How’s that? I understand and applaud a God who, “…will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel…” 2 Thessalonians 1:8 But why judge me – a Christian – at all, let alone first? Amos gives us a clue as to why God would hold anyone to a higher standard. Like the Israelites of old, we have been chosen, not on our own merit but on God’s ability to redeem and use us in spite of ourselves. To us has been revealed the God of the universe, whom we now represent to the world. (1 Peter 2:9) We should know better, thus the standard of excellence we are called to achieve. As with the Israelites, “You only have I chosen of all the families of the earth, therefore I will punish you for all your sins.” Amos 3:2 (See also Jeremiah 25:29) Which requires understanding and effort to abide by God’s will and true repentance when we fail; our salvation being freely gained but not cheaply held.
Jesus addressed this subject in the parable of the watchful or studious servant: “That servant who knows his master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows.” For, “From everyone who has been given much, (opportunity and responsibility) much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” Luke 12:47,48 “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom the master puts in charge…? …that servant whom the master finds doing (what is expected of him) when he returns.” Luke 12:42,43
But I thought salvation and eternal life were gifts resulting from a repentant response to God’s offer of grace through Jesus Christ. (Romans 6:23) “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.” Ephesians 2:8,9 And yet there appears to be an expectation of response through obedience as well. As a result of God’s work of grace (his workmanship), we are created anew in Christ – to do good works. (Ephesians 2:10) We are expected to be demonstrably different, being judged on how seriously we exercise that responsibility. “For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory…and then he will reward each person according to what he has done.” Matthew 16:27 This promise is later reinforced by Paul, “If anyone builds on this foundation (of acceptance of Christ) with gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, … It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.” 1 Corinthians 3:12-15
Just getting by, surviving by the skin of our teeth should never be our goal. In fact, Paul hints at the possibility of spoiling, wasting or forfeiting God’s grace. “As God’s fellow workers, we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain.” 2 Corinthians 6:1 (See also 1 Peter 3:17) How could that happen? Possibly as a result of a lukewarm acceptance of our commission in Christ. (See Revelation 3:15-20, the allusion to spitting or spewing having the connotation, ‘You make me want to vomit!’ – and Revelation 22:12) Jesus having declared, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my father in heaven.” Matthew 7:21 He then reiterates this point by characterizing the differences between conscientious servants and careless caretakers; the one being rewarded with heaven, the other being cast out of his presence. (See the parable of the separation of sheep and goats in Matthew 25:31-46) Note that they both considered themselves followers of the King, their actions verifying or negating that claim. (See also Hebrews 6:4 & 2 Peter 2:20,21)
“God will give to each person according to what he has done. To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.” Romans 2:6-8 The key being found in our resolve to serve the Lord well, representing the gospel regardless of cost. For, “By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.” 1 Corinthians 15:2 Therefore, “Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” 1 Corinthians 15:58
“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” 2 Corinthians 5:21 What an awesome opportunity and responsibility! As a result of God’s loving provision we can, “…approach the throne of grace with confidence,…” receiving mercy in our time of need. Hebrews 4:16 But Paul does exhort us to, “…continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling,…” Philippians 2:12 Not necessarily a fear of losing one’s salvation but a dread of not bearing fruit in appreciation of that salvation, of disappointing God and failing our fellowman – of doing less than we can and should in response to His great gift. (1 John 4:16:18) “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” 2 Corinthians 5:10 (See also Romans 14:12)
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