We know the message and it comforts our hearts. In his grace God pours out salvation upon us, the undeserving. We can be redeemed, made holy and adopted as God’s people because our salvation rests upon Christ, not our righteousness. Furthermore, the cleansing power of the Messiah’s blood is greater than any sin we might bring to him.
So, how compatible is grace with the command to make every effort to live up to God’s calling? If we feel like these are opposing ideas, we would not be alone.
Perhaps our discomfort with any suggestion that we need to make every effort to live for God reveals we assume that there is only one motive for exerting ourselves – a works-based approach to salvation. Regardless of why we feel discomfort, within scripture we discover grace and striving to be prepared to meet God coexisting peaceably. Another look is warranted.
Paul could not be clearer. We are saved by grace, not works (Ephesians 2:5,8,9). Before we scamper off to other verses, it is important to acknowledge the context. Saved by grace describes conversion. It is by grace that God’s power transforms us from being dead in sin into becoming alive with Christ. We are 100% saved; we stand in grace.
Having described how God’s power bestows life and a new beginning, Ephesians 2:10 introduces another idea. When God creates a new person in Christ, God also gives that person a purpose. “We are God’s workmanship created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10).
We soon discover the importance of this purpose. From chapter 1 through 3 Paul focused upon what God has planned and is doing in our world through Christ to unite all things in heaven and on earth. Not only is God working through Christ to bring humanity close to himself, he is also uniting Jews and Gentiles.
Understanding God’s plan and workings provides the foundation for understanding our purpose as his people. It is in view of what God is wanting to achieve through Christ that Paul writes, “I … urge you to live worthily of the calling with which you have been called” (Ephesians 4:1).
What is this calling? We are to promote and work for the unity God desires, not grieve the Spirit by working against him. Thus as God’s people saved by grace, we are to shun the divisive deeds of darkness. Instead, from Christ we learn how to live light filled lives saturated with the Spirit.
No wonder Ephesians closes with the armor of God. This whole book is set against a cosmic battle where God and his plans are opposed by spiritual forces of evil. We are in the midst of it. Whose cause will we promote?
So, what happens if a Christian decides to abandon serving God? Scripture is clear. Salvation is conditional upon remaining in the faith (Colossians 1:22-23; Hebrews 10:25-31). If as recipients of God’s saving grace we then decide to return to assisting the realm of darkness, Christ can spew us out.
It is in regard to this context of fulfilling our purpose, not earning salvation, that scripture urges us and prays for us to be found living worthily of our calling (Ephesians 4:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:11). Similarly, Paul commands us to live out the ramifications of what it means to be God’s saved people (Philippians 2:12-13). In fact, Paul even used the stringent metaphor of an intense athlete to explain his focus on living for Christ, in order that “I myself will not be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).
Furthermore, Peter commands, “make every effort to be sure of your calling and election. For by doing this you will never fall” (2 Peter 1:10) and “strive to be found at peace, without spot or blemish, when you come into his presence” (2 Peter 3:14). This is not about earning salvation. This is about not losing what we already have!
God is on our side. He has done everything possible to save us. He wants us to be faithful servants.
As we approach scripture, all of us have some choices. We could dismantle grace and proclaim a works based salvation. We could empower grace to nullify God’s word about living up to our calling. Or we could allow verses regarding our salvation and those texts focused on our need to fulfill our purpose as God’s people to amicably stand side by side in our minds, as they do in scripture.