There is an infamous sculpture by Bobbie Carly entitled “Self Made Man” which depicts the upper torso of a man who is chiseling himself out of stone. It captures and communicates with great clarity the western concept that we are who we make ourselves to be and celebrates those who claim to have “made something of themselves.” However, this fails to capture or communicate the biblical truth.
It is not our works that empowers our salvation; it is our salvation that empowers our works.
We see Ephesians 2:8-10 English Standard Version [ESV] teach this as clearly as any other scripture might, and there are numerous references to the fact that our works are not able to save us from judgment. Yet, the follower of Christ is commanded labor. In Jude, we see this tension.
In Jude 1:1, ESV we see that the letter is written to “those who are called, beloved of God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ” and in the doxology (Jude 1:24-25, ESV) we see that it is God who does this keeping. Thus, we see God calls, keeps, and presents blameless (justified) those He loves before the presence of His glory (glorified), reflecting as well what is seen in Romans 8:28-30, ESV. We see God as the author and master workman in all of this, we are His workmanship.
However, between verses one and twenty four, we find Jude 1:20-23, ESV wherein we are enjoined to:
- Build Ourselves Up
- Keep Ourselves in the Love of God
- Have/Show Mercy
- Save Others, Snatch them from the fire
This is very well reflected in Philippians 2:12, ESV work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. Having just demonstrated that God is the workman in all of this, it certainly appears that there is plenty of work at hand for us and some of these would appear to be contradictory. Build Ourselves Up? If God is doing the keeping, why are we “keeping ourselves?” Work out our own salvation?
At this point, many wrongly take the approach of saying, “If God is doing all the work I will simply sit back (like the inert stone in Bobbie Carly’s sculpture), cruise through life, and expect everything to have worked out (for me) in the end.” So many more take the approach of the upper torso in the sculpture, “I will make good decisions, labor hard, be a moral and ethical individual, follow the rules, and when God sees what I have done with myself it will go well for me.”
The student of God’s word will clearly see the answer to this tension in Philippians 2:12-13, ESV where the Christian is encouraged to obey God because it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. We see that God, the Master Workman, the author of our faith, inflames in us the desire (will) for His good pleasure as well as empowering us to labor (work) for His good pleasure.
Grant what you command, and command us what you will! – Augustine, Confessions Book 10 CH 29
Augustine’s 5th century prayer displays this well. This is the method God has chosen to be the normal expression of His workmanship. We see through history that God chose the prophets and nations as the tools by which He shaped Israel, though we are aware that He could have simply spoken audibly from heaven and bypassed the use of Moses and Babylon, for example.
There is no surprise to discover Scripture teaching us that we can expect God to keep us, and that the method by which He does that is one wherein He works in and through us such that we are His obedient servants in keeping ourselves.
When recognizing a desire for God in his heart, a man tends to take an ownership of that desire that ignores God’s work in enflaming it. While standing back to look at the evidence of his faith (James 2:18, ESV), he immediately recognizes the effort that he put into the labor and takes ownership of that, while tending to fail to recognize that God authored that faith (Ephesians 2:8, ESV) and ordained (Ephesians 2:10, ESV) and performed thru him the work, the results of which he takes such pride in. In so doing, he denies our Lord and Master, perverts the grace of our God, and rejects authority.
The man of God looks into His perfect Word and sees the command “keep yourself in the love of God” and is enflamed with a desire to embrace and obey this command. Yes Lord! Is his response. He then applies himself to this effort, through prayer and diligence he searches through scripture to discover how he might best apply himself to it. All the while, praying as Augustine.
Though taking ownership and responsibility for pursuing this command, the Christian constantly praises God for the desire and ability. When surveying any progress made, the disciple thanks God for working through them. As others notice and comment on the work, the Christian is careful to glorify God and point towards Him as the master craftsman and author, humbly acknowledging their own role as an obedient servant.
Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.
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