Is Working Hard Equivalent to Obeying God?

By Jinyan

Li Xin is a co-worker in a church. Over the years of her belief in the Lord, she has always enthusiastically expended and worked for the Lord and has suffered and paid a price for Him. No matter what the church needed her to do, she would actively do it; even when faced with the danger of being arrested and persecuted by the CCP, she still persisted in spreading the gospel. She firmly believed that her forsaking and expending for the Lord was obeying God, that the Lord would definitely take delight in her, and that she would surely have a place in the kingdom of heaven in the future.

One day, she went to support some weak brothers and sisters with Sister Lin. On their way back, they bumped into Sister Dong, and then the three of them began to chat while sitting on an out-of-the-way lawn.

Three people sitting on the grass reading a book

Out of the blue, Sister Lin asked, “Do you think that our forsaking, expending and working hard for the Lord means that we are people who obey God?”

“Yes, of course. The Lord Jesus said, ‘Truly I say to you, There is no man that has left house, or parents, or brothers, or wife, or children, for the kingdom of God’s sake, Who shall not receive manifold more in this present time, and in the world to come life everlasting’ (Luke 18:29–30). The words of the Lord say it so clearly: Genuinely expending for God requires us to forsake everything. Since we are still able to persist in preaching the gospel to bear witness for God and expending for God in persecution and tribulations, this is truly obeying God and also is partaking in the adversities, kingdom and patience of Christ. This is something that God commemorates the most, so we will surely gain God’s approval and blessings and be brought into the heavenly kingdom by Him!” After saying this, Li Xin then asked in confusion, “Sister Lin, why did you suddenly ask this?”

Sister Lin said, looking distressed, “I also used to firmly believe that as long as we toil and work for the Lord, then we are people who obey God and will certainly be approved by God. But recently my husband told me that although we are able to cast aside everything, spend and work hard for the Lord, this doesn’t necessarily mean that we are obeying God. The Pharisees also worked hard and traveled all over the lands and seas to spread the gospel for God, but were they people who obeyed God? They were actually not approved by God. Hearing what he said, I didn’t know how to respond. So I’ve been pondering these days: Is toiling, working, forsaking, and expending for the Lord really the same as obeying God?”

Li Xin opened her mouth but didn’t know what to say, and she then sank into deep thought.

Sister Dong said, “I always used to be perplexed by this too, but after fellowshiping several times with my cousin, I finally figured out this issue. It seems from the outside that we are obeying God by forsaking, expending, suffering and paying a price for Him, but can we guarantee that there are no personal intentions within it? If we abandon everything and expend ourselves merely to gain blessings and enter the kingdom of heaven to receive rewards, or for our own interests and selfish desires, then can we say that such kind of suffering and expenditure is obeying God? Can we be approved by God and enter the heavenly kingdom? Let’s talk about the Pharisees. They had expended for God for generations and traveled to the ends of the earth spreading the gospel for God, appearing on the surface to have endured much hardship and paid many prices. But when the Lord Jesus came, they, in order to protect their own status and livelihood, not only didn’t lead the common Jewish people to follow God’s work, but instead took every opportunity to condemn and oppose the Lord Jesus. Would you say that their expenditure and work was obeying God?”

“No,” Sister Lin shook her head and said.

Sister Dong went on saying, “From this we can see that, if our intentions in working and expending are incorrect, which are not to love or satisfy God, but for our own profits and extravagant desires, then we can’t say that we are obeying God. For example, there are many people who forsake, expend, suffer and pay the price on the outside, but their purpose is to obtain blessings and rewards, and to enter the kingdom of heaven and gain eternal life. Therefore, when their families are peaceful and God’s blessing and grace are with them, they vigorously expend themselves for God. But once they encounter disasters, refinements, or trials, they are able to make complaints, resist God, and rebel against God at any time. Even if they continue to expend for God after that, they no longer do it willingly and happily, but become slack in their work and just muddle through. Obviously, this sort of expenditure is not out of consideration for the Lord’s will or to perform their duties as created beings, nor is it out of love or obedience for the Lord, but instead is for the sake of receiving blessings and rewards. They see toiling and working as a bargaining chip to enter the kingdom of heaven, trying to use their forsaking and expending to conduct transactions with God and obtain blessings in the kingdom of heaven. Isn’t that using and cheating the Lord? The Lord Jesus said, ‘Many will say to Me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name? and in Your name have cast out devils? and in Your name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess to them, I never knew you: depart from Me, you that work iniquity’ (Matthew 7:22–23). Why did the Lord call those who spread the gospel, exorcised demons and performed miracles in the name of the Lord evil people and say He never knew them? This is because although they might appear to give things up, expend themselves, preach and work for God, their motive is not to satisfy God, but for their own personal interests, and is merely to gain blessings and enter the kingdom of heaven to get rewards. Therefore, even if they could expend their entire lives for God, they would never gain God’s approval. This is enough to show that, those who haven’t had their corrupt dispositions cleansed and whose expenditure for God contains their personal motives and adulterations cannot become people who obey God, so how can they be qualified to enter God’s kingdom? There is a passage which explains this issue very clearly. Let me read it to you.”

