Are You Working to Earn Everlasting Life?

by Mike Ratliff

28 Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” (John 6:28 ESV)

The flesh is still with us all, even those who have been born again unto eternal life. The flesh does not understand grace. The flesh does not understand the relationship to the Christian being born again unto good works (Ephesians 2:10). Therefore, the visible church is ripe with false teaching at this time that emphasizes all the wrong things, and, coupled with rampant Biblical illiteracy, most professing Christians are like those Jesus was confronting in John 6 who could not conceive what our Lord boldly told them in vv35-40 that belief and salvation was a gift from God not something earned or deserved. 

On the other hand, many take this too far the other way proclaiming that any work would be a violation and would be an attempt to earn salvation, et cetera.

“Come, my beloved, let us go forth into the field . . . let us see if the vine flourish.”-Song of Solomon 7:11,12

The church was about to engage in earnest labour, and desired her Lord’s company in it. She does not say, “I will go,” but “let us go.” It is blessed working when Jesus is at our side! It is the business of God’s people to be trimmers of God’s vines. Like our first parents, we are put into the garden of the Lord for usefulness; let us therefore go forth into the field. Observe that the church, when she is in her right mind, in all her many labours desires to enjoy communion with Christ. Some imagine that they cannot serve Christ actively, and yet have fellowship with Him: they are mistaken. Doubtless it is very easy to fritter away our inward life in outward exercises, and come to complain with the spouse, “They made me keeper of the vineyards; but mine own vineyard have I not kept:” but there is no reason why this should be the case except our own folly and neglect. Certain is it that a professor may do nothing, and yet grow quite as lifeless in spiritual things as those who are most busy. Mary was not praised for sitting still; but for her sitting at Jesus’ feet. Even so, Christians are not to be praised for neglecting duties under the pretence of having secret fellowship with Jesus: it is not sitting, but sitting at Jesus’ feet which is commendable. Do not think that activity is in itself an evil: it is a great blessing, and a means of grace to us. Paul called it a grace given to him to be allowed to preach; and every form of Christian service may become a personal blessing to those engaged in it. Those who have most fellowship with Christ are not recluses or hermits, who have much time to spare, but indefatigable labourers who are toiling for Jesus, and who, in their toil, have Him side by side with them, so that they are workers together with God. Let us remember then, in anything we have to do for Jesus, that we can do it, and should do it in close communion with Him. – C.H Spurgeon from Spurgeon’s Evening by Evening for May 9.

I remember when I had been a Christian about 5 or 6 years and was looked to by many in our church as very mature and a good Bible teacher, but I assure you that I was still struggling with some sins and was not very mature in Christ at all. In any case, during that period I still pondered these things in my heart about what role my works would play in my salvation. After all, I attended churches that consistently taught from the pulpit that salvation was a decision and regeneration came as a reward for making the right choice, et cetera. Think about that. Think of what that sort of theology does to the rest of what our Lord and His Apostles taught. I was in such bondage! I saw my inconsistencies. I heard how I was once saved, always saved, but I also could not believe that God would put up with the mess I was making of everything. Well I was right about that second part! God was not putting up with it and He did not allow me to remain in that stagnate cesspool of works righteousness forever. He caused me to go through some ghastly trials that humbled me and caused me to stop trusting in myself completely more and more as each trial was worse than the one before until I came to that place where I saw what good news the Gospel really is and what a worthless piece of merchandise I really was that He purchased with Christ being my propitiation (Romans 3:25). It was from those shattered remains that God rebuilt my ministry and my walk before Him so that it is now ALL according to His grace and mercy. Like Mary, I work, but not for my salvation, but to be in close communion with my Lord, to serve Him and bring Him glory.

To those reading this who are of the emergent persuasion, if you have made it this far then I am very surprised, but if so, I pray that you will also understand that much of the stuff you are chasing after and hearing from your leaders is in rebellion to the clear teaching from God’s Word. Sorry, but that is the truth. That also means that those doing the teaching are false teachers and you need to separate from them. Mysticism and other religions cannot be mixed with Christianity. God will judge.

