Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Make every effort: Who does the work?

 We've been working our way through Peter's list in his second letter of how to get ready for Jesus. At the end of his list, he says,

2 Peter 1:10 For if you do these things, you will never fall, 11 and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. 

Now, it's easy to start in the middle of this and somehow get the idea that it's all up to us - that if we DO these things (which is what it says, after all), we will receive a rich welcome into heaven.  A new believer, starting here with these verses might get very confused:

2 Peter 1:3  His 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. 4 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.
 5 For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; 6 and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; 7 and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. 8 For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins.
 10 Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall, 11 and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. 

Because, this DOES say "make every effort," which is in the active tense - something we do and keep on doing. To back up, and just remind ourselves of where this all started:

Galatians 5:16 So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. 17 For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.
19 The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other. 

It is God, working in us through the Spirit that produces this fruit - not something we do on our own. As Jesus put it:

John 15:4 Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.    5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 

You are IN Christ if you believe the Gospel. That is absolutely the first step in being ready for Jesus' return. If there is ANY question in your mind about what that means, please, please, review these studies:

The Gospel, Part 1 - What is the Gospel? The three ways the Gospel saves us. Jesus is the Messiah.
The Gospel, Part 2 - Christ DIED. Jesus is fully man.
The Gospel, Part 3 - Christ died FOR OUR SINS. Jesus is fully God.
The Gospel, Part 4 - Jesus was buried and rose again. When we are resurrected, we will be like Him.

How do you remain in Him? How do you remain connected? By staying in His word - by feeding that new person inside of you, and starving the old one.

So, if you remain in Jesus and allow the Spirit to work, you WILL produce fruit. It just comes naturally. The vine is not straining to produce fruit. It just does. It soaks up the sun (Son!) and drinks in the water (of the word!) and the fruit just grows.

But, Peter's list DOES say, "make every effort." It DOES say, "For if you do these things, you will never fall, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ."  So, how do you reconcile that? Is it a direct contradiction? No - not at all. It is putting into action the things the Spirit is doing in you. It is ALLOWING the Spirit's work to actually make a difference in you. You can hinder the Holy Spirit. You can actually grieve the Holy Spirit - by constantly turning from His guidance. After awhile, you won't even notice that you are. If you keep choosing the things that are contrary to God and His will, you will be feeding the old person inside of you. Meanwhile, the new person grows weaker, and finally, puts up no fight at all.

What do I mean? Well, what do you watch on TV? What movies do you see? What games do you play? How do you spend your free time? What music are you listening to? And, by writing this, I am by no means saying that I myself always choose the right thing. I don't. In fact, I recently read part way through a book from the library before I finally heard the Spirit saying, "What are you doing? This book is virtually pornography!" Wow - was I convicted. I'm supposed to be a child of God and there I was - reading something like that. So, I closed it and brought it back to the library without reading one more word.  Good for me, right? Better for me if I hadn't checked it out in the first place. These verses speak to that:

Ephesians 5

 1 Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children 2 and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
 3 But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. 4 Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. 5 For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a man is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.[a] 6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. 7 Therefore do not be partners with them.
 8 For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light 9 (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) 10 and find out what pleases the Lord. 11 Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. 13 But everything exposed by the light becomes visible, 14 for it is light that makes everything visible. This is why it is said:
   “Wake up, O sleeper,
   rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”

 15 Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. 18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. 19 Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Like a newborn baby, the new person inside us needs to be fed. We need to stay in God's word, which is our pure food. We need to "Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ" as it says above. Philippians says more about how to feed that new person and starve the old one:

Philippians 4:8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Stay in the word. Listen to godly music. Think about pure, wholesome things. Have nothing to do with darkness. That's how you feed your new person. It's the Spirit who does the work inside you, but you CAN hinder His work. And, it is up to us to cooperate with Him to put our faith into action.

Tomorrow, we'll go back to Peter's list and work through "Perseverance."

I'd love to hear from you - either here or e-mail me.


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