Friday, January 23, 2009

The Work that is Not Ours, and the Work that is Ours

For a while I have been pondering the idea that it seems that today's focus in the Christian faith at times seems so much on our inner selves, that sanctification is viewed as something akin to a self-improvement program (with God, hopefully, at the helm rather than ourselves)...which in a sense it is, the most effective way of improving our selves that has ever been designed. But I often feel that our focus can be too much on that inner self and too little on how we might impact the world for Christ, what God would have us do with what we have been given.
I have to admit that recently for a while I was wallowing in self, to the point that I am convinced I wasn't fully accomplishing the work that God had set out for me from long ago (Eph 2:10). Pondering this problem of focus shook me out of preoccupation with my own troubles, and reminded me of the larger perspective that contrasted the smallness of my own concerns. When we ponder depressing and negative thoughts, we can get so wrapped up in self that we forget to reach out to others, and reaching out to others is usually the perfect thing to pull us out of our own doldrums.
I submit that any challenge we face, any thing that God puts in front of us isn't so much so that we will do it because God needs us to, and surely not because it earns us any salvation (Gal 2:16; Eph 2:8-9), but that we might be changed within. It's often been said that God doesn't need us, He doesn't need our money or our efforts; but we need to respond to His Spirit. We need to follow His leading, and He has given us the privilege to be His ambassadors (2 Cor 5:20) and His workers (Lk 6:46-49; Jn 14:12, 15:16; Eph 2:10; James 1:22, 25). We need to submit to His refining work within (which He will perform, not us), and at the same time we need to be about His work in our community as well; I think the two are quite intertwined. I think it provides the better "self-improvement" or sanctification not to be so inwardly focused, looking at what God is doing in us, but looking outwardly at what others need us to do on their behalf in His power and for His glory; it is so easy to forget this and think we have such a primary role in our sanctification. The sanctifying work God is doing in us will happen with our submission, but with God's direction, and doesn't need our full attention.
1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass.
New American Standard Bible (NASB) Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation.

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