To those reading this who are of the church growth persuasion, I am very surprised you have read this far, but if so, then God be praised. Church growth is not always the goal you should pursue. Obedience to an expositional preaching of the Word of God should be your goal. Do not use the gimmicks of the world to try to influence people to come to your church. That is worthless. It is also dishonest. The Holy Spirit is the one who will cause the increase and that will come with your obedience to your true calling. Will using worldly techniques cause church growth? Sure, just look at Rick Warren’s empire; however, it is a house of cards. I would love to debate Rick Warren or one of his people on doctrine. Even better, let’s have Dr. James White debate Rick Warren on the Doctrines of Grace. Some would say that Rick Warren would simply do his chameleon thing and there would be no debate, but I doubt if it would fool Dr. White. We can only pray… In any case, if you are so sold on the truth of the church growth paradigm, then of what do you have to be afraid? Why not debate?

To those reading this who are desperately seeking to be right in the middle of God’s will for your life, to be that Christian who is both not working for their salvation and is doing the good works that brings God glory and brings them into close communion with the Saviour, I suggest you start by reading the following passages: Colossians 3:1-5; Romans 12:1-2; Hebrews 4:9-16; John 15:1-17. Start there. Learn to prayerfully apply these to you life. Remember, the transformed life is not the Gospel; it is the fruit of the Gospel.  More to come…

Soli Deo Gloria!

24 thoughts on “Are You Working to Earn Everlasting Life?

  1. Welcome back, Mike!
    Good article…and the trick is to follow His Will, not be decieved by one’s own wicked heart, or Satan’s counterfeits.

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  2. Hi Mike!
    Glad you are back- missed you….
    Hope you are refreshed, been praying for you….
    Love Spurgeon…..his morning and evening devotionals brought this sinner to tears almost 2 years ago. He is still one of my all-time favorite preachers.
    Thank you for your time and labor for the Lord.
    To Him be the glory!
    Angie

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  3. Thank you Angie. God is good. I am doing fine. I did some some very deep reading (John Owen) and some feeding (Michael Horton) while I was offline. God’s truth always refreshes as it humbles and brings us to line up our lives with it. I have more peace in my heart than I have had in quite some time. I know God wants me to continue to minister doing this, but I must continue to pray for direction and wisdom in doing so. It is so easy to get distracted and emotional, etc. God’s will be done.

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  4. Hi Mike,
    Amen!
    We are to be a blessing whenever the opportunity arises…especially to our brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus. That originates in our love and gratitude for Him, for salvation and for His great mercy towards us.
    So glad you are back, refreshed and surrendered to do His will.
    Bless you today!

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  5. Mike, how wonderful to have you back. I missed your daily dose of wisdom.

    Excellent article. The Holy Spirit has energized you! Continue on in the work He has given you, Mike. It is needed for such a time as this.

    God bless you, my brother.

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  6. Welcome back, dear brother. I believe the Apostle Paul would agree with you:

    1 Corinthians 2 1 And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony[a] of God. 2 For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. 3 I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. 4 And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human[b] wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.

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  7. Glad you’re back Mike. Great post, I will be reading the passages at the end. Still hanging in here, apparently not moving on at this point…

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  8. Welcome back, Mike. Good to see your return!

    I still greatly struggle with this one, Mike. Not so much as blatantly thinking my works earn my salvation, but being discouraged at the impurity in, or even the lack of, the works, as though I am far from what I should be. Of course, this may be just a more surreptitious but equally deluded form of works righteousness. I tend to forget the works flow out from Christ in us, not me trying to gain his favor or faithfulness.

    I have more good days than bad at this these days. But I am almost certain that this is one of the issues I should have long since put to bed, not to be still struggling with it after years. Works are tricky. They need to be of God and in His grace, for they are an evidence of salvation. But how easy to put the cart before the horse and try to manufacture works to obtain salvation.

