Who Does What?
A question often arises in the mind of Christians as we grow in Christ: Who’s doing what? What is God’s role, and what is ours? The question gets at the paradox we see in Scripture, where in various places we are told two messages that seem to be in conflict: first, that we are to work hard in our Christian lives, and second, that God is the one providing resources for such labor.
This verse is one example of this apparent paradox. On one hand, Peter writes that God’s “divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness.” In other words, He has given us everything we need to follow Jesus. But then, a few lines later, Peter directs his readers to “make every effort.” God has supplied what we need, and yet we are still to put in the effort.
In Colossians 1:29, Paul similarly describes his ministry labors as “toil” and “struggling.” There is little doubt that Paul worked hard for the cause of Christ. But how did he do this? He tells us that his toil and struggle was done “with all [God’s] energy that he powerfully works within me.” Paul’s toil was genuine, and it was fueled by Christ Himself.
Similarly, in Philippians 2:12, Paul tells us to “work out your … salvation.” This is a call to real effort to stay on the narrow way. Yet Paul continues by saying, “It is God who works in you.”
If we are going to honor and heed the call to labor that these passages describe, we must remember that God has accomplished our salvation for us; and now, rather than leaving us to our own devices, He continues to be constantly at work within us so that we have the will and the power to do what pleases Him.
We should avoid the erroneous thinking that responds to passages like these by concluding either that we contribute something to our salvation or that we have no need to work hard as we journey toward our heavenly home. Instead, we need first to acknowledge that we contribute nothing to salvation other than the sin from which we need to be saved, and then at the same time embrace the truth that our walk with Christ must be the single most significant aspect of our lives.
What, then, is a faithful response to biblical calls such as this? It is to strive for holiness and pray for growth. It is to follow Christ, and when we stumble and sin, to confess and repent and keep going. You must toil if you are to find yourself a citizen in the new creation; but toil you will because His divine power gives you everything you need in order to do so. When you stand with Jesus, you will not say, “What a good person I was!” You will declare, “What a great and mighty God I serve!”
Paul's Ministry to the Church
24Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, 25of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, 26the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. 27To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. 29For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.
1For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, 2that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God's mystery, which is Christ, 3in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
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