Many decades ago, during my college years, an administrator said that most religions of the world emphasized trying to earn God’s favor. Christianity, however, declared that it’s not by trying, but trusting—trusting the perfect, sinless Son of God who took our place on the cross we deserved.
These words were a relief to me. I had been familiar with Ephesians 2:8-9 for a few years by then: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” But I still had to reassure myself that salvation was not a matter of being “good enough,” but rather resting in His goodness.
I had to learn the same principle in my Christian walk. Even after salvation, my standing with God was not a matter of trying to be good enough. My works were not to earn His approval. I would never be more saved or more loved than I already was. My walk, or sanctification, or growth was as much a matter of faith as my salvation. It was still Christ’s righteousness, not mine, that counted before God. The whole book of Galatians was written to people who thought they had to obey certain rules in order to be right with God:
Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith—just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”?
It’s given immeasurable rest to my spirit to know I can always “with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).
The same college administrator made another statement at another time that has stayed with me all these years: “God’s not going to do your math homework for you.”
I don’t recall the context of that statement. Perhaps there were college students who thought prayer took the place of study. I can understand, as one who prayed my way through various lessons. I’m sure there were courses that were passed only through prayer. But they also required mental and physical effort.
Since then, I have amended that administrator’s statement about what God is not going to do:
God is not going to slap your fifth cookie out of your hand.
God is not going to turn off the TV when the sex scene starts.
God is not going to have devotions for you.
God is not going to make you take the opportunity you’re afraid of.
And so on.
I tend to be overly analytical. I’ve spent a great deal of thought on what’s God’s part and what’s our part in the Christian life. I can’t say I have it all figured out, even now. My tendency is to want to sort it out neatly in a series of points. God does this: 1, 2, and 3. And we do this: 1, 2, and 3. But I don’t think it works like that.
I do know this: As I said, our standing before God and His love for us are totally dependent on His grace, not our actions. My ups and downs, stumblings, faults, and failures don’t threaten His love for me or my salvation.
But Jesus did say, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15).
We don’t keep His commandments to earn His love or favor or salvation.
But we keep His commandment from His love and favor and salvation.
Because He loves us, saved us, changed us, we’re new creations.
We don’t put down the cookie because we’ll lose points with God if we eat it. But His Spirit dwells within us, and part of His fruit is self-control.
We don’t turn off the sex scene because we’ll go to hell if we don’t. We turn off the sex scene because we love a pure and holy God.
We don’t have time in prayer and the Bible because we’ll have a bad day if we don’t. We spend time with God because He is our Father, and we want to hear His great and precious thoughts.
We don’t take the scary opportunity because God won’t love us if we don’t, but because we want to do what He has called us to.
We can’t do anything without Him.
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing (John 15:4-5).
But as we walk through the day, seeking grace to help in time of need, asking for His strength, step by step, we yield to Him.
What do we do when we see a “Yield” traffic sign? We let the other drivers have the right of way.
What do we do when we yield to God? We let Him have His way. We acquiesce to His will.
The fact that our salvation is by grace through faith doesn’t mean there is no effort to the Christian life. Grace does not preclude obedience. Grace is not good just for forgiveness. Grace enables obedience.
The verses that seem to most clearly show our effort and His working:
But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. (1 Corinthians 15:10).
For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live (Romans 8:13).
So maybe there is no actual dividing line between God’s part and our part as we seek to live for Him. We don’t muster up the strength or will to serve Him on our own—we feed on His Word for our nourishment and strength and ask for His grace and help through prayer. Maybe it’s like the man with the withered hand or the paralyzed man in Scripture whom Jesus told to do the very things they could not do. With faith and obedience came enabling.
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