What is God’s will for you? If you’re sensitive to God’s leading, there will be many times when you may try to discern whether some action or other is His will for you. You may, for example, question if you should take a particular job, marry someone, or attend a specific college or university. Yet while we may question whether various moves are right for us in our situation, there is one decision that is right for everyone.
“That He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.”(Ephesians 5:27)
God’s heart for each and every one of us is righteousness. And while this may sound simple to some, it actually involves quite a bit more than many people imagine.
There are two seemingly conflicting doctrines in the Bible: that of personal obedience to what God wants us to do, and that of our inability to please Him regardless of how hard we try, hence necessitating Christ’s redeeming work on the cross. So how do we reconcile these separate ideas?
Some have attempted to make sense of this by saying that all that is required for forgiveness and salvation is to claim the forgiveness we have in Christ, quoting the passage, “…believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved…” (Acts 16:31 NKJV) This is the position some Protestant churches have adopted.
Others have veered completely in the opposite direction, focusing on obedience to God–works–alone, sometimes quoting as proof the passage, “…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” (Philippians 2:12) Catholicism has tended to gravitate in this direction.
The problem with the “believing only” position is one of semantics–of our understanding of the word translated “believe”–and it is a significant issue. The word used in the original text is “pistis/pisteo,” meaning a belief that generates action–what has been called saving faith. It is exactly what James discusses in the following passage:
“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’ Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder. You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,’ and he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone. In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.” (James 2:14, 16-26 NIV)
If we believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, we will be saved–but we have to believe so as to generate action, obedience. That is saving faith.
Furthermore, if you look at most of what Jesus taught–many of His parables–you find a recurrent theme, that of the necessity of obedience. The following passage is representative of His teaching on this topic:
“Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the Master of the house has risen up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open for us,’ and He will answer and say to you, ‘I do not know you, where you are from,’ then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets.’ But He will say, ‘I tell you I do not know you, where you are from. Depart from Me, all you workers of iniquity.’” (Luke 13:24-27 NKJV)
Those who focus on works tend to look at passages like this, and it is where we get the notion of being “good enough” for heaven. However, just as the belief that a verbal “acceptance” of the avoidance of hell’s punishment without a genuine conversion to obedient living is wrong, so is the belief that living a good life gets us into heaven. Notwithstanding, Jesus wants us to not sin; this is clear from His earthly teaching on the subject.
The problem with simply taking the parables as our complete doctrine is that it overlooks the reason for why Jesus was even born a human being in the first place. The law had been give several millennia earlier–people knew what God wanted–yet try as they might, they couldn’t keep it perfectly, which presents a major problem:
“For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all. For He who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.” (James 2:10, 11)
Jesus came to die on the cross in our place because ultimately, no matter how hard we try, as human beings we are unable to live completely holy, sinless lives.
So does this mean we shouldn’t even try? Only if we don’t take either God or our eternal destiny seriously, because, remember, “faith without works [obedience, a conscious avoidance of sin] is dead.”
Help us to take all of what You say seriously and soberly; help our faith be genuine–help us consciously turn from any sin in our lives in obedience to you. Through Your work on the cross forgive us where we fall short of Your holy standard. Amen.