministry.
And so it will be for us. Again, do not accuse me of advocating passivity. I don’t. The Way of Christ is mightily active, and full of struggle. We must, however, frame both the activity and the struggle as Paul, following Jesus, did. He worked, and so should you, and so should I. We strive for holiness. We seek to do good in the world. We seek to love as we have been loved.
But how, in that pursuit, can we avoid the trap of legalism? How can we avoid the duty-based life that has been the church’s death of a thousand cuts for two thousand years?
- …striving according to His working which works in me mightily… There’s the secret. Paul never viewed his herculean efforts in isolation from the monumental work of God. Paul broke the sweat, but it was God’s working working in him mightily. Paul got tired, but it was God who actually did the work. Paul needed a nap, but the credit for the effort went to God, not Paul.
Perhaps this paradox led Paul to call “Christ in You” the MYSTERY of our faith (v. 27). Christ is working through him, but he still gets tired. What’s that about? Let me try to pull this all together.
1. There is no official feeling of the power of God. You can feel tired, mad, sad, energized, scared, invincible, weak, or small. Doesn’t matter. GOD WORKS THROUGH YOU no matter how you feel.
2. The fact that God works through you doesn’t exempt you from feeling tired. It’s not a sign that you’re bad Christian if you feel worn out at the end of the day. It’s normal. You are a frail vessel filled with the excellency of God.
3. We’re supposed to turn from Self-effort to Christ-effort. From what I produce to what God produces. This is a frame of mind and faith above all else. It is viewing your best efforts the way Paul viewed his: NOT I, BUT CHRIST (Gal 2:20).
4. Grace means that God does the work… that is what I believe. That is where I stand. That is what I remind myself of. That is what I say to any person who asks. God does the work. God gets the credit. I’m a vessel. I’m a channel. I’m a mouth. I’m arms, legs, feet, hands, and wallet. It is God’s work through me…. and the second I doubt it, the second I forget it, I land myself in the stiff working boots of the prodigal son’s elder brother.
5. The surest signs I’m counting on my own power instead of God’s power: inflation (arrogance), deflation (self-contempt), boasting (taking credit, playing “mine’s better” or “mine’s worse), whining (as if God’s grace isn’t sufficient), and quitting (as if God’s grace isn’t sufficient). In short, when faith evaporates, the channel of grace fizzles.
I want to do good works, but I want them to be God’s work thru me.
that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. (1 Corinthians 2:5, NKJV).
Here’s a previous post on this topic: http://maxgrace.wordpress.com/2009/03/31/gods-power-for-gods-people/