“Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed– not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence– continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” Philippians 2:12-13
Why do people enjoy watching the Olympics so much? That’s not a very difficult question to answer. Of course we are moved by the incredible display of human effort, skill, and perseverance that the athletes demonstrate. Not one of them gets to the Olympic games by chance. They spend years training, often sacrificing relationships, education, and other aspects of their lives in order to be the best in their sport.
Strength of character is as difficult to attain as physical strength. It takes excruciating, unmitigated, relentless work. Modern evangelicalism, while attempting to counter salvation-by-works thinking, often discourages us from putting effort into our spiritual formation. The Bible, however, speaks repeatedly of “working out” our salvation. Hebrews 6:11-12 says, “We want each of you to show the same diligence to the very end, in order to make your hope sure. We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.” Hebrews 12:12 says, “Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees.” And Colossians 3:23 says, “Whatever you do work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.” The choice is clear. Work and become strong, or be apathetic and become weak.
Of course, it is God who produces strength in us, but we must do our part. An athlete needs protein and vitamins in order to develop muscle and healthy organs. But if he just eats a lot and doesn’t go to the gym, he will only get fat. Worship, Bible study, and prayer are useless if we do not put faith into action. With no outlet for good works, we become spiritually fat and lazy.
God invites us to join in his kingdom-building work. That includes engaging in meaningful human relationships, working to bring justice to the marginalized, and carrying the gospel to the ends of the earth. None of these tasks are easy. In fact, those that are worthwhile rarely are. But we seek them out because they are hard– because they develop godly character in us.
If you lack patience, seek out tasks that require it. If you lack humility, seek out tasks that seem lowly. Work at it.
When you think you’ve got it, work some more.
Over the past few months, as I have shared my weaknesses and struggles with those I trust, I keep hearing people say, “Kyle, you have to work it out.” I cannot simply pray for God to make me stronger and expect to sit back and watch him do it. I want to end each day knowing I spent every ounce of my energy laboring for Christ. I have found that the harder I work, the greater my desire is to keep working. I might feel tired, but I don’t feel sorry for myself because I know my spirit is getting stronger through disciplined effort.
Are you satisfied with your current spiritual condition, or are you willing to work to improve it? How far will you go to train your spirit for godliness? Push yourself to the limit and beyond. Only then can you say, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
Run. Fight. Sweat. Work. Finish the race.