Who’s Trying?

Who’s Trying?

I heard about a critic who had visited various churches and listened as preachers made such statements as:

  • Don’t try to earn your way into heaven.”
  • Don’t try to impress God with your works.”
  • Don’t try to win God’s favor by your own efforts.”

As he looked around the different congregations, he saw many who seemed apathetic and lethargic, and he wondered, “Who’s trying?”

You’ve probably heard the same statistic cited that I have—that only 20% of the people who attend church in America today are involved in some area of volunteer service.  That makes me wonder if some feel justified in their passivity because of the bad rap that “works” has sometimes gotten.  The following are valid truths:

  • A man is not justified by the works of the law (Galatians 2:16)
  • We were not saved by works of righteousness which we have done (Titus 3:5)
  • Repentance from dead works is a foundational principle of Christ (Hebrews 6:1)

Clearly, there are works (those apart from grace and faith) that are unfruitful and unproductive, but this does not negate the fact that there are works that believers are called to do.  In Ephesians 2:9-10 we see both sides of the equation; we learn that even though our salvation is not “of works,” we were still created in Christ Jesus “unto good works.”  In other words:

  • Works are not the root of our salvation, but they are the fruit of our salvation
  • Works are not the cause of our salvation, but they are a result of our salvation
  • We don’t earn salvation by works, but we express our salvation by works


A Working Church

The Lord is intensely interested in the works of churches and believers.  When addressing the seven churches of Asia Minor, Jesus said to every single local congregation, “I know your works.”  The word “know” here means, “to know first-hand, by personal observation and inspection.”  Wuest translates Revelation 2:2, “I know with absolute clearness your works and toil and steadfast endurance and fortitude under trials…”


Throughout biblical history, we see the significance of having a good work ethic!

  • Adam was placed in the Garden of Eden to “tend and keep it” (Genesis 2:15).  The word “tend” here means, “to work.”
  • Jethro admonished Moses about leadership and delegation.  One of the things he told Moses was, “And you shall… show them…the work they must do” (Exodus 18:20). 
  • When Solomon wrote Proverbs, he made multiple and repeated references to hard work, diligence, and industriousness.
  • Nehemiah and his followers achieved amazing results in rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem because, “the people had a mind to work” (Nehemiah 4:6).
  • Works, to Jesus, were not optional.  He said, “I must work the works of Him who sent Me…” (John 9:4).
  • Paul was also a devoted worker.  He said, “For this I labor [unto weariness], striving with all the superhuman energy which He so mightily enkindles and works within me”

(Colossians 1:29, Amplified).


James is often thought of as a major proponent of good works (see James 2:14-26), and he certainly was.  But Paul also said much about good works.  Consider the abundance of what Paul said about works in his relatively short epistle to Titus:

  • “…in all things showing yourself to be a pattern of good works.” (2:7)
  • “…that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.” (2:14)
  • “…be ready for every good work.” (3:1)
  • “…those who have believed in God should be careful to maintain good works.” (3:8)
  • “…let our people also learn to maintain good works, to meet urgent needs, that they may not be unfruitful.” (3:14)


It’s not only in the church world that apathy and half-hearted effort has been noticed.  The renowned industrialist, Andrew Carnegie, speaking of the secular workplace, noted: “The average person puts only 25% of his energy and ability into his work. The world takes off its hat to those who put in more than 50% of their capacity, and stands on its head for those few and far between souls who devote 100%.

John Wesley summarized well the attitude every believer should have when he said, “Do all the good you can, in all the ways you can, to all the souls you can, in every place you can, with all the zeal you can, as long as you ever can.”  Charles Finney, the great revivalist, expressed his powerful conviction when he said, “Every member must work or quit.  No honorary members.”


What are the traits of those laborers in the Kingdom who embody the zeal, fervor, and effort reflected in Wesley’s admonition?

  • They are deeply grateful for what God has done in terms of their own personal salvation.  They are not trying to pay God back, but they are mindful of and grateful for His mercy toward them.
  • They perceive the significance of eternity and they recognize the reality of heaven and hell.  This awareness has impacted their priorities and caused them to redeem the time, seizing every opportunity to invest in others and build the Kingdom.
  • They understand that theirs is a life of purpose—that they truly have a calling and an assignment from God.
  • They have moved beyond self-absorption and have allowed the compassion of God for people to motivate them.
  • They believe that God will reward their efforts, and that His eternal rewards will far outshine any earthly accolades or material gain that this world has to offer.


People often think primarily of pastors and missionaries, but it’s important to keep in mind that by no means does all Kingdom work takes place through those in pulpit ministries or official positions.  There is no indication that Dorcas held any official positions or titles in the church, but she was a great servant.  Acts 9:36 says, “This woman was full of good works and charitable deeds…”  The Message version says, “She was well-known for doing good and helping out.”  When you encourage others, when you give to support the spread of the Gospel, when you pray for leaders, and when you exemplify godly character to others, you are doing important work for God.


Our prayer for you and all those you work with in serving God is that you will “be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord,” and that you will be mindful that, “God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love which you have shown toward His name, in that you have ministered to the saints, and do minister” (1 Corinthians 15:58, Hebrews 6:10).