The Gift

This post is more or less a continuation of the thoughts expressed in the previous post.  I’ve been thinking a lot lately about this delicate balance between faith and works.  It’s such a fine line between working for your salvation and working it out in your daily life.  So fine that we are easily led astray into one extreme or the other if we are not focused on the One leading us.

When I woke up this morning, this verse came to mind:

“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” Philippians 2:12

In the past I’ve had a hard time understanding it because the Bible clearly tells us that salvation is a free gift (Ephesians 2:8, 9).  I knew this wasn’t contradicting that, but I couldn’t quite articulate how it fit.  My current understanding is still a work in progress, but I wanted to share what I’m learning so far.

The best way I can explain it is through a story, and since I’m a girl, my story is rather feminine in nature. (Sorry, guys!)

Imagine that a girl receives the gift of the most exquisitely beautiful wedding dress she’s ever seen.  In fact, it’s the dress of her dreams.  And it’s hers to keep, free of charge, no strings attached.  But it’s a size 6, and she’s a size 16.  She knows her own efforts to get to a size 6 in the past have been complete failures, and just when she’s despairing of ever being able to wear the dress, the Gift Giver offers to be her personal trainer.  He promises that if she will just be willing to follow his exercise regimen and instructions, she’ll be wearing that dress in no time.

Once she agrees, the hard work begins.  Not only does he have her doing regular exercise routines, he’s teaching her to break the bad habits that lead to unhealthy weight gain.  He shows her how to eat healthfully, how to exercise moderation and discipline.

It’s a lot of hard work, and some days she feels like giving up, but he’s with her through it all, encouraging her.  In fact, he puts in so much effort to help her achieve her dream.  He doesn’t just sit on the sidelines, watching her work out, telling her what to do.  He’s right there beside her, doing every exercise.  First he shows her how it’s done, then he does it with her.  He never leaves her side.  He’s with her all the way, putting an arm around her and pulling her along that last half-mile when she feels she can’t run a step further.

Eventually, the day comes when all the pain and struggle is rewarded as she walks down the aisle in her beautiful wedding dress, and pledges her life to her beloved trainer.

This is the best way I can explain it.  Salvation is a free gift, but it doesn’t end with receiving the gift.  Someone can give me a free ticket to Brazil, but unless I get my passport and visa, I probably won’t see anything more than that little room the immigration authorities put you in when they want to make sure you won’t escape before being sent back to your own country.

It reminds me of the parable Jesus told of the wedding guest who refused to wear the wedding garment (Matthew 22:1-14).  The invitation was freely given, but the guests needed to put on the provided wedding garment, which represents Christ’s character.

While the gift is free, something is required of us, and that part is the “work” we do.  It’s the faith with which we accept Jesus’ gift and the help He provides to get our characters into shape so we can be fit for heaven.  Our “work” is holding on to Him, as He leads us down the path, and pulls us up the hilly parts.  Our “work” is obedience, which we can’t even take credit for, because He gives us the power to do it.  Our “work” is submission to His way.

“While it is true that our busy activities will not in themselves ensure salvation, it is also true that faith which unites us to Christ will stir the soul to activity.” Ellen White, Our High Calling, p. 121.

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The Basics ~ Adoption: Step 4

Step 4:  Grow in Christ

It is impossible for you to get to know Jesus and still be the same kind of person you were before you accepted Him.  Completely impossible.  Does that shock you?  It really shouldn’t.  Think about it.

Could you jump into a swimming pool full of water and come out completely dry?  No!  That’s impossible.  In the same way, it’s impossible to know Jesus without His character, His personality, His will, and His likes and dislikes rubbing off on you.  Once you start spending time with Him, you’ll certainly come to admire His perfect character.

And whomever you love and admire, you become like (2 Corinthians 5:17).  As you get closer to Him, you will learn to know His voice and the different ways He speaks to you.  You’ll find yourself sharing the deepest parts of your heart with Him and seeking advice from Him in every area of your life.  You’ll start bringing your decisions before Him, so He can help you make the best choice.

In case you didn’t know, your heavenly Father had a plan for your life since long beforeyou were born (Jeremiah 29:11).  He dreamt of your happy, desirable future for so long, that He is ready and eager to advise you on what to do to bring it about.  And don’t worry, He hasn’t chosen a future for you that you will dislike or find boring.  After all, who else knows the future, and knows and cares about your secret thoughts and your deepest desires?  So He knows what you’ll want way before you ever do.

But back to what I was saying before.  Your goal is to become a new person in Jesus Christ.  You already know about getting to know Him, but it doesn’t stop there.  Jesus wants an on-going relationship with you.  He doesn’t do temporary or short-term.  He does permanent. He wants to be connected with you and just keep getting closer and closer.

