The Primacy of the Soul (5)
“And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” John 17.3
Saved and being saved
The first Christians were under no illusion concerning what it meant to be saved. They knew they had received the gift of eternal life, but they also understood that this involved more than the forgiveness of sin and having a place in heaven beyond this life.
Jesus proclaimed forgiveness and eternal life within the framework of the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom would come in the present, He explained, as the Spirit of God began to do His powerful transforming work in the souls of those who believe, strengthening them for the ongoing struggle of growing in the grace and knowledge of the Lord. And, like a growing seed or spreading leaven, the Kingdom expands and increases as believers make it their first and overarching priority in life, and as they are strengthened in their souls. The Kingdom – the glorious rule of King Jesus unto righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit – takes root in the soul, where the Spirit works with transforming power to change us into the likeness of Jesus Christ. From within each believer, the Kingdom then overflows in the Spirit in words and deeds which confirm the inward work of the Spirit and bear witness to Jesus as Savior and Lord (Jn. 7.37-39; Heb. 11.1; Acts 1.8).
Thus Paul, by encouraging the believers in Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch “to continue in the faith” (Acts 14.22), was reminding them and us to take up, day by day, those disciplines by which we seek and make progress in the Kingdom and salvation of the Lord, and to pursue, with increasing vigor and consistency, the Kingdom and glory to which God has called us (1 Thess. 2.12).
Our salvation unfolds in three interlocked and overlapping phases. When we believe in Jesus, by the inward work of the Spirit, our sins are forgiven and we are justified and saved, once and for all time. This is the work of justification which God accomplishes in those He is pleased to save. But then, having received the gift of salvation (Eph. 2.8, 9), believers continue to “work out” their salvation for the strengthening of their soul and the good works that herald and advance the Kingdom of God (Eph. 2.10; Phil. 2.12, 13). This is the work of sanctification, in which God continues the work He has begun in us, and will continue until He brings us to Himself in glory – the work of glorification. Christians are saved by grace through faith; but we are also being saved, increasingly, as we continue in the faith once for all delivered to the saints.
What does this involve?
Disciplines of grace
The life of faith begins in the soul, where, with heart, mind, and conscience, we establish, embrace, and seek a vision of Christ and His Kingdom, increasing in and through us, day by day. But merely having such a vision does not mean we will realize what we desire and value it above all else. For that to be the case, for us to increase in the righteousness, peace, and joy of the Kingdom, we will need to redeem the time God allots us and invest it with the disciplines that make Kingdom progress a daily reality.
Paul doubtless urged the believers in Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch to make good use of the time of their lives for seeking and advancing the Kingdom of God (Eph. 5.15-17). The difference between those who are being strengthened in their souls and make progress in the Kingdom of God is not in the amount of time available. We all have the same amount of time each day. The difference is not in the amount of time but in the use we make of time. Moses taught us to pray that God would give us wisdom in the way we plan and use our time, so that we might know the work He has appointed to us and do it for His glory (Ps. 90.12, 16, 17). Time is like the talents in Jesus’ parable: God gives it to us, and He expects us to invest it for His Kingdom and glory (Matt. 25.14-30).
The place to begin in achieving a more disciplined life for the Kingdom of God is in those disciplines that have most direct bearing on the strengthening of our soul. We continue in the Kingdom as we devote ourselves to prayer, worship and singing, reading and studying God’s Word, meditation, fasting, and so forth. No Christian can expect to continue in the Kingdom without these disciplines in place, nurturing mind, heart, and conscience toward a fuller realization of the Kingdom of God. When Paul encouraged those believers to continue in the faith, he surely meant they should all be careful and responsible in making good use of these disciplines of grace.
What is the state of these disciplines in your life? Are you making the best use of all these means of grace, for strengthening your soul in Kingdom vision, values, and virtues?
But beyond these disciplines that shape and nurture our inner lives are the daily disciplines by which we conduct our outward lives. We all fill up the time of our lives with things to do – family, work, church, leisure, and so forth. Each of these – and all the activities of our lives – involves investments of energy and the consumption of time.
In that respect all these activities are forms of work. Work is simply energy and attention invested toward some desired objective. If we truly desire the Kingdom and glory of God, all the moments of our lives, in whatever we may be doing, will be devoted – at the direction of the soul – to seeking and advancing the end toward which God has saved us and the work He has appointed for us. We employ our bodies in words and deeds to accomplish or achieve something within the time of our lives.
The work we’ve been given to do in this life is greater than the job at which we work, and all our work requires discipline. And all fruitful discipline begins in the soul.
The goal of all our work must be to advance the Kingdom of God and make known the glory of the Lord (Matt. 6.33; 1 Cor. 10.31; Hab. 2.14). After all, if we’re saturating and strengthening our souls – mind, heart, and conscience – for the Kingdom and glory of God, to which we have been called, it only makes sense that this is what we should expect to see coming out in our lives. Why would we invest our soul with such a focus if this were not what we hoped to realize in our everyday lives?
Thus all the work we’ve been given to do – making a marriage, raising a family, keeping a home, fulfilling a job, serving in the church, even enjoying our avocations – must be pursued and undertaken in a way that allows our strong souls to bring to greater visibility that Kingdom reality which is fomenting and growing, invisibly, within us day by day. This is an ongoing, daily process which involves every aspect of our lives. So when it comes to strengthening your soul for working out your salvation, get ready to continue.
Next steps – Preparation: What does “make the best use of the time” mean for you each day? How do you prepare for the day? Keep a close watch on how you use your time. Review the use of your time to improve it.
T. M. Moore
The Disciplined Life
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.