We as Christians often struggle with the concept of “works” and “living in the Spirit.” We know that our works do not win us righteousness, but at the same time we are called to live in the Spirit in word and deed in response to God’s love for us in Jesus. It is often tough in our limited humanness to differentiate between the two. Isn’t living in the Spirit “work” too?
Thankfully, Michael Kelley, in his book Holy Vocabulary: Rescuing the Language of Faith, gives us a picture of how this works by comparing our lives to different types of boats.
Our lives are not to be like rowboats, he says, “where the result depends exclusively on our muscles” (Holy Vocabulary, p. 93). Neither should our lives be like a bass boat, where “no effort is required on your part; all you do is hold onto the steering wheel for dear life” (p. 93).
The best analogy for the Christian life, Kelley says, is a sailboat. “The forward motion of the sailboat is based exclusively on catching the wind. No wind, no motion,” he explains (p. 94). But you as the sailor do not sit idly by. “Your job as the sailor is to tie the sail correctly. You point the boat in the right direction and raise the sail up the mast. You judge the conditions around you and make the necessary effort so that when the wind does blow, you’re ready to sail” (p. 94).
The wind of the Holy Spirit moves us, but we need to be ready to receive it. How do we do that? By readying the sails, so to speak: praying, reading God’s Word, obeying his commands, listening to what God is saying to us. All these things give the Holy Spirit more opportunity to move us forward and give our faith momentum.
So ready your sails this week, and let the Spirit move you so that the Spirit can work through you! That is what being filled with the Spirit is all about. And that is how work that brings glory to God operates.