When it comes to our soul being cleansed and made new, we can be waiting idly by, expecting the Lord to click His fingers and remove all the sin in our life, like a fairy godmother. On the opposite end of the scale, we can be trying to do everything in our own power to overcome, without the help of the Lord. Neither extreme is okay. God wants us to co-labor with Him in the process of purifying our soul. This concept is not without great wisdom; when we co-labor with the Lord, we can help others overcome because we have learned the process and understand God’s mind. This is just as Paul said,
“we have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16).
Without the apostolic seed, none of the overcoming is possible. All the early church (pre 325AD) understood the principle of co-laboring with the Lord.
Just like we have co-workers, those we work with (especially on the same job or project as us), we all need to have the same mind and understanding to do the job together, otherwise it will be chaos. It is the same with God. He wants us to understand His ways to get His work done in us first, and then in others. Just like Jesus taught, not everyone who calls Him “Lord” will enter the kingdom of heaven; only those that do the will of the Father (Matthew 7:21). You have to know the will of God to be able to do it. Hence why God wants us to co-labor with Him. God’s work is not just tending to His people’s needs like physical hunger and shelter, it is about regenerating souls back into the image of Christ and being transformed from the inside out, as Paul said,
“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God,”
God’s pattern is always for His saints to co-labor with Him. Just like the account in Genesis, where God instructed Adam and Eve,
“Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth,”
God was not just saying “have many children and populate the earth”. The earth is symbolic of our soul, as it is written,
“And the LORD God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul,”
(Genesis 2:7, KJV).
God wanted to teach Adam and Eve how to transform their soul and have dominion over their beastly nature, co-laboring with the Lord. Likewise, with Noah and the ark, God provided Noah with the exact measurements of the ark and instructions on how to make it (Genesis 6:14-16), but Noah had to build it. Once Noah had been faithful and finished the ark, God closed the door. This is another picture of co-laboring with the Lord.
Apostle Paul, addressing the church of Corinth, refers to himself as a co-laborer, or fellow worker with God (1 Corinthians 3:9). The other references in the New Testament of co-laboring are all apostolic men (Romans 16:3, Philippians 4:3, Colossians 4:11, 3 John 1:8). This means, if we are not co-laboring with the Lord, with the apostolic seed, we are just laboring in vain. Paul, to the Galatians, wrote that he labored in birth until Christ was formed in them (Galatians 4:19). He was saying it was his job as an apostle with the grace of God, or revelation of the Word (Ephesians 3:3) that was made real to Him, to form Christ in their souls. We are called to do the same.
Let us see what the early church fathers say about co-laboring with the Lord. Clement of Alexandria who taught at the Catechetical School of Alexandria in the 2nd century, wrote the following:
“A man by himself working and toiling at freedom from passion achieves nothing. But if he plainly shows himself very desirous and earnest about this, he attains it by the addition of the power of God. For God conspires with willing souls. But if they abandon their eagerness, the Spirit who is bestowed by God is also restrained. For to save the unwilling is the part of one exercising compulsion. But to save the willing is that of one showing grace.” (1)
Just as all the apostles and the whole early Church believed and worked towards, Clement is saying that we need to be striving to be free from the sin in us, but, if we are doing so in our own strength, we will not succeed. It is only through the power of God that we can be set free. Clement is saying that God works with willing hearts, and our desire and our passion to remove the sin in our soul is what moves God’s heart to co-labor with us in our process.
Origen, a prolific Early Church Father and pupil of Clement of Alexandria wrote:
“Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it. Except the Lord keep the city, the watchman watches in vain.” This is not said to persuade us against building. Nor does it teach us not to keep watch in order to guard the city of our soul. Rather, it shows that what is built without God (and therefore does not receive His protection) is built in vain. . . . If we were to say that such a building is not the work of the builder, but of God, . . . we would be correct. Yet, it is understood that something had also been done by human means. Nevertheless, the benefit is gratefully referred to God, who brought it to pass. The human desire is not sufficient to attain the end. Likewise, the running of those who are (as it were) athletes does not enable them to gain the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. For these things are accomplished only with the assistance of God. Therefore, it is appropriately said that “it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy.” (2)
Origen is saying that everything done for the glory of God must all be done through a co-laboring with the Lord; meaning, we understand God’s mind and know His heart, and work with God, or else it is just seen as vain by God and He does not honour it. We can often think we are doing good for the Lord, but He is not in it because it is being done out of our own strength and wisdom. Origen is not referring to building a physical house. We are the house, or temple of God as Paul says: “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?” (1 Corinthians 6:19). Origen is referring to us regenerating our soul. He is saying that only with the assistance of God is it possible for this to happen, but we have to be willing to work with the Lord and we must show the Lord an earnest desire to change. In God’s mercy, He will help us to be transformed. This is us co-laboring with the Lord. When we are willing to put in the work, God will bestow His power upon us to become changed.
What greater honour is there than to co-labor with the Lord? Who wouldn’t want to work with God to restore their soul and then have the ability to restore others? We become set free and, in the process, understand the wisdom and mind of Christ to impart that into others. This is a season of God bestowing wisdom on His people in a degree like never before, to those saints who are willing to co-labor with Him even through the hard times. Let us be encouraged to press on to continue to work with the Lord, because like we read above, it is only through our willing heart and desire that God bestows upon us the power to change.
1. Clement of Alexandria, Rich Man, Ch XXI [Emphasis added]2. Origen, De Principiis, Book 3, Ch 18 [Emphasis added]