One of the tensions I have a difficult time holding is that of grace and obedience or work.
I’m not a theologian by any means, so that’s not where I’m going to go.
On one hand, God’s grace is everything. It’s the very reason we exist and move and live and breathe and have our being. What Jesus accomplished on the cross – this grace – makes ALL the difference.
On the other hand, we are called to conquer sin and obedient choose the way of Christ every single day. As Dallas Willard wrote, “Grace is not opposed to effort but to earning.” Or as Greg Boyd recently wrote, “Salvation by faith alone is not the opposite of works; it’s the opposite of EARNING. Genuine faith is DEMONSTRATED by passionate works.”
Here’s the tension: Each and every day I attempt to give it my all, to work diligently, to engage tirelessly, and to go “all in” as a pastor. And yet, each and every day, I attempt to submit my plans to God’s, to recognize my irreplaceable need for His grace, and to remember that I am not God, and that He is.
I want the supernatural to occur. I want God to get all the glory.
And yet I continue to work tirelessly to provide opportunities to witness the supernatural.
I want to achieve things where only God can get all the credit, and yet, I’m going to read books on leadership and learn how to build successful ministries and organizations.
Too often, as mentioned in the previous post (read here), I find Christian leaders who emphasize one side more than the other. For instance, much of the youth ministry literature I read these days complains about how “burnt out” youth pastors get and how hard they work. It goes on to say that we shouldn’t work so hard and if we do, we don’t really believe in the power of God. They adopt an attitude reminiscent of this John Steinbeck quote: “It is easy out of laziness, out of weakness, to throw oneself onto the lap of the deity, saying, ‘I couldn’t help it; the way was set.’ But think of the glory of the choice! That makes a man a man.”
On the other hand, I see other Christian leaders who sort of give verbage to grace but don’t really live it out (for instance, leaders who “damn” other non-Christians or emphasize the prosperity gospel).
The problem is, you can’t have one without the other. Grace and Work are two sides of the same coin. It’s a difficult tension to manage, but one we must.
I don’t know about you, but I feel I go through periods of readjustment. I go through periods of life where I forget I need to work out my faith intentionally and other times where I need to remind myself life and work is all about the grace of God.
May we all come to navigate the difficult terrain of this beautiful tension!