Saved from Earning, not from Effort
Over the past 10 years of being married to a college pastor and seeing a lot of college students come and go, I have noticed something troubling. Now, I am not saying that I haven't also seen a similar trend among Christian adults who are older than college age, but I think that it is less hidden among the college group. What is this troubling trend? I think it is the living out of the idea that holiness is not essential in the Christian life. It seems that many Christians these days are indistinguishable from the unbelieving culture in America. I completely believe that some of these "Christians" are not true believers at all, but some are the most committed and involved among the church group. I have struggled with how to address this topic without sounding legalistic but yesterday, I was reading 2 Peter and I found the Bible does a great job of addressing this trend.
3 His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence,
4 by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.
5 For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge,
6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness,
7 and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.
8 For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
9 For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins.
10 Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.
11 For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. - 2 Peter 1:3-11
As a true Christian, we must make an EFFORT, not to be saved, which is completely by faith in Jesus and NOT by works, but an effort to increase in the qualities listed above: virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, and godliness...so we will not be unfruitful and ineffective for Christ. I've heard Vic say over and over that "the gospel saves us from earning, not from effort". That simply means that we don't have to earn our salvation because it's a gift we don't earn. However we are saved to become more like Christ, which takes continual effort on our part.
Verse 9 says that whoever is lacking the qualities is so nearsighted they are blind. This verse really resonated with me. If you have perfect eyes, you may not understand, but I AM so nearsighted that I am basically blind without glasses or contacts. I certainly am not effective at life without them. I really can't even do anything. So, the verses above say that if we lack these qualities it may be because we are spiritually blind and are not remembering what Jesus has done for us. We can't really do anything to further His kingdom.
So, here is where I have to be careful about sounding legalistic....but the Bible doesn't say that we should of our own power try to be virtuous, steadfast, etc. We cannot do that in our own power. BUT, if Jesus has truly transformed our hearts, verse 3 says we have been given EVERYTHING we need for life AND godliness. We have been given the power through the Holy Spirit in us, but we do have to put forth an effort. We have to daily preach the beautiful, life- giving gospel to ourselves, so that we REMEMBER what Jesus has done for us and out of love we will WANT to please Him.
What does this mean practically? How can we strive to develop these qualities and so continue to be effective and fruitful for Jesus? Well, it means we MUST be distinguishable from the world. We cannot believe as the world does that going out and partying and getting drunk is ok. How does that point them to Jesus? I agree that the Bible doesn't say not to drink at all, but not to be drunk. So, can you honestly say you never get drunk? What are your motivations for doing the bar crawl? Legalism to earn salvation is NOT ok, but personal boundaries ARE. If you know a certain situation tempts you to become drunk, avoid it. Have a trustworthy friend who will hold you accountable. I know I am stepping on toes by being this straightforward, but I think I would be unloving not to say it in an understandable way. If your Christian group of friends condones this type of behavior, maybe it's time to find someone else to do things with. Or maybe it's time to have an honest conversation with them. If you know this is a chronic temptation for you and a chronic struggle, make every effort to develop virtue and self-control.
1 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? - Romans 6:1-2
And what about relationships? Is it ok to spend the night with your girlfriend/boyfriend? The world says it is. So, are you distinguishable from the world? No matter how serious the relationship....no matter if you are engaged....doing things like the world will have consequences both now and in the future. If you cannot practice self-control now, what makes you think you will in marriage? God has a plan for marriage to be a picture of the gospel. If you are sleeping together before marriage, you will experience consequences after marriage in the area of trust and intimacy that will make it more difficult to be an effective and fruitful picture of the gospel to the world around us. But what if you have already messed up? Repent, ask forgiveness, and ask God to heal you. God is a God of redemption. Again, not legalism, but personal boundaries in relationships are necessary to do things the way God tells us is best, both for us and for our testimony.
The truth is, the world around us is desperate for hope. We can point them to the only hope that will never disappoint - JESUS. He is our rescue and salvation. Only He can satisfy. So, let me encourage each of us to make every effort to supplement our faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with brotherly affection. That will intrigue the world and give us opportunity to be a fruitful and effective part of God's kingdom.