After a couple of months off, we are moving into our next season of Bible Study. Our next study is called, Jesus, I Need You. The title alone describes how I feel! I DO need Jesus!
At the beginning of every study, we do a week of orientation—we spend time reading and talking about why Thistlebend is structured the way it is, and what to expect from a Thistlebend study. Even though the information may feel repetitive for those of us who have taken Thistlebend studies, it is so helpful to be reminded of the mission of the ministry and framework of the studies. This time, I was reading through the Orientation Guide, re-visiting the SALT (submission, accountability, laboring, and transparency) model (a discipleship tool that Thistlebend follows with participants through their studies), when I felt I needed to linger over “laboring” a bit longer.
Philippians 2:12-13 says we are to: “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” Our guide goes on to beautifully explain (and I am paraphrasing) that we are to “labor humbly with all diligence in devotion to prayer; in our study of God’s Word; in service; in obedience, in perseverance and diligence; in sound doctrine; and in repentance and faith.”
I know the Philippians 2 verses well. It’s so helpful to understand that the pursuit of righteousness is not easy! For further clarification, I looked up these verses in different translations. The New Living Translation says it this way: “Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear.” The Living Bible says: “you must be even more careful to do the good things that result from being saved, obeying God with deep reverence, shrinking back from all that might displease him.”
I like the phrase: “work hard to show the results of your salvation.” Work hard. It is work to devote time to prayer when so many other things clamor for our attention; it is work to serve others instead of ourselves. It is work to be obedient to the Lord, to persevere, to adhere to sound doctrine, to live a life of repentance and faith. It is work. It is hard, especially because our sin nature yearns to be satisfied and in order to work out our salvation, we have to continually beat back the desires of the flesh. It is a constant battle. God, in His great provision for His beloved children, gives us His Spirit, His energy, His Word, His promises, and His Son to help us overcome, but we must have faith in Him to do the work. And growing in faith takes work. It takes time, energy, and effort, discipline and commitment to knowing the One in whom we have placed our faith.
As rich as Philippians 2:12-13 is in doctrine, in truth, it is the next sentence in our guide that pierced my heart most: “Laboring in pursuit of righteousness is by no means to earn favor with the Lord or with one another.” We don’t work out our salvation to earn favor with God (Eph 2:8-9) and we don’t do it to impress others.
A couple of years ago, I would have said that I did not labor in pursuit of righteousness to earn favor with other people. But in recent months, the Lord has been revealing to me that I DO care what others think. I have had to confess that I said or did things to try to impress my sisters in Christ with my “labors.” In fact, I have had to confess that my willingness to be transparent was sometimes grounded in a desire to be heard, not out of a desire to open my heart to the Lord. I had to look carefully at my motives. I had to confess to the Lord that I sometimes did my Bible Study homework not out of love for and devotion to Him, but because I wanted the ladies in my Small Group to know I was doing my study. I was stunned by these revelations and felt sick at my shallowness. Even worse, God revealed to me that Bible Study was an idol for me. I prioritized Bible Study over Him. On the surface, I looked like a Christian woman desiring to know God more deeply. On the inside, I felt distant from God and hollow. I was not growing in relationship with God. I was simply completing a task.
This is really hard stuff to admit. But there is such freedom in confession! I have truly taken 1 John 1:9 to heart: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Yes, God forgives. But He is faithful to cleanse us, too. He lovingly equips us to change.
It is my deep desire to complete this upcoming study with a spirt of humility and authenticity. I am praying that the Lord would help me to labor for Him out of my love for Him. I pray that I will take to heart the truth that I do not need to earn His favor, Jesus secured that for me. I don’t need anyone else’s approval, I don’t need to compare myself to anyone else, I don’t need to be anyone else but the person God made me to be.
Have you ever had realizations about yourself with Bible Study or a particular way you’re living?
Growing in Grace