Zooming In

Sometimes we get to thinking that "getting saved" and "Christian living" are two separate things.

Like, you have to believe in Jesus to be saved but the “discipleship stuff” is only for those who are “into it.” Like, I still own the car whether I ever change the oil. The gift of salvation is yours and you never ever have to lift a finger.

Salvation is absolutely a gift. There is nothing any of us can do or must do in any way to earn, contribute, or make effective that gift. The gift rests entirely on who Jesus is and what Jesus did. It comes to us entirely from outside ourselves—fully, wholly, totally, completely grace.

[I mean, listen: even when we talk about “having faith,” we’re only actually talking about the “ability” of having no ability! “Faith” is the thing-we-do where we acknowledge that we can do nothing. Faith is our contribution to salvation like emptiness is a cup’s contribution to ending up full of water.]

That’s the story in a nutshell. But if we want to unpack the story we might ask, How does it work? How does this gift work so that we may enter heaven?

For example, what if a person just says that they have faith, but they live a really sinful lifestyle? Or what if a person says they have faith in Jesus, but you listen to them and it's like, “What Jesus are you smoking?” These unhappy situations are not rare. So perhaps we ought to zoom in on the gracious gift of salvation and see how it works.

This is what Peter makes reference to here in 2 Peter 1:11,
For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

Notice, to begin, that we are still talking about something that is entirely a gift: “there will be…provided for you.” There’s no thought of, “Yeah it’s a gift, but you kind of have to earn it a little bit.” No way.

Also, there’s no sense of anxiety, as in, “Did Jesus do enough? I mean, I’m a really bad sinner!” No way: “there will be richly provided for you.” What we need has been done for us, in excess, and given to us, for free.

But how? Peter says, “For in this way…” What way?

The previous verse answers, “Be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way…”

Being diligent in the journey of discipleship and practicing the qualities of a growing faith—these are the ways that God richly provides for our entrance into heaven. The Spirit provides the evidence of salvation in the journey of discipleship. God works out our salvation through our work of discipleship.

When we stand before God in the judgment, and Saint Peter (kidding! Saint Peter is not the butler. But it’s kind of funny so…) asks why we should be granted “entrance into the eternal kingdom,” we should boldly say that this entrance has been richly provided for us by the blood of Jesus Christ.

St. Pete pushes back, “Why do you think that precious sacrifice is applicable to your sorry case?”

To which we ought to reply, “Not by any work of righteousness that I have done, but according to His mercy He saved me, and my only claim to this grace is that I needed it and I received it by faith.”

Peter’ll say, “Yes, now, I’ve heard about you American Christians making all your professions of faith at your big events and then off you go back to what you jolly well please. Why should I buy your faith-bologna? It’s the sure truth that we none of us can contribute a thing to get us in here, but as your prophets liked to say, ‘talk is cheap.’ So prove that your faith is a real faith and not just flapping gums.”

To which we ought to reply, “I put no stock in good works for my soul’s salvation, or think that by them I lay claim to be able to enter heaven. But I lay open my life to your examination to see whether there is the obedience of faith, fruit in keeping with repentance, evidence of the gift of the Spirit. Assess my faith by my works. Not that these works are mine own but are mine because of the Spirit’s work in me. Nonetheless, they bear witness to my claim to trust Jesus.”

How does God make it so we may enter heaven? By grace provided in Jesus. But let's zoom in on that grace. God works out our salvation through our work of discipleship. It is through our diligence and our practice of these qualities and our supplementing our faith with one virtue after another that the Holy Spirit richly provides what we need to enter the kingdom of Jesus.

When I was a kid I got a model U.S.S. Constitution for Christmas. I never put it together. Years later we sold it in a garage sale, still in its plastic wrap. Had I received the gift? Not really.

Now, by way of analogy, I’m not saying that there’s “some assembly required” before we’re saved. That’s not true. But if we’re saved—if we’ve received the gift—then “some assembly happens as a result.”

What is “assembly” in the case of salvation? It’s “connecting” our faith to all the parts of life, and our life to all the parts of faith. That’s discipleship. The Spirit provides the evidence of salvation in the work of discipleship.

This is a flexing joint that is, we admit, mysterious. In doing the work of discipleship—diligently practicing, etc.—we end by praising God for having done it in us. We say, “It’s His doing… in our doing.” Not just that He starts it off or helps us along but that it is His work within our work.

As Paul says it, “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ… filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ… work out your salvation with fear and trembling for it is God who works in you.” (Philippians 1:6, 10, 2:12-13)

Or as Jesus says it, “Abide in me and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.” (John 15:4)

Though there is mystery to this, it makes sense—we need Jesus and the Spirit to work God’s work in us! And so this is all part of how we are “richly provided…an entrance into the eternal kingdom.” (2 Pet 1:11)

It’s all part of The Big Grace Package. So if we zoom out and look at our salvation, it is, simply, that we are saved by the gift of God, no works required or allowed. And if we zoom in and look more closely, we see that we are saved by the gift of God, and that faith receives it, and that good works give evidence of good faith, and yet that those good works themselves are produced by the Spirit of Jesus in us.

Zoom-in, zoom-out, it’s all grace. Amen.

What ought we to do? First of all, praise Jesus! What a set up! We are richly provided with all we need for life, godliness, and an entrance into glory. He’s thought of everything! Second, be diligent about discipleship. For here we learn that the Spirit works in our diligence. God works out our salvation through our work of discipleship.

Where is the Spirit at work in your life? Want to find out? Well, then “make every effort to supplement your faith with…” And away we go!

To Consider and Discuss:
What role ought discipleship play in the Christian’s life?
Why is discipleship important?
How is discipleship itself part of Jesus’ grace to us?
Would you like more grace in your life? What should you do?

Photo by Ousa Chea on Unsplash