And how does it happen?  By learning about Jesus, contemplating Him, examining His character, surrendering your whole self (heart, mind, body, soul) to Him.  The “old you” will put up a great deal of resistance against the new character that Jesus is forming within you, but as long as you stay close to Jesus and surrender daily to His will, you’ll have all the help you need to get over the rough spots.

This is how you will become a new person, a person like Jesus.  Of course, you’ll still be a unique individual.  In fact, you’ll be more of an individual than you ever have been before.  An individual after God’s pattern, not the world’s.  Your personality will be unique, as well as your own favorite color and stuff like that, but you’ll possess Jesus’ qualities: love, kindness, compassion and sympathy, patience, gentleness, a forgiving spirit (Galatians 5:22, 23).  All the rough edges will be smoothed out. This character is a must if you are to live in Heaven.

The Accident

Today I was in my first real car accident.  Thank the Lord, the only injury was an orange-shaped, swollen bruise on the elbow of the lady in the passenger’s seat of the car.  We were in our motor home, and they were in a car.  They didn’t realize they were running a red light.  We had the right of way.

The moment it happened, we were all ready to get out, Mom, Reuel and I with our cameras, ready to document what had happened.  First questions between the man and his wife in the car and us were, “Are you all ok?”  Then we began checking the damage on each other’s vehicles.

This is probably the thing that impressed me the most.  The attitudes all around were so Christ-like, so caring for the other person and so humble and honest.  That can only be Jesus working in hearts!  A lot of times when you see an accident like that, someone starts casting blame on someone else, people may show little care for each other’s wellbeing, and a spirit of anger and coldness.

But here, the man was honest about what happened and humbly took responsibility.  We were all trying to make sure the woman, who had bruised her arm, had ice to bring down the swelling and was feeling fine.  She was asking us if we were sure we were ok.

My friends, my brothers and sisters in Christ, this is what our Heavenly Father asks of us in difficult, stressful, horrible situations.  Actually, in every situation.  No matter what bad things happen, whether it’s our fault or not, our defenses should not fly up.  Anger, a blaming attitude, and pride in your own “rightness” should not instantly flare up.  The first thing should be care for the other’s wellbeing.  As the Bible tells us, each of us should not spend our time looking after our own concerns, but looking after those of others (Philippians 2:4).  This isn’t a license to nosiness.  It’s genuine, Christ-like love for our neighbors.  As Jesus said, the commandments are summed up in loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and our neighbor as we love ourselves (Luke 10:27). In another text, we’re admonished to prefer each other in honor above ourselves (Romans 12:10).

This is God’s will for His children.  This is His character, and this is how it must be lived out in the lives of all who take His name.

After the accident, while we waited for the police, my brother and I talked about the parables or spiritual lessons we could draw from this experience.  Several came to mind.

One is to always be alert in the present, instead of living in the past on automatic.  You see, the driver of the car explained that a little ways back up the road, they had come to an intersection just like the one where the accident took place, where construction work was being done on the other side.  The light was red and he stopped.  But one of the construction workers on the other side of the intersection was holding one of those “Slow/Stop” signs, and he had just turned it to slow.  So he waved at him to come through the red light.  So he went.  A little while later, they came to this intersection, where another construction crew was working.  The driver came to a stop, but then he saw the guy with the sign turn his sign to slow.  The guy didn’t wave him through, but remembering the previous situation, he started across the intersection.  But we were already crossing.

We cannot live our lives by what happened in the past.  True, we must know the past so we will not repeat its mistakes and will learn from its victories, but we have to live within the present, making new victories and continued progress.  And we must remain alert!  We should never go into automatic mode!  That’s when we become too relaxed and comfortable that we’re certain to fall right into the enemy’s carefully camouflaged traps.  Driving on cruise control may be alright in a car on a long road trip, but it’s absolutely deadly in your spiritual life!   “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.” (1 Peter 5:8)

Another valuable parable from this experience is about focus.  My brother loves to come up with witty one-liners, so he came up with one that goes something like this:

Keep your eyes on the Light, and not on the man.

Fitting advice.  Too much of our time is spent focused on humans and what they’re doing or not doing.  We say to ourselves, “She wears those things and she’s a Christian, so I should be able to do the same.”  Or, “He goes there, and he’s always speaking in church, so I can go there, too.”

Never a thought for what Jesus would have us do, or say, or wear, or be. We compare ourselves to faulty, frail humans, who sometimes aren’t even walking with God, instead of to the only spotless Example, Jesus, the Son of God Himself, who lived out the life that He wants to live out in us.

So let’s look at Jesus, contemplate Him and His character and His way of living.  Let’s look to Perfection and walk in His footsteps.