“It is vain for you to rise up early, To retire late, To eat the bread of painful labors; For He gives to His beloved even in his sleep.”
The Pilgrim’s Progress introduces an all-to-often frequently encountered character known as “Ignorance”. Ignorance has long insisted that his way and his efforts would be recognized and rewarded in the end. He proceeded in his religious labors in disregard of repeated warnings by Christian and Hopeful that he in fact was choosing to “do it my way,” in contrast to the prescribed Way they followed according to the Writ. Ignorance on that final fateful Day was turned away from the very gate of the Celestial City for his lack of the Certificate of Authenticity that validated his life and right of entry. As Ignorance is carried away, Bunyan in his masterful way makes the astute observation through Christian, “And I saw that there was a way to hell, even from the gates of heaven.”
“And I saw that there was a way to hell, even from the gates of heaven.”
Rigid discipline and hard labor are neither the fuel of nor primary catalysts of grace. A responsive faith that labors does in fact produce these tangible, consumable evidences of the secret God who gives grace even as men are incapacitated by sleep. Perhaps this is a further insurance policy to utterly convince men so none boast, none see, and none fully understand why grace comes unmerited to the one as the other continues in reckless sleep and comfortable sloth in the House of Unconcern.
Thankfully God chooses to interfere with our preprogrammed best renditions of religious idolatry and vanity of labors. He turns our wood, hay and stubble into gold, silver and precious stones that will adorn eternity. The significance of works is not because of the intrinsic worth of works, but because of the grace that enlarges a new capacity of joy experienced in responsive service. “The love of Christ constrains us…” and, “If I have not love it profits me nothing.”
We are easily confused and become convinced that “God helps those who help themselves,” but the above Psalm indicates quite the unnerving contrary. The source of our confusion originates in our makeup which is hard-wired for pride and self-sufficiency that insists we know best, yes even better than God, when it comes to works that save. Our heart has an incredible capacity to deceive us. However we are indeed called to pursue God through persistent discipline, instruction and effort not for our glory or profit or as an end to merit, but as means to know God in power and resurrection as recipients of His glory. What I think I struggle to say is that God acts in secret ways and by special providences in spite of our best efforts of interference to thwart grace, and in spite of our attempts to help Him out to merit our keep. Redemptive history will unfold and the church will advance even by the weakness of our flesh where His glory resides in the most unlikely clay vessel candidates.
When it’s all been said and done a Christ follower is one who has been repetitiously instructed by life journey that “it is of His doing that we are in Christ Jesus…” and our boast is in the Lord working within us because of His work without us and in spite of us. We know that “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it.” We still build it but a spiritual man recognizes the God of grace is in reality working His purposes in secret through our labor unaware. So what should we do? Work to be noticed of Heaven in all your strivings and efforts, not for merit but in pleasure and joy that you might not receive the grace of God in vain. Work harder than any! That’s Paul’s perspective.
True believers all soon say… because they LOVE to say of the Chief Cornerstone: “This came about from the Lord and is marvelous in our eyes.”