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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

Effortless Christianity?

By Steve Badger
Sept. 22, 2013

“For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. 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. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.

Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election” (2 Peter 1:5-10, NIV).

As a young Pentecostal Christian, I thought making an effort in my walk of faith was contrary to God’s grace. Back then, some of us might quote the cliche´ “Let go, and let God.” This probably meant different things to different people, but today it sounds to me like “Effortless Christianity.”

Truly, we cannot earn right standing with God, but does this mean the entire Christian life is just trusting God? The phrase “make every effort” in the passages of Scripture above answers this question with a definite “No.”

Dallas Willard sums up the relationship between grace and effort this way: “The process of ‘conformation to Christ’ ... is constantly supported by grace and otherwise would be impossible. But it is not passive. Grace is opposed to earning, not to effort.”1

The Reformation leaders were profoundly correct when they rejected salvation by works and emphasized salvation by faith in the atoning death of Jesus Christ on the cross.

As a child growing up in a Christian home, I memorized Ephesians 2:8,9: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast.” But, to our great loss, we did not memorize the next verse. Over the years, I have asked people in many small groups in different churches, “Who can quote the next verse?”

Only one person ever correctly answered, “We are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” I think Paul’s plea for believers to do these good works is part of Peter’s make every effort.

The Book of James teaches us this truth: While good works do not, indeed they cannot, put us right with God, the person who has saving faith in God’s Messiah will do good works. And this requires effort on our part — effort that does not nullify God’s grace.

Years ago, a Christian friend helped me better understand the concepts of mercy and grace when he told me, “God’s mercy means He does not give us what we do deserve, death; God’s grace means that He does give us what we do not deserve, His forgiveness and His Holy Spirit.” This has also helped me to see that effort does not nullify God’s grace.

The first few verses of Romans 12 have also helped me to process the issue of effort versus grace:

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God — this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:1,2).

At first, I thought the phrase living sacrifice was an oxymoron. Animal sacrifice meant killing the animal — so how could the sacrifice be living? After more than 40 years of making an effort to work with God in accomplishing His purposes in my life, I have concluded that living dead requires repeatedly renewed effort. And my effort never results in earning or deserving God’s forgiveness. If you have ignored the effort God expects us to make in living the Christian life, I hope you will realize it is necessary — not because it is my opinion, but because it is clearly taught in God’s Word.

1Willard, Dallas. “The Spirit Is Willing: The Human Body and Spiritual Growth” in The Christian Educator’s Handbook on Spiritual Formation. Edited by Kenneth O. Gangel and James Wilhoit, p.225. Italics are the author’s.

DR. STEVE BADGER is professor of chemistry at Evangel University and lives in Springfield, Mo.

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