A Life of Achieving vs. Receiving



Foundation Thoughts

A relationship with the Living God is a relationship of agreement, us agreeing with Him. His nature is one of giving, delighting to give. It is His DNA (Divine Nature Always). Think of the Trinity (the Tri-unity). TW Hunt has said the one word that characterizes the Godhead is “Otherness,” never selfishness. The Father delights in honoring the Son and the Spirit. The Spirit delights to exalt the Father and the Son. The Son delights in honoring and pleasing the Father and points with praise to the Holy Spirit, His Person and His ministry. Since it is God’s design, desire, and delight to give, it is appropriate that our part is to receive. 

This is the hallmark of Christianity. It is not a religion, but is clearly a relationship. Every religion is about “do, do, do, and do more,” but there is never an indication of how much is enough—more “good” works—it’s about religion seeking to achieve salvation. Christianity is about God giving and us receiving salvation as part of a new birth relationship. Think of this: Christianity is based on done,” recalling what Jesus has done and “finished.” He stated on the Cross, “It is finished,” communicated to us in the Greek word tetelestai, a word used in the first century of a debt being fully paid. Jesus said “it,” the debt, is finished, paid for (John 19:30). 

Jesus did not see “I am finished,” because He had much more to do as the Resurrected Lord, not to pay for our redemption (that was indeed “finished”), but to interact in applying that redemption over these hundreds of years and in the eons of eternity yet to come. God does indeed have much to reveal, even declaring that “in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:7). 

The Matter of a Received Ministry vs an Achieved Ministry

When we look at the ways of God in the Wilderness as the children of Israel moved from the land of slavery to the Promised Land, we see very clearly a pattern of how He works with us and how He wants us to live. He wants us to live in the reality of His grace, experiencing the fullness of His presence. With that we see Him giving the children of Israel His direction, leading them to the exact places He wanted them to go. He wants to live in us and to lead us all along the way of life as well—wherever He may place us. In the New Testament, we see the same thing. Whether Old or New Testament we see that God wants us to know His received Life and with that His received works and received ministry. 

This relates to many areas of life, but of particular importance is knowing God and walking with Him in a Received Ministry versus an Achieved Ministry. This matches the pattern for all else God does. This fits with viewing life and ministry as a gracious Gift to be received, enjoyed, and appreciated. Think of all we have received. Everyone receives life and breath from God. The Apostle Paul tells us, “The God who made the world and all things in it…gives to all life and breath and all things.” (Acts 17:24, 25) 

When we turn to God for salvation we receive His Life. John 1:12 reminds us of the nature of our relationship with God. It is a received kind of relationship. “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the power/right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name.” (a.t.). Receiving and believing go together. It is a faith issue. That life for each of the “children” of God is characterized by a new nature from God, being like God Himself—born into the family and adopted, doubly secure. First John 3:9-12 points to “His seed” abiding in each believer, with His giving kind of life, marked by righteousness and love. “Righteousness” is seen in giving to others what is right and appropriate. “Love” is seen in giving. God’s kind of life is a giving life. 

Emphasizing this matter of giving, Paul pointed to his lifestyle of giving in daily life and ministry, then quoted Jesus Himself who said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). That does not mean it’s wrong to receive, but that the emphasis is on the giving. Paul sought to help the Corinthian believers understand all they had received, reminding them they had nothing to boast about since all was received from God—“for who regards you as superior? And what do you have that you did not receive? But if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?” (1 Corinthians 4:7). He emphasized all they were given in 1 Corinthians 3:21-23 and 2 Corinthians 8:9, then spoke of them giving in 2 Corinthians 9:6-15, with specific applications to an offering for needy believers in Jerusalem. They had received and with that came the opportunity to live with a giving heart.  

Other Scriptures point to this reality as well. Not only does everyone receive physical life and breath (Acts 17:25), but those who by faith receive Christ as their Lord and Savior receive spiritual life (1 John 5:11-13). With that, we receive a custom designed life to live out—a spiritual giftedness to be used to reveal Christ to others (1 Peter 4:10-11) which is part of a life of walking in the good works He planned for us to walk in. 

