On a recent trip to Oregon to visit family, we went to the the gigantic Ikea store located next to the Portland International Airport. It is quite an amazing experience just wandering through their many displays organized as miniature rooms or even whole houses. You write down the number of the item you want to purchase and then when you arrive at the warehouse, you get a cart and go to the appropriate location and get your own item to take to the check out. Having a degree in Industrial and Management Engineering, I was especially impressed with the layout and efficiency of the whole facility for traffic and materials flow. What a great idea! As a full-blooded Norwegian, I have to believe the Swedes must have borrowed their idea for the giant retail store from the Norwegians!
Not only does Ikea have a great idea for their store layout, but they also draw upon the value people place on participating in the construction of a product. The majority of the furniture-type items you purchase at Ikea must be assembled when you get them home. Not only does that keep the prices down, but gives the purchaser a feeling of “ownership” of the product, increasing “product satisfaction.”
God created us to be workers. Adam and Eve were given the responsibility to care for the garden which God created for them (Gen. 2:15). Although work became much more tedious and challenging as a result of sin and the curse placed upon the earth (Gen. 3:17-19), there remained a sense of satisfaction in performing labor and achieving results for your efforts. “There is nothing better for a man than to eat and drink and tell himself that his labor is good. This also I have seen, that it is from the hand of God” (Eccl. 2:24).
God, however, makes it clear in His Word that we cannot “work” our way into heaven. Since we were created to be workers, our old sinful nature tries to convince us that we ought to be able to do works that would put us in good favor with God and allow us to enter heaven. But, when it comes to our lost condition because of sin, the Bible says, “you were dead in your trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1). There is absolutely nothing we can do on our own to be saved. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ…For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast” (Eph. 2:4,5,8,9).
Although we are saved solely by the Grace of God and through the faith He gives us to believe in Him, we are saved to work. Paul goes on to write: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). Before we ever came to know Christ as our Savior, God had a plan for our life, to labor together with Him to build up His kingdom. That is pretty mind boggling when we think that God allows us to work with Him to see His purposes fulfilled here on earth. Paul wrote: “Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature…Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely that God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself…and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were entreating through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (II Cor. 5:17-20). Wow, what a privilege, but what a responsibility we have!
To the believers at Philippi, Paul wrote: “…work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12,13). We don’t and can’t work FOR our salvation, but are to work it OUT, i.e., to demonstrate its reality in our lives. Works can no more keep our salvation than they can earn it. It is not faith plus works, but grace through faith. Nevertheless, we are to show our faith by our works (Jas. 2:18). Good works—consisting of a righteous and gracious lifestyle, consideration of others and obedience to Christ’s commands—are the visible evidences of salvation. It is “God who is at work in us”, enabling us to “work out our salvation” in visible practice, through the indwelling Holy Spirit of God.
The Apostle Paul serves as a great example of one who was “working out” what God was “working in.” He said, “And for this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me” (Col. 1:29). The Christian life isn’t just sitting back and watching God at work, it is working with and for Him, helping others to be reconciled to God through faith in Jesus Christ. Paul’s challenge to the Philippians was: “Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ; so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel” (Phil. 1:27). The Greek word Paul used translated “striving together” is sunathleo, meaning “to wrestle or labor in company with.” You’ll notice we get our word “athlete” from that word. We need to strive together as a team, working for the kingdom of God, not just to build up our own little kingdom.
Think about all the unsaved folks around you and all the believers facing difficult challenges. Hey, we have work to do! That’s the purpose for which we were created and “recreated” in Christ (II Cor. 5:17).