When Paul was being carried as a prisoner to Rome, he was caught in a two week storm at sea. One night an angel appeared to him in a dream and told him that he must stand trial before the emperor and that God would spare all of the people on the ship for his sake. Based on this, Paul announced the next day that even though the ship would be wreaked, everyone on board would come safely through the storm. Paul was one who put such trust in the revelation of God that he was willing to openly proclaim that what God had said would come true.
On a night at the end of the two weeks, the ship was driven near the island of Malta. When the sailors realized that land was near, they put out anchors to keep the ship from running aground. Then they tried to make their escape to shore in the lifeboat. Paul realized that the ship could not be brought safely to land without the sailors' expertise. He thus told the leader of the soldiers guarding him: "Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved" (Acts 27:31). The soldiers cut away the lifeboat, and the next day, although the ship was wreaked while coming in, all the people safely reached the shore.
The interesting thing here is that Paul was not a fatalist. He had every confidence that God would keep His promise and that no lives would be lost. But that did not cause him to sit back and say that he had no further role to play himself. When the sailors tried to escape, he realized that they were necessary to the fulfilling of God's promise and moved to stop them. He did not sit back and say, "God has promised and He will do it. I don't need to do anything at all." Rather, he saw himself as a fellow worker with God. To be sure, it was God who caused the winds to blow the ship to Malta, not Paul. God was in charge, but Paul was still expected to use his mind.
But just as the providential care of God did not keep Paul from using his mind and exercising due caution, so the salvation that God has granted in Christ does not excuse the Christian from living an exemplary life. It is true that no person can be righteous in God's sight based on his own good works (Rom. 3:10, 23); we must be declared righteous by God's grace, based on the redemption which Christ purchased on the cross (Rom. 3:24-25). But this does not mean that we can continue in sin so that God's grace can abound; rather, the Christian must consider himself dead to sin (Rom. 6:1-2). In the same way, the fact that we are saved by our faith in Christ and not by works of merit does not mean that we can do no works at all; rather, in Christ Jesus, God has created us to do good works (Eph. 2:8-10). Just as Paul did not take God's providential care for granted and think that he was now relieved of responsibility, so we must never think that God's gracious salvation means that we can continue to live our lives the way we want. Rather, now we, like Paul, are fellow workers with God.
Copyright © 1993, Bruce Terry. All rights reserved. This article may be freely reprinted in bulletins and newsletters so long as no charge is made to the reader and this copyright notice is included.