“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.”
It’s impossible to grow without putting in some kind of effort. Growing in our Christian faith is no different. Sometimes, we are afraid of working too hard as Christians because we know that we are saved by grace alone. We do not want to become legalistic. Praise God that He does grant us salvation by grace alone and not based on our own efforts! But this doesn’t necessarily mean that grace and effort are opposites..
Think of it like this: In any other area of our life where we would like to grow, we put forth enormous amounts of effort.
To grow as a piano player, we spend hours learning our chords and scales.
To grow as a basketball player, we spend hours dribbling and shooting.
To grow as a writer, we spend hours typing and editing and revising.
In a similar way, growing in our faith (theologians use the word “sanctification” for this process) also involves our participation. Jesus sanctifies us as we put forth effort and do the works he prepared beforehand for us to do (cf. Eph 2:8-10). Jesus sanctifies us as we work out our salvation with fear and trembling (cf. Phil 2:12).
Rankin Wilbourne speaks of this in his book Union with Christ. He writes, “Sometimes a desire to express what is true about the grace of God – that there’s nothing you can do to make God love you more or love you less – leads to the false assumption that there is nothing then left for you to do. Your life with God is all of grace. Period. And God’s grace invites, even requires, your participation.”
In John 15:10, Jesus urges his followers to “keep [his] commandments.” A practical way to cultivate your faith and fuel your growth is by keeping the commands of Jesus. This is difficult! You have to practice this. None of us are naturally good at these things. We need the Spirit’s help. But we should not be afraid of trying to keep God’s commands. For we know that the commands of Jesus will bring us deeper into the loving heart of God.
Philosopher and theologian Dallas Willard explains this concept beautifully, saying, “Grace is not opposed to effort; grace is opposed to earning.”
So if I want to cultivate my faith, what are some practical actions the Bible tells me I should try to do?
Tame the tongue.
Forgive when wronged.
Bear my fellow believers’ burdens.
These are all ordinary ways to cultivate growth. But remember, we practice our faith as we abide in the love of Jesus. We do so because we have already been saved by grace.
We strive to grow not out of obligation, but from a position of freedom and gratefulness. As we practice our faith in the love of Jesus, let us move from duty to delight.
Paul commands us to not let sin rule over us in our lives. How can the resources in this passage help us fight sin and practice our faith?
How are we to work out our salvation? What does this passage say about God’s work in us?
What saves us? Reflect on what good works God has prepared beforehand for you to do.
1 Corinthians 3:6-9
Paul wants to clearly state that only God gives growth. How do you square this with Paul’s comments that we will receive wages according to our labor?
Paul gives explicit ways for us to practice our faith. What are some that stood out to you? How might you embrace these practices this week?
What does Jesus offer us as we cultivate our faith by abiding in his love? (HINT: v. 11) Where in your life do you need to receive this gift?
Sabbath Poem X
BY: Wendell Berry
Whatever is foreseen in joy
Must be lived out from day to day.
Vision held open in the dark
By our ten thousand days of work.
Harvest will fill the barn; for that
The hand must ache, the face must sweat.
And yet no leaf or grain is filled
By work of ours; the field is tilled
And left to grace. That we may reap,
Great work is done while we’re asleep.
When we work well, a Sabbath mood
Rests on our day, and finds it good.