Christianity 201

July 16, 2017

Make an Effort

by Russell Young

How disturbing it is to hear the proclamation that everything has been done for the believer and that all that is required of him or her is to sit back and enjoy the ride. The Lord said, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.” (Lk 13:24 NIV)

The teaching of God’s “sovereign grace” has pervaded the thoughts and teachings that are being directed to those who sincerely want to gain God’s eternal kingdom. The term “sovereign grace” does not exist in the Word; consequently, its understanding is a construct of man. Certainly, God is sovereign over all things and over the application of his grace. In this sense, God’s grace is really God’s sovereign grace. The problem is that the interpretation and application of grace has evolved into an understanding that may not be biblical.

The Hebrew word often accepted as applying to grace is chen which means,

1. Favor, grace, charm
• a. favor, grace, elegance
• b. favor, acceptance (biblestudytools.com)

The Greek term for grace is charis and has been defined as, “the unmerited or undeserving favor of God to those who are under condemnation.” (Paul Enns, Moody Bible Handbook of Theology, 196) A common understanding may be “unmerited favor,” but that can have a very broad application, or a very narrow one. Many New Testament scholars have accepted that God has completed the eternal salvation of the confessor because of his or her belief. Even in this, however, the understanding of belief varies from person to person.

The Lord taught that an “effort” was required. This thought is often dismissed because an effort is not consistent with the understanding of God’s sovereign grace, and implies “works” which is clearly presented as being ineffectual in the achievement of the believer’s eternal hope. Somehow the requirement of ‘effort’ must be understood in relation to both grace and works.

Peter wrote that “[Christ’s] divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.” (2 Pet 2: 3─4 NIV) He has identified that it is through his “precious promises” that we may “participate in” the nature or soul-likeness of Christ and by so doing escape the corruption caused by evil desires. It is through the knowledge of his promises that a person can become like him. Knowledge in itself does not accomplish anything; knowledge must be used or correctly applied before it can have an effect. The application requires “effort.”

Although many teach that eternal salvation was accomplished at the cross through belief in the efficacy of the blood of Christ, Paul taught that through his sacrifice Christ “redeemed us from the curse of the law…so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.” (Gal 3:13─14 NIV) Every person carries the sentence of death because he or she has transgressed the law. Christ bore our sins and the penalty attached, restoring fellowship with God so that he might gift the Spirit. The Spirit is Christ in the believer. (Col 1:27; 2 Cor 3:17, 18) This is grace! Freedom from deserved death and the gifting of Christ as Spirit.

Paul tells us that “the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.” (Rom 8:4 NIV) Living according to the Spirit takes effort. The Spirit is given to enlighten (increase knowledge), to lead and to empower for righteousness. The writer of Hebrews states, “[Christ] became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” (Heb 5:9 NIV) Obedience requires commitment and effort. Paul also taught that “if you are led by the Spirit are not under the law,” (Gal 5: 18) and that “those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” (Rom 8:14 NIV) Further Paul wrote that we shouldn’t be deceived because the way we live could result in eternal life or destruction. {Gal 6:7─8) There are many other commands for obedience and by definition, obedience requires effort.

Obedience should not be confused with “works.” Works refers to unassisted efforts of humankind, and specifically refers to the works of the law or the completion of the law of Moses. Paul wrote that because of the weakened sinful nature humankind could not complete it. The hope of the believer is accomplished through faith in Christ, through conviction of his ability to meet the believer’s need.

The great requirement of humankind is to be transformed into the divine nature of Christ so that we become like him. (Rom 8:29) This transformation demands the practice of death to self-interest and to the evil interests of the flesh as availed through Christ and by the submission of the believer to his rule so that the law of the Spirit of life (Rom 8:2) might prevail and the narrow door entered.

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