Week 5, Day 5: Effort and Earning
We end this week with two reminders: first, all is grace. It would be very easy for us, particularly those in DC, once we get our marching orders, to work really hard at the things we can control, and in so doing, fall into a kind of legalism. All is grace: the salvation offered by Jesus through a death he died for us and a resurrection that won us new life; the transformation that comes by a work of God’s Spirit in us; and even the ability we have to engage in these soul-training exercises, these disciplines. All of it is a gift of God to us. It is imperative that we do not lose sight of this truth.
Jesus most often faced opposition from a group called the Pharisees; they were religious leaders. The key difference between Jesus and the Pharisees is that the Pharisees wanted people to do the right thing; Jesus wanted people to become the kind of people who would do the right thing. And he knew that this transformation would — could — only come through an encounter with God, a relationship with him, and a work of the Holy Spirit.
The second reminder is that grace is not opposed to effort; it is opposed to earning. Earning is the idea that we have to do certain things — or not do certain things — in order to earn God’s love and affirmation. Often, we may feel we have to earn the love of someone we’re romantically interested in, whether by taking them on dates, impressing them with our talents, or otherwise proving ourselves as worthy. This, however, is the very opposite of the relationship God has with us. As we learned last week in reading Galatians 5, we are free from this; in Ephesians 2:8-9, Paul writes:
You are saved by God’s grace because of your faith. This salvation is God’s gift. It’s not something you possessed. It’s not something you did that you can be proud of.
God has always loved us, and God will always love us. There is nothing we can do to change how much God loves us. Grace is opposed to earning.
However, grace is not opposed to effort. In Luke 13:24, Jesus says, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow gate. Many, I tell you, will try to enter and won’t be able to.” Jesus’ closest disciple Peter, meanwhile, adds these instructions, in 2 Peter 1:5-7:
This is why you must make every effort to add moral excellence to your faith; and to moral excellence, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, endurance; and to endurance, godliness; and to godliness, affection for others; and to affection for others, love.
There is clearly some part that we have to play, some responsibility that falls to us, some effort that must be made.
How, then, can we distinguish between effort and earning? Simply put: by our motivation. Earning is when we do something in order to try to gain God’s affection; effort is when we do something because we already have God’s affection. In a healthy marriage, for instance, love is not given based on the other person’s performance — whether one has taken the trash out or cooked dinner well. Rather, because both are secure in the love of the other, they will seek to do everything within their power to serve the other. Healthy relationships — romantic relationships, friendships, family relationships — are not ones in which we do things in order to be loved, in order to be accepted, but ones in which we do things because we love and are loved.
This is why it is so important to constantly remind ourselves — and be reminded — that we are loved by God. It is the foundation and framework for everything that follows; and if this truth is not firmly embedded in our hearts and minds, we run the risk of doing the right things for the wrong reasons. Even as we work and live and love as courageously and fiercely as we can for the sake of God and his kingdom, may we also be deeply rooted in the truth that nothing “nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38), not even anything we might do.
REFLECT & RESPOND
Head: Does the difference between effort and earning seem clear to you? What is encouraging about it, and what is challenging or confusing?
Heart: Why do you think the attitude of earning is so easy to fall into? What are some ways you fall into it?
Hands: One of the best ways to guard against allowing your effort to become earning is to include others in your journey. Ask someone — a trusted friend or small group member, perhaps — to encourage you and to hold you accountable.
Reflect on God’s love for you. Stay there for a while. Then consider how you might like to live in light of this love.
Grace is not opposed to effort;
it is opposed to earning.