Moment's Reflection

by Dan Jones on January 13, 2023


“…..Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”  -Philippians 2:12-13


Seems we’re not very good at carrying through on our promises to change. According to a study conducted by researchers at the University of Scranton (drum-roll please) . . . . . 23% of people quit their resolution after just one week. 70% are broken by mid-February.


There are a couple of reasons we do so poorly at keeping resolutions. One, we set unrealistic expectations—trying to do too much at one time. Two, we have this essentially flawed belief that will power is all we need to change long-established habits. 


Here, in my estimation, is the fundamental problem with self-help literature, books, and programs. Each of them assumes that you and I can do what we set out to do by virtue of sheer determination and will-power.  The story of humanity, the record of all the Bible stories about otherwise good, decent, God-fearing people, suggests we cannot.  In fact, the longer I live the more I appreciate that some things, perhaps many things, are beyond my control, and, inasmuch as I set out to do all the right things, I’m still very much a person like my spiritual relative Paul who once confessed: “I can will what is right, but I can’t do it.” (Romans 7:19)


So then, what? Should we try to change? Or should we simply resign ourselves to sing all the verses of “Just as I Am?”


The answer is, “Yes.” We should try to change. We should try to do what we can to nurture stronger faith habits.  But, all our efforts should be done with the humble realization that we need help to be as good and faithful as we want.


The key, it seems to me, is having the right motivation to change old habits.  Fear isn’t a good motivator.  Fear produces short term gain.  You can coerce a person to do something. But the motivation to change disappears as soon as the weight of fear is removed. Same with guilt, or shame.   Love is the only good motivator.  Love regards a person for who he or she is, and invites him to change.  Love doesn’t coerce. It doesn’t shame a person.  It doesn’t heap guilt upon  her. It welcomes a person just as he is and invites him to take little steps forward.


This is how I understand Paul’s apparently paradoxical statement from Philippians: 1) Work out your salvation (do what you can), but, 2) remember that it’s by God’s enabling power that you do any good work, make any change.                                -Dan, New Year’s 2023

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