We have been talking about helping the new believer understand that their new life is going to start changing. But how do we talk about this in a way that doesn’t sound like there are a bunch of new things that they have to do? How do we help them understand that the desire and ability to change comes from God? How’s this?
The desire to change the habits of our heart, and the ability to do so, comes not from within the person but from within the heart of God. But we co-operate. I don’t really like the word “co-operate,” but I couldn’t think of a better term. We’re not dealing here with the issue of salvation — we never co-operate with God in walking through the gate; we were dead at the time, enabled just to respond to the call. I am talking about how our lives change as the new path of discipleship changes.
Paul’s instructions to the church at Philippi give us the answer. “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 in order to fulfill his good purpose” (2:12-13).
Paul does not want them to work hard in order to be saved; there is no token we can earn to grant us access to the gate. What Paul wants them to do is work out the implications of their salvation, the implications of walking through the gate, of changed people living in a changed way.
This is a fearful task, one that can cause trembling. God deeply desires that his children walk like his Son Jesus walks and become more like him. We should take that seriously as well. But where does the desire come from? Where does the strength to walk this way comes from? From God.
Paul quickly follows with these words, that the will to walk and the ability to walk as Jesus walked both come from God. God never sends his children to battle without proper equipment. He never calls us to a task without enabling us to do that task. As another translation puts it, “Dear friends, you always followed my instructions when I was with you. And now that I am away, it is even more important. Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him” (NLT).
We constantly need to be reminded of this truth as we continue to walk the path. As that path becomes steeper, narrower, and more difficult, we need to remember that the desire and the ability to follow that desire all come from our Father. The wisest man in the history of the world, King Solomon, wrote these words. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight ” (Proverbs 3:5-6).
Submitting your will, humbly, to his will in all things. That is the key to releasing God’s power to do the work in your heart that Jesus wants to happen.