Remember when you were a kid and your mom would tell you to clean your room or take out the trash? Chances are you responded, in a whiny tone, "But, I don't want to." This probably didn't get you very far with your parents (I know it didn't go very far with mine) but the truth is that when we whined those well-worn words our little hearts had stumbled upon an indispensable truth of life. It's hard to do things that you don't want to do. It's much easier to stick to the things you do want to do. This is true of the Christian life as well.
In the above passage Paul points out that the Christian life is not something you accept but something you live out. You accept God's salvation, but then you have to work that salvation out into your daily habits of living. He goes on to say that we should work out our salvation with fear and trembling. That's not because we serve an angry God, but because we serve a God who is holy. He is separate and completely different from us. He is pure. And He has given us this amazing gift of salvation that we could never deserve. It is a holy gift and we have a duty to treat it with the respect that it deserves. We have a responsibility to to take the forgiveness that God has given us and to live like the new creation He has made us to be. Now that God has saved us from the consequence of our rebellion and sin, we dare not choose sin again. We dare not continue to live in rebellion against God.
But the truth of the matter is that we doubt our ability to do this. That is where the trembling comes into play. And we are right to doubt ourselves for we have proven over and over again to be untrustworthy in this regard. We love sin. Our natural inclination is to choose sin over God and His ways but we also know what the apostle says in Hebrews to be true. "How shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation?" (Hebrews 2:3). So we know we must work our salvation out into our daily living but we doubt our ability to follow through on that.
Here is where the apostle Paul meets us with a helpful reminder. He knows that this order is too tall for us to fill on our own. So he reminds us that it is God working in us both to will and to act in accordance with His will. That means very simply that God works in you both to help you want to do His will and to help you to actually do His will. This may seem very simple to you but when I first learned this it was a major light bulb for me. The fact that I could ask God to help me want to do His will was just so awesome. God knows me. He knows that my desires are not right. He knows that I don't want to get out of my comfort zone and witness to other people about Him. It isn't a surprise to Him when I admit that and ask Him to change my heart. In fact, I believe it pleases Him. And the simple truth is that oftentimes the real battles of life are fought and won on the battlefield of our own desires. We tend to find ways to do the things we want to do, and we tend to find ways to avoid doing things we don't.
So, if you are like me, and from time to time you evaluate where you are spiritually only to be disappointed by all of the hard work you still have ahead of you before you are fully conformed into the image of Christ, remember to start fighting that battle with your desires. If God will fix your heart then the rest is much easier. Pray today and ask God to help you to want to do His will. Ask Him to give you a heart like His.
For further reading...
- Hebrews 2:1-4 & 10:26-31- How we treat the blood of Christ is important.
- Romans 7:14-25- Do you think this passage contradicts what I have said or does it simple mean that wanting to do the right thing in itself isn't enough?
- James 1:13-15- We are lead astray by evil desires.
- Galatians 5:16-25- How do we deal with competing desires?