The Works of Faith Are Not Your Job

When you seek to do good, what do you rely on? Do you try to be strong enough, wise enough or wealthy enough?

The Bible says that our works for God do not originate in ourselves: not in our resources, our talents, our wisdom, nor our strength. Rather, as Paul told his friends in Thessalonica:

We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Thessalonians 1:3.)

Look at the source of work, labor and endurance in that passage:

  • Work? Produced by faith.
  • Labor? Prompted by love.
  • Endurance? Inspired by hope in Jesus.

Look at what is not the source of work, labor and endurance:

  • Work? Not you.
  • Labor? Not you.
  • Endurance? Not you.

You might be thinking that there are verses that talk about working, though, and that these mean you need to get cracking. You’re right there are, and you’re right that you are expected to work and labor and endure for God. But you are not the one this work, labor and endurance relies upon.

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed … 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. (Philippians 2:12-13.)

The word salvation in this passage seems to mean more than merely being saved from sin and death, saved from an eternity without God. This is about the ongoing salvation from the power of sin and its effect on your life day to day.

Paul told his friends to work it out with fear and trembling. I think in this context it can be understood as an acknowledgement that there is much to fear from sin if it weren’t for the fact that God is working in you.

God’s work gets done through you, but by God

Paul said that “it is God who works in you to will and to act.” Not only the work you get done but the very desire (will) to get it done is God ‘s work in you. And then he went on to say that this is “in order to fulfill his good purpose.”

God’s good purpose – isn’t that the good work you want to get done, the work that came to mind when you read the opening lines of this post? If that is the work you’d like to accomplish, rest assured that God wants that too and wants it so much that he will work in you to get it done. So it’s not up to you to be smart enough or strong enough.

In fact, as the church in Corinth learned, human minds and human strength are not what God uses to achieve his purpose.

For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. (1 Corinthians 1:25.)

There is no human strength strong enough nor wisdom smart enough to overcome what God can do through the weakest of his people.

Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. (1 Corinthians 1:26-27.)

God’s good purpose is accomplished through these weak and unwise people of his.

God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. (1 Corinthians 1:28-30.)

When Paul used the phrase “the things that are not” it gives the impression that he was saying the people of God are a bunch of nobodies in the world’s eyes. But it is these nobodies that God uses to nullify the somebodies, the people who think they run the show.

Remember that it is not a matter of you getting better, stronger, wiser than others so you can accomplish God’s purpose. Rather, Jesus has become your wisdom, and he is the one who has worked in you for righteousness and holiness and redemption.

This is God’s work in you and through you. Because you belong to Jesus, you now get to be part of the work of God as he accomplishes his purpose through you.


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14 Responses to The Works of Faith Are Not Your Job

  1. JYJames says:

    Thanks for this post, Tim.

    A recent sermon series was all about rallying the troops to get busy with various church activities, stress on activities, our so-called “gifts” of the Spirit – time, resources, and talents for volunteering. This works for some, but not for all, depending on the load they are already carrying.

    Anyway, your post shines a completely different light.

    Best. Blessings.

    • Tim says:

      I remember reading a book years ago where the pastor/writer said that if there aren’t enough resources (people, money, space, etc.) to keep a ministry going, perhaps it’s time to let it end. Perpetuation of an activity is not necessarily the best course.

      • JYJames says:

        Hi Tim, With a “scan and skim” of your reply, I misread, “Perpetuation of an ANXIETY is not necessarily the best course.” However, that applies, too. The whole pressure to make something happen in ministry or worse yet, in someone else’s ministry, can be a load, an overload, depending on the situation. This teaching pastor, BTW, has the good life, with lots of free tickets to major league sporting events. Lots of free time as his ministry pays him well and it is his job. However, for working people maintaining job, family, and home, sometimes the additional church duties and church funding campaigns can be a little much.

  2. Jeannie Prinsen says:

    This is an interesting followup to last week’s post, where you cited Rachel Miller’s response to John Piper’s claim that we can’t get to heaven by faith alone (good works are required) although we are *justified* by faith alone. Then I saw the other article (by Greg Morse) on Piper’s Desiring God site yesterday, saying outright that we’re not saved by faith alone but need to ‘be killing” our sin in order to get to heaven. I find these arguments so bewildering. I’m not a theologian but I just feel that this is where the constant emphasis on sin is inevitably going to get you: obsessing over sin rather than living freely and gratefully out of what Jesus has already, completely done for us. So I appreciate the emphasis here.

    • Tim says:

      When I see people who focus on sin I refer to Hebrews 12:1-2 which tells us to focus on Jesus instead of getting caught up in sin. Focus on sin never did anyone any good. Focusing on Jesus is always better.

      • purple kitti says:

        i think that ‘focus on sin’ thing results in something like a self-fulfilling prophecy. people say if you keep thinking of failure, you’re more likely to fail; if you keep worrying that something will go wrong in a relationship, then something ends up going wrong in the relationship. that’s most likely what jesus was thinking about when he taught that you should instead turn your thoughts toward him, as well as that verse that says to think of the things that are good, that are true, that are [insert positive terms here, sorry i’m really bad at memorizing verses]. it’s no wonder we’re not saved through our works then: being so focused on doing what’s right– and by extension, being focused on not doing wrong (along with all those ridiculous extraneous rules we’re so prone to throwing together)– is going to result in our failure each time. and as a result of focusing on jesus alone, our burden is made lighter, which actually makes it easier (relatively speaking) to do what is right, and even to do what’s right the right way (with the right motivations, the right mindset, etc.).

  3. roscuro says:

    There are many preachers, who, although they seem to preach the word of God, always manage to make one feel guilty for not doing enough. I had one pastor, however, who loved to emphasize that last phrase in Philippians 2:13: “For it is God who works in you both willing and doing His good pleasure.” I was surrounded at the time with all kinds of legalistic teaching from other places (I speak as a former ATI student) and it took me a long time to grasp that I didn’t have to strive so hard, but when I finally did get it, it was liberating. I understand what Christ meant when he said his yoke was easy and his burden light. There is still a yoke, because the Christian life is full of challenges, but we don’t carry the weight of it on our shoulders, because Christ has carried it before us.

  4. Elizabeth says:

    It seems to be a natural tension that comes with being His…. this works/not works thing. I am finding it extremely difficult to kick the “I need to….” habit. I don’t rely on Him, and consequently my Christian life is stunted. I don’t know why it takes so long for some of us to learn what should have been learned years and years ago. I’m learning that it’s pride that says “I need to/will/must/can/had better” do this and that…. I’m so tired of the whole thing.

  5. Loura Shares A Story says:

    Thank you, TIm! I meant to write earlier, but this was very timely for me. 🙂

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