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What does God think of your “performance?” What is the secret to Christian endurance? These and other questions will be answered in this article.
Do you know of any Christians who are burnt out, or have given up serving God because they see it as a monumental task too great for them? Maybe you’re there yourself. As you look at your list of “Christian duties”, it seems endless:
- Go to Church every Sunday, morning and evening services; and also Wednesday evening. (Oh, and don’t forget the men’s or women’s Bible study!)
- Read your Bible every day without fail.
- Pray throughout the day, using your prayer list. Also, pray with your family.
- If the Church needs a volunteer for any kind of help, you’re there.
- There are conferences, retreats, etc. throughout the year to attend.
- Visit fellow Church members regularly.
- Keep up with all the latest Christian reading.
All these activities, in and of themselves, are certainly good to involve yourself in. However, did you know that every one of these things (and you could probably list others), can be done in 2 ways?
- By me, for God OR
- through me, by God.
The first method may seem to work for a while, but it ultimately ends up in failure. Why? Because when we are the source from which we draw our energies used to serve God, we are drawing from an inadequate supply. Nothing good comes from our flesh, which is self-effort. Paul expresses it succinctly when he says, “For I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh”(Romans 7:18, ISV). Just as pure water doesn’t flow from a polluted source, so we can do nothing that is good by our own efforts, because our source is polluted.
You may object to this, saying, “I know plenty of people who could care less about God, much less serve Him, who do many good things for others.” This is true. But I must ask this question: Who’s view of good are you referring to? There is our view of good, and then there’s God’s view of good. Here’s the difference: As people, our view of good, (if we leave God out of the picture) varies from one culture to another, and in large measure is determined by our own standards, or the standards of the culture in which we live. That being the case, good must be measured, not by our standards, but by one higher than ourselves; one that is absolute. Of course, I am referring to God’s standard.
God’s view of good is determined within Himself, according to His character. And because He is the source of what is good, and the only perfect expression of it, any good thing someone may do, if it is done apart from Him, may be considered good by others, but not by God. It falls short. This is why God can say such things as:
All our righteous acts are like permanently stained rags.
Isaiah 64:6 (GOD’S WORD)
No one does anything good, not even one person.
Romans 3:12 (GOD’S WORD)
Now, I can picture you thinking, “Let’s say a person risks his life to save a child from death. Measured against God’s command to ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’, isn’t that person, whether or not he is a Christian, doing good?” I would answer yes, and no. Yes, that person is obeying that command, and thus, is doing something good, whether or not he is a Christian. But, according to God’s standard, there is one ingredient that is missing, which would make the act good and pleasing, as God sees it. That ingredient is faith. Notice these two scriptures:
Anything that is not done in faith is sin.
Romans 14:23 (ISV)
Now without faith it is impossible to please God…
Hebrews 11:6 (ISV)
If those two scriptures were translated the way many Christians view serving God, this is how they might read:
Anything that is not done without our best effort is sin.
Now without our best effort, it is impossible to please God…
The difference between them is the difference between trying and trusting. And actually, to the onlooker, it is almost impossible to distinguish between one who is using his own effort to serve God, and the one who is trusting Christ to work through him to serve God. To the believer, however, there is a big difference.
This may be illustrated by two men mowing a field-a big field. They have identical looking lawn mowers, except that one of them has a little device that makes it self-propelled. To an onlooker, there may seem to be no difference between these two men mowing their respective fields. But to the men themselves, there is a big difference. One is using his own effort to push his lawn mower. He does good for a while, but eventually he tires out and gives up. The other man is trusting the self-propelled device in his lawn mower to move it, so he only has to follow its lead, with an occasional tap to turn it. He’s cooperating with his mower. The first man was making the mower cooperate with him. The Bible makes it clear that we have a “self-propelled” system built into us as Christians. Notice what Peter tells us:
His divine power has given us everything we need for life and for godliness.
II Peter 1:3, ISV
Unfortunately, many believers either are unaware of this source, or, if they are aware of it, they don’t utilize it. How does this divine power operate?
When we believe the good news and receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, He takes up residence in us by his Spirit. His desire is to live His life through us. What we need to do is have faith toward God, which means to submit to His direction, trusting Him explicitly. This is also known as “abiding in Christ” (John 15:4). In this chapter, Jesus is illustrating why it’s necessary to abide in Him. He says that He is the vine, and Christians are the branches of the vine. Now, let’s ask some questions.
- What does the vine do?
It produces the fruit, and nourishes the vine.
- What does the branch do?
It bears the fruit.
- How does it bear the fruit?
It stays attached to the vine.
Now let’s substitute the illustration with the reality.
- What does Jesus do?
He produces godly qualities, and nourishes believers.
- What do believers do?
They bear godly qualities.
- How do believers bear godly qualities?
They stay attached to Jesus.
This does not mean that there is no effort on our part. We don’t just sit around like vegetables and grow spiritually. The Bible makes this very clear in several places:
Therefore, in Christ Jesus I have the right to boast about my work for God.
Romans 15:17 (ISV)
Always excelling in the work of the Lord…
I Corinthians 15:58
(Regarding the family of Stephanas) . . . submit yourselves to people like these and to anyone else who shares their labor and hard work.
I Corinthians 16:16 (ISV)
Work out your salvation with fear and trembling…
I would like you to notice, however, that oftentimes the “work” is identified as “of the Lord.” It’s His work, done through us. At other times, work is related to the Lord in other ways. Note the following:
I work hard and struggle to do this according to his energy that powerfully works in me.
Colossians 1:29 (ISV)
Romans 15:17 was quoted above. Notice the next verse, wherein he tells of the true source of his work:
For I am bold enough to tell you only what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience.
Romans 15:18 (ISV)
Also quoted earlier was Philippians 2:12. Notice the next verse:
For it is God who is producing in you both the desire and ahe ability to do what pleases him.
Philippians 2:13 (ISV)
And yet another example:
Instead, I worked harder than all the others–not I, of course, but God’s grace that was with me.
1 Corinthians 15:10 (ISV)
God doesn’t want our inactivity. Neither, however, does he want our fleshly ability. He simply wants us, with all our frailties, quirks, and weaknesses, in submission to him. This may be illustrated by a car. A car is equipped by its maker with everything needed to drive. We are like that car. God equips us with everything we need to do his will. Once the car is built, it is “dead” until the owner starts it up. This may be likened to our salvation. We are “dead” spiritually, until God gives us life. Now, what would you think if you saw a car without a driver rambling down the street. That wouldn’t be a good situation, would it? Without a driver, a crash is inevitable. But with a driver, the newly started car can be used properly for its intended purpose. You see, just as a car isn’t intended to run on its own without a driver, so, as Christians, we are not intended to run on our own. We must submit to our “driver”, God.
What does God think of your performance? If it’s your fleshly performance, he’s not pleased. If it’s an abiding, submissive performance, you can be sure he is pleased. Have you come to a place in your life where you just can’t go on because the Christian life is just too demanding? Are you at the end of your rope? Great! That’s just where God wants you. The only place left to turn is to Him. So let go of your rope and latch onto Him in faith. Stop “going on” and let Christ “go on” through you. I’m not saying you won’t ever have any more tough times, but you will have the resources to get through them. Do it without delay. May the apostle John’s words prove true to you:
Even now, little children, abide in Him. Then, when He appears, we will have confidence and will not turn away from Him in shame at his coming.
I John 2:28 (ISV)
Written by: Ron Gregory, firstname.lastname@example.org