Recall Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not as a result of works, that no one should boast.” Then, consider the very next verse (2:10), “For we are His workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” That walking is with Him. The opposite of that is to walk in our own life, what we can “achieve” in our own power, our own wisdom and ways, not experiencing the joys and challenges of a trusting faith-walk. God wants us to live in the joy of “the gift of God,” our salvation, and in the beauty and design of pre-prepared “good works.” In both of these, the “gift” and the “good works,” there is a vital truth—both are received not achieved

A true gift is always to be received, not achieved. If it is achieved it is usually called “wages.” Remember what Paul said in discussing Abraham. He was not justified by works but by faith (Romans 4:1-3) Then, the Apostle Paul spoke about works and wages, “Now to the one who works, his wage is not reckoned as a favor [as a grace gift], but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing upon the man to whom God reckons righteousness apart from works.” In the case of Abraham and David and everyone who has ever placed their faith in the Lord Jesus for salvation, the blessing of God comes by faith not by works. It is a received gift, not an achieved wage. The same is true of the good works God wants us to walk in. They are all part of the custom designed ministry God has prepared for us. He wants us to live in a received ministry not an achieved ministry. How are we best to do that?

A Clear Example

One of the clearest examples of the difference between these two lifestyles or ministry styles is found in the incident of the 12 Spies going into the spy out the Promised Land for 40 Days. When they came out and gave their reports, we see faith works versus flesh works, faith walking versus sight walking, received life and ministry versus achieved life and ministry. Let’s walk through what happened in Numbers 13 and 14 and look at these two realities. 

At God’s direction and initiative, Moses sent one man from each tribe to go into the Promised Land of Canaan (Numbers 13:1-3). They were sent to evaluate the land, its people, and its resources in preparation for receiving that land from the Lord—all part of the Covenant promises the Lord had given to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses. They did as they were told and came back after forty days of spying out the land. There were two reports: a majority report from ten spies and a minority report from two spies (Joshua and Caleb). 

The report from the first—the land is just like what the Lord said, “it certainly does flow with milk and honey.” They even brought back some of the abundant fruit of the land…BUT, they said in essence, “there is no way to go in and conquer the land—not here, not now, not us. There are giants in the land and we are like grasshoppers. They are too strong and we are too weak. We will be devoured and crushed.” The minority report was different. Joshua and Caleb agreed; it is a land flowing with milk and honey…AND it is ours for the taking, like breaking a piece of bread and eating it, because the Lord is GIVING it to us. All we have to do is RECEIVE it. If we will follow the Lord, “He will bring us into this land, and give it to us.” (14:8). What is the difference? One difference is that the Ten walked the land, but the Two prayer-walked the land, looking for evidence of what God was doing and saying. They saw His fingerprints and testified accordingly. 

What do we find the people doing? Think back to what they had experienced. First, they experienced the guidance of God’s Spirit through the Cloud of Glory/Pillar of Fire (Numbers 9:15-23). In Numbers 13, we read of them exploring the greatness of God’s Promises. What did they see? They saw the “land flowing with milk and honey,” but chose against receiving the gift that was clearly God’s will. It was “The Great Disconnect” in Numbers 14. 

The congregation made their choice. They had a plan to choose a leader and go back to Egypt. Rather than follow the Lord as their God and receive what He was ready to give them, they rejected Him and His gift of the land (14:1-4, 10). The Lord was ready to destroy them all, but Moses interceded for them and for the honor of the Lord. Then the Lord made His judgment known. The people had tested Him ten times—ten fouls committed against the Lord—and that meant they were out of the game. He sent them into the Wilderness to die—all except Joshua and Caleb, who followed the Lord ready to receive what He wanted to give. Moses reported to the people God’s verdict. They wept and mourned, but not for long. The very next day—first thing the next morning—they had their own plan formed.

The people rose up early and went to a ridge overlooking the land. “Here we are,” they said, ready to conquer the land. “We will go up to the place the Lord has promised.” (14:40) Moses rebuked them for their presumption, for their sinful hearts and plans. He told them in essence, “the Lord is not going with you, I am not going with you, the Ark of the Covenant is not going with you. You had better not go. The Amalekites and the Canaanites will certainly defeat you.” 

They ignored Moses just like they ignored Joshua and Caleb the day before and just like they had ignored the Lord over and over. They went out to battle and came back running from their enemies, like yelping dogs—like being “chased” by bees, then hammered and “crushed” like a bent sword (Deuteronomy 1:44). 

What happened? Why did it happen the way it did? They questioned God and His design. They questioned the means He used, that is the people He would use and the plans He gave. They questioned the methods, How He would work. They questioned the men, the leaders He had chosen and through whom He promised to work. They even questioned the motives of God, the ways and heart of God at work in this situation.  

They ignored God’s desires for His people. They despised the gift of the Land God offered to them. They refused to follow God in the details of His will. As a substitute for God’s plans they exalted the “greatness” of their own plans. Then, they experienced the grief those plans produced (Numbers 14:39-45; Deuteronomy 1:41-45). The Achieved Results? It was The “Best” of “Flesh” which is always a failure.

