Well it’s been a while since the last blog post on Covenantal Thoughts.
This month the folks at CT will be discussing various myths about religion in general and Christianity in particular. The myths we select are those that, according to our perception, seems to be gaining traction in a popular level. We begin with this pithy saying: “Do your best and God will do the rest.” This, is no doubt, a myth. A popular one indeed.
Contrary to said popular opinion, this little quip is nowhere to be found in the Bible. Some of us may now by saying “I’m sure it’s there somewhere…” but nope. It’s not there. Nor is it an accurate summary of the theology of salvation found in the Bible.
Presupposed behind this saying is the theology I call moderate deism: the notion that God is at work in the world only sometimes – he has left the world and its creatures to their own wills and choices, and only intervening in a few occasions when said creatures do their best. In other words, God responds to the well-meant intentions of creatures who try their best to please Him. Of course, then, this view assumes that creatures are not totally depraved; this view assumes that sinners can still do much good by their own free will, perhaps even apart from God’s grace. This is not the position of Chrisitan-theism.
Nevermind that we can never really know when we are doing our best, this view of god is certainly in contrary to that which is found in the Bible. Why? Because, Without God’s initiative, sinful human beings will never even try to do their best to please Him.
According to the Scriptures, no one seeks God, and no one seeks to do good (Rom. 3:9-18). If God were to leave us to our own wills, we would never even try to do our best – if He were to wait for sinners to “do their best” before he would “do the rest” (say, God waits until the sinner accomplishes 20%, and only until then would he do the 80%), then nothing would ever be done. The very fact that sinners becoming Christians is due to God’s first action, and the only reason why there is any good done by the Christian (or even the non-Christian!) is due to God’s first action too. He is the source of all good. God does not depend on the human’s first initiative, for no such first initiative would be forthcoming. Instead, all of mankind is dependent upon God to attempt to do anything good at all – and to the extent that we claim that our first attempts were due to our own initiatives would be to fail to give the credit where it is due.
This is why our motivation to do good is not that God will pick up where we left off, biblically speaking, but that God is the cause behind our every instance of willingness:
Thus, according to Paul: “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” – Phil. 2:13
What is called for here, then, is not an independent initiative, but an absolute dependence, admitting that we could do nothing, and would only want the contrary, were it not for God to work in us. Our pursuit of holiness, just as our conversion, depends on the starting point of God’s sovereign grace.
This, surely, would undercut the sinful tendency in us to say that “we have tried harder” than the guy next door, as if the reason God is favorable towards us is because we have already first tried our best. This would be a merit-based theology antithetical to the Gospel. The danger here, of course, is the catchiness of this false phrase. But perhaps the danger is not in trying to design catchy phrases, but in our short attention spans. Our ADD culture of soundbytes, twitter, and social media has made us uncritical devourers of bad ideologies through the means of catchy statements. We must be discerning readers, and to develop that discernment we need to be patient disciples of Jesus Christ, through His Word, the Bible.
Let us then, rest not in our human wills, but in God who has mercy (Rom. 9:16). He is the one in whom we move and have our being (Acts 17:28). He is not a passive viewer, standing above creation, but rather an intimately involved creator, working all things for our good and His glory (Eph. 1:11; Lam. 3:37-38; Col. 1:15-17).