While saying this, Sister Dong took a tablet out of her bag and began to read: “If your faith is not built upon the foundation of obedience to God, then you will ultimately be punished as a result of opposing God. All those who do not seek obedience to God in their faith oppose God. God asks that people seek the truth, that they thirst for God’s words, and eat and drink God’s words, and put them into practice, so that they may achieve obedience to God. If your motivations are truly thus, then God will surely raise you up, and will surely be gracious toward you. No one can doubt this, and no one can change it. If your motivations are not for the sake of obedience to God, and you have other aims, then all that you say and do—your prayers before God, and even your every action—will be in opposition to God. You may be soft-spoken and mild-mannered, your every action and expression may look right, you may appear to be one who obeys, but when it comes to your motivations and your views about faith in God, everything you do is in opposition to God, and evil.” Sister Dong then fellowshiped, “God examines our innermost hearts. If we work and expend ourselves in order to love and satisfy God and to carry out His will, then God will bless and grace us. But if our motivation is to enter the kingdom of heaven and receive rewards, then this type of forsaking and expending carries Satan’s tricks and is out of the desire to gain blessings. We are just using superficial good behavior to cheat and defy God and conduct transactions with Him, so we will never be able to obtain God’s praise.”

After listening to this, Li Xin sank into deep thought: “All these years, I’ve always believed without doubt that since I can make sacrifices, bear hardships and pay the price, I am carrying out God’s will, and that I am someone who truly obeys God and will definitely have a place in the kingdom of heaven. But what Sister Dong fellowshiped also sounds reasonable and I can’t say anything about that …”

Li Xin calmed herself down and said, “Sister Dong, the passage you’ve just read is very practical. I’ve never realized that my abandoning everything and working hard for the Lord is not done out of love or obedience for God, but instead is done to strike a deal with Him and to obtain a righteous crown in return. Thinking about it now, I see that working with a transactional motive is indeed not obeying God.”

Sister Lin said, “It’s true. It turns out that those who expend themselves for God with their own intentions cannot obtain God’s approval at all. After listening to your fellowship, I feel much brighter in my heart. It seems that obeying God isn’t as simple as we imagine. So Sister Dong, can you tell us what it means to truly obey God?”

“Yeah,” Li Xin went on to say, “this is also what I wanted to ask. Hurry up and tell us!”

Sister Dong said, “In regard to this question, let me read you a passage of sermons: ‘Truly obeying God is acting completely according to the meaning of God, with none of people’s meaning mixed in; truly obeying God is obeying God’s orchestration and arrangements absolutely, with none of people’s choices; truly obeying God is completely dedicating oneself and being loyal to the doing of God’s will until the very end; truly obeying God is the exclusion of people’s intentions, not subject to the control of any person, matter or thing and acting entirely to satisfy God. In true obedience there is no disobedience, no resistance, no trading and no conditions; there is only loyalty and obedience. It is being completely considerate of God’s intentions and completely satisfying God, just so that the will of God may be done. People who show such obedience are truly obedient to God.’”

Sister Dong then fellowshiped, saying, “We can see from this passage that, true obedience is dedicating one’s all to loving God and satisfying God, without personal motives and adulterations or any requests of God. Those who are able to achieve this have true faith in God and can submit to God’s orchestrations and arrangements unconditionally, and they are people who truly do God’s will. When God commanded Noah to build an ark, for example, Noah simply accepted and obeyed what God said. Even though he knew it would take a lot of time, work and money to build such a big ark, he never gave a thought to his own profits but simply did as God instructed without reservation. When God told him that He would destroy the earth with the flood, he didn’t consider how his end and destination would be after the ark was completed. Noah listened and obeyed for the sake of satisfying God; he neither considered his own personal interests nor made plans and arrangements for his own future. In the end, he was blessed by God and his family of eight survived. Peter is another example. He spent his entire life spreading the gospel and watering and shepherding the churches for the Lord, during which time he suffered a lot and was imprisoned several times, and his life was constantly in danger. Despite this, he was able to obey without fear or cowardice and only wanted to satisfy God and complete His commission. In the end, when he escaped from the prison and was about to continue working for the Lord, the Lord appeared to him. Having understood that God’s will was for him to be nailed to the cross, he did not give any thought to himself but returned to the city of Rome without hesitation. Finally, he was crucified upside down for the Lord and achieved the ultimate love of God and obedience to the point of death.”

Hearing this, Li Xin nodded involuntarily and said calmly, “Thank the Lord! Sister Dong, after hearing what you’ve fellowshiped today, I’ve finally understood that those who truly obey God are people who expend for God without making any demands, and who do not blame or resist God no matter the environment but are able to put all their hearts and strength into fulfilling their duties as created beings to satisfy God. But look at myself—although I am expending for God on the outside, my intention is not entirely to satisfy God. When my work bore a little fruit, I felt that I would surely receive great blessings in the kingdom and maybe could rule eight or ten cities, and the thought of this gave me more zeal to run around and do works for the Lord. However, when my work didn’t bear fruit or when I encountered failures or setbacks, I would become negative and wonder whether God had forsaken me. Although I didn’t dare to make complaints, in my heart I blamed and misunderstood God, losing my strength to work and expend. It seems now that I am a far cry away from truly obeying God, so how can I possibly be qualified to enter the kingdom of heaven?”

Nodding, Sister Lin said with emotion, “Thanks be to the Lord! Through today’s fellowship, I’ve understood what truly obeying God means. I remember these words from the Lord: ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind’ (Matthew 22:37). Working hard is not the same as obeying God. Only if we have true obedience to God and love God with all our heart and soul can we become people who do God’s will, and only then will we be able to enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Li Xin and Sister Dong said with one accord, “Amen!”

Read more on our Spiritual Growth page, or click on the related articles below.

Are You Doing the Will of God or Resisting Him?

What Exactly is Doing the Will of the Heavenly Father?

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