Those “Monday morning” warriors illustrate the difference between achieved and received ministry. What Joshua and Caleb urged them to do one day—a “by faith” day—would have been a received ministry full of the power and authority and presence of the Lord. What they experienced was a “by sight” day, an achieved ministry full of the weakness and failure of the flesh. Think of the difference one day—one choice made. Look at these contrasts:


Received Ministry with Joshua and Caleb
Achieved Ministry with the People
The “Land” was a Grace Gift received from God
Their presumptuous attempt to conquer was a Flesh Work worked up by Man
A Spirit-led activity
A Man-led activity
A Spirit-filled activity
A flesh-filled activity
Accomplished by following the Lord
Accomplished by following the opinions, whims, and self-will of men
By faith
By sight and flesh
Based on the Word of God
Based on the opinions, thoughts, and ideas of men
Honoring spiritual authority
Ignoring spiritual authority
Fitting into the Blueprint/Design & Will of God—all blessed up
Outside the Blueprint/Design of God—all messed up
A Received Victory filled with joy
An Achieved Defeat filled with mourning

Did God give up on the His people going into the Promised Land?

No, He simply put things on hold for a while. Then when the judgment on the people was finished and the forty years were complete He brought the people back to the Land ready to go in under the leadership of Joshua. When He did, He spoke to Joshua about how to lead. We find that in Joshua 1. That chapter is clear—Joshua must listen to the Lord, look to the Lord, and follow the Lord. God would give Joshua leadership. He must receive that leadership from the Lord. The Lord did and Joshua did. First, He reminded the people that God was giving them the land and He would give them rest in that land—they could receive it and enjoy it. 

Then, Joshua sent two spies into Jericho to spy out this first formidable obstacle. How would they conquer these walled cities? By following the Lord, the obstacle would be an opportunity to see what the Lord could do and how He gives what He has promised. The two spies went into Jericho and in observing the city heard the testimony of Rahab. She and the people feared greatly—“our hearts melted and no courage remained in any man any longer because of you; for the Lord is your God. He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath.” (Joshua 2:11) She asked the two spies to deal kindly with her and her family. The two spies agreed that she and her family could be spared and become a part of the people of God “when the Lord gives us the land”—they were ready to receive what the Lord wanted to give. They were also ready to share that with others who wanted to follow Him as their God. When the two spies reported all these things to Joshua, their hearts knew it was a received land—to be conquered in a received strategy. “Surely the Lord has given all the land into our hands.” (2:24)

The people miraculously crossed the Jordan and prepared to conquer the land. After crossing the Jordan, all those born in the Wilderness were circumcised. Circumcision was the sign that they were the covenant people of God, the people who lived receiving the commands and directions as well as the promises and blessings of God. Then the Captain of the Host of the Lord met Joshua near Jericho. He told him, “See, I have given Jericho into your hand.” (Joshua 6:2) Then the Lord told Joshua how He wanted him to conquer the land—a Received Land, a Received Strategy leading to a Received Victory. The victory the Lord wanted to give the children of Israel many years before was about to be received by Joshua and Caleb and the nation of Israel. They followed the creative strategy the Lord gave him—walk around the city once a day for six days, on the seventh day walk around seven times, then after the priests blow the trumpets, have the people shout, the walls will fall down, and you go in and conquer the city. They did and God gave them a great victory. 

When they went up against Ai, to their shock and surprise they were utterly defeated and thirty six men died. God revealed that there was sin in the camp. Someone had taken some of the spoil of Jericho for himself. That spoil belonged to the Lord as the firstfruits of the land and the Lord had specifically placed a ban on any spoil going to anyone but Himself. Achan looked, longed for, took for himself and hid it (Joshua 7:21). (The same pattern as the Woman and the Man in Genesis 3:1-8—look, long for, take, hide). The Lord judged him and his family. Then Joshua met with the Lord about Ai.

As with Jericho, the Lord promised Joshua, “Do not fear or be dismayed. Take all the people of war with you and arise, go up to Ai; see, I have given into your hand the king of Ai, his people, his city, and his land” (Joshua 8:1). The Lord promised to give them the city, then He gave Joshua the strategy for victory at Ai. Joshua received that strategy and implemented it and won a great victory. 

For seven years the people followed Joshua and conquered most of the land. There were some pockets left unconquered because of failure to follow the Lord—failure to do things His way—but where they followed Him and received what He gave, they found Him true to His Word in every detail. The Lord wants us to do the same. He wants us living in a Received Life (“for to me to live is Christ” Philippians 1:21), exercising our Received Gifts (1 Peter 4:10-11), in a Received Ministry.  


