Yesterday’s devotional, read in isolation, might lead one to think that Christianity is about “doing more and trying harder.” In fact, some might argue that by claiming we need to exercise our faith with the same kind of discipline as professional athletes, we minimize the life-changing power of the free gift of grace.
Certainly, in a twisted way the call to work harder sometimes appeals to our human tendency to want to earn our way into God’s good graces. The church in Galatia, it would seem from Paul’s letter, was struggling with this very problem, willingly placing themselves back under the burden of the law that Christ had just freed them from!
So, as if sensing this problem, in the very next verse of his letter to the Colossians, Paul applies a much needed corrective to help balance the picture, saying,
To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me. (Col. 1:29, NIV)
Yes, Paul affirms, maturity in Christ is something he pursues with every fiber of his being. However, that very strength is itself a gift from God, something that is not his at all. On the one hand Paul is going to “strenuously contend” for this goal with every ounce of strength he has, but on the other hand the source of that power is really Christ, not Paul.
It’s always a both-and situation. Paul is constantly calling his disciples to work as hard as they can. But this call is always set within the context of God’s work in us.
Yesterday I mentioned that Paul had written a letter to the Galatians, rebuking them for drifting into a works-based system of righteousness, unnecessarily putting the yoke of the law back on their own necks. Paul holds nothing back, berating them,
You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh? (Gal. 3:1-3)
The Spirit, Paul says, is the one who is at work in our lives to energize us. The Spirit is the one who is at work in our lives to transform us. The law and our own efforts are powerless to do or to change anything. This week, as you join with Paul in striving for maturity in Christ, don’t give up and don’t lose hope. Though Satan may send every possible temptation and trouble your way, remember that it is Christ at work in you who provides the power and strength to move forward in your faith.
And finally, know that you are not alone, for we are in this together as brothers and sisters in Christ, and I personally join with Paul in saying,
In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (Phil. 1:6, NIV).