I grew up in a protestant culture which scorned the idea of our human effort being of any spiritual value. Out eternal destiny (and thus value before God) was determined solely upon the work of Christ on the cross. In the words of the famous hymn, “nothing in my hands I bring, simply to thy cross I cling”. Those who belong in the reformed camp go even farther by saying that even our choice to “believe” is something that God determines, taking all practical responsibility for our eternity out of our hands completely.Yet the OT and NT scriptures alike paint a picture portraying humanity having a dynamic interaction in our relationship with God. More often than not, God says that the ball is in our court. We lack because of our inaction, not God’s. What we do matters. As I said in a post a couple of days ago, only those who “hear and DO” Jesus’ commands will enter His kingdom. (See Dissonance)
In this passage, God recounts Israel’s responsibility to obey Him. The words: righteousness and unfailing love are legal words which would remind any Jew of the covenant God made with them in Deuteronomy. In that covenant, God outlined His expectations for how they were to live – and they had gravely transgressed. God says it’s time for Israel to seek Him. Seeking Him involves action. In context, it involves sowing and breaking up ground. These are agricultural metaphors for a farmer preparing their fields. The implication is obvious. If you want God’s blessing, you MUST put yourself in a position to receive it. Getting into that position is not easy, it involves repentance, it involves a change of lifestyle.Paul said something similar in Galatians 6:7-8, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” Could it be that we have presented a version of Christianity depicted as solely a free gift with no strings attached other than to receive it when the Bible presents it as a free transfer of citizenship but one which requires you come in line with the laws of your new country? In chapter five of Galatians, Paul gives us two lists as an example of what living after the flesh looks like and what living after the Spirit looks like. I invite to you spend some time meditating on those lists. Use then as a grid through which you run each life choice to determine God’s will.
Now before I go further, let me clarify two things: I am not saying that if we do enough good works, we can earn a place in God’s kingdom. Like the thief on the cross, Jesus’ blood is enough to save at the end of an evil life if one is truly repentant (see the story of Manasseh in 2 Chron 33 and Jesus’ parable in matt 20). What I am saying is that genuine repentance looks a certain way, it involves us living as Jesus lived. If we aren’t on the journey of pursuing righteousness, then we shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking we are saved.Also, I am also not saying that we have the ability to do those good works in our own power. An early church heretic named Pelagius was condemned for that kind of theology. Paul makes that clear that we are sowing to “the Spirit”. At the point of repentance and regeneration, we receive the indwelling of the Spirit. Yes, we work, but we work according to the power and desire the Spirit provides. It’s not either/or (our work or God’s work), it our work AND God’s work. “Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” (Phil 2:12-13)
Our Spirit empowered works are important of confirming whether or not we have truly received eternal life. If you have lived a life refusing to allow God to be master over your life, then no amount of “clinging to the cross” in some past emotional moment will save you. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Matt 7:21)
So do. Sow righteousness. Ask God to break up areas of your life which have remained untouched by the scriptures. Surrender yourself to the control of the Holy Spirit. The result is we will reap a harvest of eternal life when Christ’s kingdom comes in its fullness.