Practical Applications 

How can we apply this example to our lives and ministries in the twenty-first century? Here are some practical applications of how Joshua and Caleb followed the Lord fully, how they walked in a received ministry. 

They looked up to God to see His design. They knew the big picture plan of God and the process He had taken them through. That included the time and the timing of God for them. They listened carefully to hear His desire. They knew the promises of God that He had given Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses. Those would fulfill the Purposes of God. God communicated with them enough info to know His will. Then, they lived up to the revelation they had received. They delighted the heart of God by walking in Faith! 

They obeyed the light they had and trusted God to give more light when necessary—enough light to take the next step. When He gave further guidance, they lined up to follow His details. They followed step by step. They refused to walk with a “fleshly,” earth-bound, doubt-filled perspective. They received what God said and were eager to receive what God wanted to give in life and ministry. Ministry must be received by faith, never achieved by flesh

What are the results in their lives? Recall the account of Joshua at Jericho. They came Clean and Close. They followed by faith with a “flex and obey” attitude and they conquered and celebrated. We can too… 


Characteristics of a God-given Ministry

There are at least three things to remember. 

  1. Remember the refreshing ways of God. God is ever creative with each of His children and each of His churches. New and Fresh are the Brand Marks of God’s ministries. As we follow Him, we discover those creative ministries God has for us. We see that in Joshua 6.
  2. Remember the revealing will of God. Where God is working He is ever involved in catching people with the true knowledge of Who He is and What He wants (His Will). He wants people to have an experiential knowledge of Who He is as Lord and Savior. He catches the lost with that knowledge and He catches the saved so they grow to a new level of knowing Him—for example, Joshua 2 where we read of Rahab being ‘caught’ with the truth of Who God is and then by faith becoming one of the people of God (so much so that she is in the lineage of Christ in Matthew 1:5).
  3. Remember the real weight God places on all we do. God’s works are worthy of crowns. He desires to work in us and through us. His “well done!” is for those works He has weighed in the balance scales of His Heart…Are they “gold, silver, precious stones” OR “wood, hay, stubble” (1 Corinthians 3:12)? What we do His way is remembered forever—Eternal Rewards—1 Corinthians 3:10-15. 


This is not something isolated in the story of the children of Israel coming out of Egypt and into Canaan. It is not only for Joshua and Caleb to experience. Consider these examples… 


  1. The reality of Received Ministry was true in the life of King David…We see this in 2 Samuel 5:12 when the Lord established him as king and in how the Lord led him (5:17-25 (note verses 19 and 23)). This was not new for David. In 1 Samuel 23:1-5, we read that David “inquired” of the Lord. The Hebrew word sha’al, translated “inquired,” means to ask, to make a request, to inquire. David prayed about what to do, about who should be involved, how much involvement, about where to go and when to go, even about how to proceed (see 1 Samuel 30:8; 2 Samuel 2:1; 5:19, 23). It is of significance that this word sha’al is used of Joshua and the men of Israel in Joshua 9 when they foolishly entered into a covenant with the Gibeonites (Canaanites from just over the hill), assuming them to be from a far land. And why did they do this? Because they did not sha’al, they “did not ask for the counsel of the Lord”—they did not sha’al, make request, no praying about this, and they went astray.
  2. We see the Reality of Received Ministry true in the life of John the Baptist in John 1:5 (He was “Sent”—he did not send himself) and in John 3:26-27 (Note his words “received” and “given him from heaven”).
  3. The Reality of Received Ministry was true in the life and ministry of Jesus… We see this in the prophecy found in Isaiah 50:4 about how He received instruction from His Father. Then, we hear His testimony of that very reality in John 8:24-29; 5:19, 30; 12:49-50. Everything Jesus DID was from His Father. Everything Jesus SAID was from His Father.
  4. The Reality of Received Ministry was true in the life and ministry of the Apostle Paul…

    In Acts 20:24 he speaks of “the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus.” In Acts 16:6-12, we see his “Stop, Look, Listen” Method of discerning the Lord’s will, of receiving his ministry placement. He urged Archippus to fulfill “the ministry which you received in the Lord” (Colossians 4:17). Paul boasted in “the grace of God” in his life and ministry (1 Corinthians 15:9-10) and testified of how Christ had worked “through me, in word and deed” (Romans 15:16-18).

  5. The Reality of Received Ministry can be true in the life and ministry of YOU!!!

The applications to your life can be varied.  Think and pray over these thoughts and ask… “What is God saying to me?” 


© 2012, 2015—Richard L. Shepherd.