    I’ll especially consider what you wrote of toiling WITH Christ. Not sure I’ve ever been directly taught that, though many may have inferred it.

    God bless.

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  9. Good to have you back.

    This is my struggle; to find the good works I am to do. “Do not think that activity is in itself an evil: it is a great blessing, and a means of grace to us.” After years of silly busy work; carnivals for kids, clubs for kids, where Jesus was not even mentioned never mind taught. Where does one serve Christ that is not hay, straw?

    It is easy to be busy in what is labelled the ‘Lord’s work’ but so much of so called ‘Lord’s work’ is busy for the sake of busy. To make the flesh happy that we are religous but what is the work to do to please our Saviour?

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  10. Brian, you are right about this being a struggle for so many Christians. I was there. I have been there. While I am convinced we are saved unto good works, these works are for our own spiritual growth and the glory of God, not to earn us salvation. I have been in legalistic church environments. I hated it and I never want to be part of it again. I rejoice when I labor for my Lord, but when someone tries to shame me into working with them according to their own convictions I have a problem with that when I don’t have those same convictions. Perhaps, that is my own issue with my lack of spiritual acuity, but I think it is more of an issue with people trying to force other people into works righteousness. Sigh… In any case, if you look at the church growth paradigm, those churches are labor camps in comparison to most churches. They use ungodly things like Enneagram to find out what people’s personality is all about so they can exploit them to work them to the max. I don’t think this is what church should be about.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

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  11. Janet, yes, I know exactly what you mean. I find that the best place to begin in this is at the beginning. That is why I put Colossians 3:1:5 in the “must read” part of the conclusion. That is where we focus on the things above instead of the things below. I think that means we seek the will of our Lord in these things and pattern our lives after that instead of after the world. I doubt if that would include the silliness. On the other hand, when I am around my 1 year old grandson I am sure that much of how I communicate with him would seem silly to most people, but that is how it is and must be since his vocabulary is so limited and he doesn’t understand much. But am I being really being silly? No, I am building that relationship with him. I am building him up as much as I can and will continue to do that. When I first started teaching in church I taught 5th grade kids Sunday School. I loved it. I taught them the Bible. I did not limit those kids to that silly stuff in the SBC literature. I hope that God used that in their lives. In any case, do you see what I am saying? We must just obey God and do what he gives us to do with the focus being on what is above rather than what is below.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

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  12. “No one lights a lamp and puts it under a bowl; instead he puts it on the lamp-stand, where it gives light for everyone in the house. In the same way your light must shine before people, so that they will see the good things you do and praise your Father in heaven.”

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  13. WELCOME BACK MIKE!! Very good, made me think of Ephesians 2:10, For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” I am SO GLAD God ORDAINED both my salvation and my good works, for it would impossible if left up to me. It is a struggle many times to know what to do and when to not do…….. I heard Paul washer say one time that American Chrisitans were obsessed with doing Chritian things rather than just BEING Christian. THANKS for all the scriptures!

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  14. Welcome back! I remember when I suffered burnout from music directing over a 4 year period in the late 90’s, and as a family we decided that I should step down and take “time out”; I was told that by putting my gifting on a shelf, I was letting down our church, AND God. Our pastor later “prophesied” that he only saw “dark, dark times ahead for us”!!!!

    It has taken a while to learn that the seasons where I am not worship leading/piano playing/just DOING – do NOT in fact grieve the Lord.
    In fact, it is during these times of “time out” from music ministry, that I draw closer to the Lord – in the quiet times-
    just as Spurgeon says about “sitting at Jesus’ feet” – I sit in my rose garden looking at the beauty of God’s creation in a single rose flower – and tears come to my eyes… as I feel like I am a little child sitting at my Father’s feet…..
    Personally, I feel closer to the Lord in those times…when I am reflecting on the Lord, and the beauty of who He is…

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