Saturday, March 28, 2015

What Must I Do for God? (part 2)

Let's get back to the original question: What must I do for God?
Now, I have claimed that a plausible answer to that question is, nothing but receive.

We've heard from Steve McVey and Devern Fromke in part 1.

How about walking further back in time.

Enter Watchman Nee, a Christian who made a huge impact on Communist China in the first half of the 20th century.

He said the following: 

"Grace means that God does something for me; law means that I do something for God. God has certain holy and righteous demands which He places upon me: that is law. Now if law means that God requires something of me for their fulfillment, then deliverance from law means that He no longer requires that from me, but Himself provides it. Law implies that God requires me to do something for Him; deliverance from law implies that He exempts me from doing it, and that in grace He does it Himself. I need do nothing for God: that is deliverance from law."

Hmm...there is that answer again. "I need do nothing for God." Nothing?!

How about one more perspective, that of Hannah Whitall Smith. For her input, we'll go even further back to the 19th century. I finally got around to reading one of her books, The Christian's Secret of a Happy Life.

She opens the first part of this book with these words: (highlights added)

In introducing this subject of the life and walk of faith, I desire, at the very outset, to
clear away one misunderstanding which very commonly arises in reference to the
teaching of it, and which effectually hinders a clear apprehension of such teaching. This
Hannah Whitall Smith
misunderstanding comes from the fact that the two sides of the subject are rarely kept in view at the same time. People see distinctly the way in which one side is presented, and, dwelling exclusively upon this, without even a thought of any other, it is no wonder that distorted views of the whole matter are the legitimate consequence.
Now there are two very decided and distinct sides to this subject, and, like all other subjects, it cannot be fully understood unless both of these sides are kept constantly in view. I refer, of course, to God’s side and man’s side; or, in other words, to God’s part in the work of sanctification, and man’s part. These are very distinct and even contrastive, but are not contradictory; though, to a cursory observer, they sometimes look so.   ...I would like to state as clearly as I can what I judge to be the two distinct sides in this matter; and to show how the looking at one without seeing the other, will be sure to create wrong impressions and views of the truth. To state it in brief, I would just say that man’s part is to trust and God’s part is to work; and it can be seen at a glance how contrastive these two parts are, and yet not necessarily contradictory.

Is that a hard pill to swallow? "Man's part is to trust and God's part is to work." 

So some Christians through the ages have taught that God does the work in our lives and we simply receive and trust in Him to do it. So what? That doesn't necessarily make it true?

What if I feel that the Bible paints a different picture? Couldn't these people be wrong, possibly even heretical?

Well, I think Smith is on to something by stating from the very beginning that both sides need to be recognized. Let's think of some Scriptural illustrations of how the two sides are presented and ask some rhetorical questions.

Could the clay do some of the molding at times rather than the Potter?

Are branches able to accomplish very much apart from the vine? (see John 15)

Is it possible for seeds to become great trees by working hard and putting forth "their share" of the effort, and not by simply receiving the water and sunlight and nutrients from the soil?  (see Mark 4)

The obvious answer to all of the above is NO WAY! I believe most people will honestly say they accept these truths. It is clear that God can do things that we cannot do, even when it comes to our own spiritual growth, and especially when it comes to meeting His own perfect standards. But it is not a matter of whether we say we believe it; the bigger issue is whether we live like we believe it. 

Rather than accepting these ideas as starting points and moving on from them too quickly, my encouragement would be to stay and rest in these truths. I know I am at a place where I need to seriously and patiently consider what all of this means in my life.

It is always the Potter who does the molding. Always! The clay simply yields.
Problems arise when I confuse myself as the Potter instead of the clay!

Branches separated from the vine or root can do nothing! When connected to the Vine or root, they simply produce what naturally flows from the Vine.
Trying to do things for God instead of letting Him live through me is just as silly as me walking down the street giving advice to tree branches on what they should do next to help their growth!

Seeds have everything inside them from the beginning to define what they will become. Gardeners don't have to wonder if the sunflower seeds they planted might somehow produce tomatoes, unless they have the wrong seeds in the first place. They just have to focus on preparing the soil. Nature will take care of the rest.

Our job, then, is to trust and receive as we abide in Christ.

Don't get me wrong. I still wrestle with how simplistic this all sounds. It even seems somewhat irresponsible. I wonder how to make sense of certain passages that appear to contradict these truths, and I know that it is just as easy to find Christians who preach messages that conflict with those of the believers I've quoted in these posts.

However, just because I may not comprehend it fully, I cannot dismiss it. I cannot ignore the reality of grace. Abundant, relentless grace! 

I cannot pretend that this exchange did not occur even though John 6 records it:

28 Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”
29 Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”

The formula for faith, then, is that I work for God by believing that He works in me.
After all, this is the mystery of God, the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27).

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