My oldest son is a “play by the rules” kind of kid. He wants to know exactly what is required of him to accomplish something or stay in someone’s good graces so that he can be confident of success. He’s black and white, doesn’t like gray areas, cause then he’s never sure of where he stands, or if he’ll come out winning.
So he struggles when he reads a text like this. I can just hear him. “But Jesus, You said we just had to believe in You and we’d be good. We’re in. Now You say we have to make an effort? At what? What do you mean? Just tell me what I have to do and I’ll do it, but I thought I wasn’t supposed to earn salvation, so what’s this about now?”
The world has been struggling with this (seeming) contradiction for millennia. Am I saved because I believe that Jesus died for me or do I have to prove that I believe by working in my church, being good and helping the needy? Reading the passage in James about faith and deeds may further make us believe that we need to earn our salvation. “You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.” James 2:24 But a perfect lesson in reading the Bible in context comes from Paul. He says in Romans 3:24, that ALL “are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” What was that? Did you say ALL?! I thought we had to believe it first and that the gate was narrow? That’s where the context comes in. Back up a bit and you see that in Romans 3:22, Paul says “This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.” There’s the kicker.
But then there’s James. What do we do with James and Jesus saying we have to “make an effort” or strive for salvation? Well, I think it has something to do with what we’ve been reading the last few days. If you go on in the passage, Jesus is talking about Jerusalem (as an image of Israel as a whole) and that their focus is not on God’s prophecies and how He plans to fulfill them. They think it’s all about their immediate future on earth, getting out from under Roman rule and being a great nation again. They are getting sidetracked by worldly desires and missing the bigger picture, so they kill their prophets (because they don’t like their admonitions) and totally miss the Messiah when He’s walking amongst them! They even tell Jesus to abandon His ministry to save His life. Their striving is for earthly gain, even though God has been pointing to the bigger picture of eternal life for centuries.
So, the striving that we are to do, I think, is to keep our eyes on the prize. Like Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 “. . .Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes . . .goes into strict training. . . to get a crown that lasts forever. . . therefore I beat my body and make it my slave so that I myself will not be disqualified.” (Don’t trust that I quoted him in context because of all my “. . . “ skips, open your Bible and read it for yourself and be sure. http://bible.us/1Cor9.24.NIV )
We need to stay focused on Jesus through His Word and prayer, and reminding ourselves daily that we need His forgiveness and salvation (the prize) to keep the world from distracting us. Notice I say, we need, not we should. These are not things that God demands from us, just to keep us in line, but rather they are what benefit us and give us Life. Yes, its all to His glory, but for our gain!
Enjoy the video. This song is written and performed by Rich Mullins and his band. Rich was an awesome example (apparent through his music) of one who strove toward his salvation. I love the metaphor of the cup being passed, because faith is something we want to share with those around us.