“Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance. That is why we labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe.” 1 Timothy 4:7-10
Our message and lifestyle are immersed in grace – the kindness of God expressed to us in our desperate need. We are right to believe and to remind each other that there is nothing that we can do to earn eternal life or the acceptance of God. There is no amount of training, laboring, or striving that we can do in our own human wisdom and strength that can make us righteous before God!
All of that said, it’s hard to ignore what Paul wrote in the passage quoted above. He explicitly instructed Timothy to train himself to be godly. He declared that he was himself laboring and striving in service to Christ. So what gives? Is our life in Christ a life of receiving God’s grace or a life of training, laboring, and exerting effort?
One of the greatest clarifications that I have been blessed to receive about my life as a disciple of Jesus is this one: God’s grace does not exclude human effort, but it excludes human earning (to closely paraphrase Dallas Willard). God’s grace, rather than making human effort unnecessary, makes human effort meaningful and effective in the process of becoming like Jesus. Without God’s gracious leadership and participation in the process of my becoming like Jesus, there would be no chance of success no matter how hard I tried! He plays the largest and most important part of the process, but my part is still necessary, and He is calling me to play it with all I’ve got!
I want to invite you to consider today, Disciple, how intensely you are training, laboring, and making effort in service to your Master? In this world and in our own flesh, it is very tempting to embrace the truth of grace and then run with it in the wrong direction. We can let the sweet truth of God’s kindness become a tool in the hands of the enemy to lull us into lethargy and comfort. Remember, Disciple, that while we are children of God by His grace, we are also servants (even slaves!) of God by that same grace. We are free to call Him “Abba, Father” through the Spirit, but we are also compelled to serve Him as High King by that same Spirit.
Finally, I invite you to consider what Paul said about his labor and striving: they came from his hope in the God who saves. Paul knew that all of his efforts were useless without the faithfulness of the saving God. Knowing that God would come through, he offered all he had. As he wrote to the Colossians, he strenuously contended in Christ’s work with all the energy that Christ so powerfully worked in him. He leaned into God’s grace as he expended Himself to serve Him (Colossians 1:29). May we do the same as those who hope in and are eternally grateful to the saving God!
Laboring with you in His power, by His grace, and for His glory,