In the matter of salvation, historically there has always been a tension between works and grace. But the Bible makes it clear that we are saved purely by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Salvation is a gift of God for which we cannot work. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)
That passage continues, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10) And this is where we get confused. Once we have been saved by God’s grace through faith in Jesus, what is our role in the process of our sanctification (becoming more like Jesus) and living out the Christian life?
Paul explains in Colossians 2:6-7, “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in Him, rooted and built up in Him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.” We received Christ by faith, and we continue living in Him by faith.
As followers of Jesus, we are totally and utterly dependent on Him. Jesus made that clear in the vine-and-branches metaphor in John 15. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in Me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from Me you can do nothing.”
Our confusion lies in what our role is in living out the Christian life, for we recognize that we are not passive in this relationship. To many, it feels like there is tension between our dependence on Christ and our diligence in pursuing Him.
If we err on the side of dependence, we’re in danger of passivity and laxity. It’s a let-go-and-let-God mindset, as if we no longer play any part in what God wants to do in and through us. But if we err on the side of diligence, we’re in danger of legalism and trying to live by strict rules and standards, making it all about us.
I don’t think the answer is in trying to keep a balance between dependence and diligence either. Instead, I believe Scripture teaches that we are 100% dependent on Christ in living a life as His disciple. And that we are to be 100% diligent in pursuing Him. Notice I did not say “diligent in keeping rules and standards.” We call this duo dependent/diligence.
We see this duo in the vine-and-branches passage. We can do nothing apart from Jesus, but He urges us to “abide in” or “remain in” Him. We do have an active role, but it’s to constantly place ourselves in dependence upon Him.
When we understand this dependent/diligence relationship, we begin seeing it all over Scripture. In 2 Peter 1:3, for instance, we see the dependent element, “By His divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know Him, the one who called us to Himself by means of His marvelous glory and excellence.” (NLT)
Then, a few verses later, we see the diligent element, “In view of all this, make every effort to respond to God’s promises. Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance, and patient endurance with godliness, and godliness with brother affection, and brotherly affection with love for everyone.” (2 Peter 1:5-7 NLT)
But we understand that we don’t muster these Christlike character traits on our own. Rather, we are totally dependent on Christ for this, for these character traits come from Him.
When we spend time with Jesus, we never go away the same. For in His presence, we cannot remain unchanged. We are totally and utterly dependent on Him, and we must be diligent to pursue Him, spending time in His presence.
And by “spending time in His presence” I’m not merely referring to a “quiet time.” In our dependence on Him, we must live out our role as a branch and cling to the Vine moment by moment every day. This is what Paul means when he talks about “walking by the Spirit,” “being led by the Spirit,” “living by the Spirit,” and “keeping in step with the Spirit” in Galatians 5.
Notice when we diligently keep in step with the Spirit, He produces His “fruit” in us: “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23)
We see then, that we are completely dependent on Christ, so we must be diligent in following Him and living in Him. That’s dependent/diligence.