The Christian Life Isn’t Meant to Be Effortless, part 2

Read part one of this post here.

When God saves people, He doesn’t make them less human, but more fully human. And He intends for us to use all that He created us with—our minds, our bodies, our will, and all that’s part of being human—to live for His glory.

Who is to do the obeying?

Some teachers, however, deny this when they say that if you abide in Christ as you should (Jn. 15:1-11), then you won’t have to exert effort to be Christlike, any more than a branch of a grapevine exerts effort to produce grapes.

This kind of teaching ignores the fact that in Scripture repeatedly God commands us to accept the responsibility of obeying Him. In Col. 3:2, when you are told, “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth,” who is to do that, you or God?

When God says in Eph. 5:25, “Husbands, love your wives,” that means husband, you’d better actively love your wife. Do you think God intends for you to tell your wife, “I’m not going to try to love you any more, I’m just going to let go and let God”? Try telling her that. She knows how much love she’d get out of that deal!

When the Lord says in 1 Cor. 6:18, “Flee from sexual immorality,” what He means is for you to use your feet and get away.

Even in Romans 6 when it says, “Consider yourselves dead to sin,” who is to do the considering? You are!

There is no elimination of any part of our humanity in Christian living.

Work toward what only the Holy Spirit can produce

The Bible commands us to work toward things that only the Holy Spirit can give. For example, notice 2 Pet. 1:5-7, especially at the beginning when it reads, “For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.” Only the Holy Spirit can truly develop those Christlike qualities, nevertheless we are told to cultivate them.

Think about what Paul says in Phil. 2:12“Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” You’ve probably heard the explanation of that. You are to work out the salvation that God has worked in. The verse 13 adds, “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” God’s grace gives you both the desire and ability to work out what He has worked in. But you must be about it.

Justification is monergistic, sanctification is synergistic

It’s important not to confuse at this point how one becomes a Christian with how one grows as a Christian.

When a person becomes a Christian, only one Person is at work—God. Theologians apply to this process the word  “monergism,” which means “one person working.” God comes to the person who is dead in trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1-7) and “regenerates” them, that is, He does all the work to make the person alive. The corpse contributes nothing to the process. But once alive, the first thing he or she immediately wants to do is come to Christ in repentance and faith.

This is much like when Jesus took the initiative to come to Lazarus who was dead and entombed. Jesus, by Himself, raised Lazarus to life, and the first thing he freely wanted to do was to come to Jesus (Jn. 11:1-44, esp. vv. 38-44).

Once God has made us alive spiritually, we work together with God to grow in the faith. We can’t do anything without God’s grace (Jn. 15:5), but His grace doesn’t eliminate what we gives us to do by His grace.

Notice what the Apostle Paul writes in Phil. 4:13: “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” What did Paul say he could do? He could do all things God wanted him to do. But He could only do it as Christ strengthened him. Still, Paul had to do what Christ gave him the strength to do in obedience to the Father.

Compare that with what we’re told in the many popular books like Hannah Whitall Smith’s The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life, (which has sold more than 10 million copies). She says, “Let me entreat you, then, to give up all your efforts after growing, and simply to let yourselves grow” (p. 127). As spiritual as it sounds, it doesn’t sound like the New Testament any more, does it?

What has Christ been calling you to do? Then by His grace and empowered by His Spirit, do it!


Read part one of this post here.

In 1987 I made notes while reading a Banner of Truth booklet, Living the Christian Life. I recently reflected upon those notes, modified them, and expanded upon them for this piece.

3 replies
  1. Jeff Pollard
    Jeff Pollard says:

    Great to read and meditate on His work in our work, Acting (1 Tim. 4:7) the miracle of sanctification (1 Thess. 3:7-12, and 2 Thess. 2:13-17). Congrats on the grandson! Whitney is 14 and swam Varsity as a young freshmen. Amy is 12 and an excellent XC runner. They are both active in youth group – I have baptized both. Brayden just turns 4 and is already a crowd fave at church. I just finished serving a 3 yr term as deacon. Kacy & I are going through New City Catechism on Sunday’s as a family.


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