Monday, June 28, 2010

We Can Do Nothing

Picking up the theme of my previous post, written a number of months ago, I have to tell about an experience I had yesterday. We were saying our farewells to a number a visitors to our worship service.

It had been an extraordinary time of worship and celebration. One of the missionaries we support is a Wycliffe Bible translator. Our church has known her for over 35 years, and her family is deeply embedded in the DNA of our church. She had just come home after completing the translation of the New Testament into the Maithili language, a tongue spoken by a people group of 22 million people in Nepal and India. This was an historic occasion, and we celebrated it with her and many of her acquaintances and relatives present with us.

As I was standing near the exit where people say there good-byes and God bless yous to the preacher, one gentleman stopped to commend me on the emphasis I gave in my prayers (there was no sermon on this day). He said, "You are right. We can do absolutely nothing. There's nothing we can do." He said it so very solemnly. I knew it meant a lot to him to share something with me that was so important to him. So I thanked him and he was on his way. For what he had in mind, he was probably right.

But two things happened to me internally. The first thing is this. Often people will say to me, as they leave, "I especially liked that part where you said..." and they will quote something I said, although I never said that.

The second event can best be described as an inner conflict. Theologically, the statement is wrong. I KNOW that there is no salvific merit in any of my actions in God's eyes. I know that it is God who works in me both to will and to do of his good pleasure. I know and believe the Word where it says, "apart from me you can do nothing." I get that.

But did you realize that even Jesus said this of himself? "By myself I can do nothing" (John 5:30). "I do nothing on my own" (John 8:28).

Now, Jesus did not have a sin nature to contend with. But even with a pure nature, He pointed to the fact that as the Father's Son, he was completely dependent on His Father for everything that He was to do.

Thus, we should be that much more aware of how dependent we are on Christ our Lord. We are far from sinlessly perfect; thus we have a strong bent inside of us that wants its independence from anything that sounds like the submission/obedience dynamic.

On the other hand, there are other declarations in Scripture that say things such as Paul's words. "I can do everything through him who gives me strength" (Phil 4:13). Had I whispered those words into our visitors ear in response to his words, I'm sure he would have agreed wholeheartedly.

So here is my point. The Bible nowhere says "We can do nothing." Everywhere where this is implied, there are modifiers.

Think of those heros of Bible translation in Nepal and India. For decades, day after day they would work on learning an obscure language, building contacts with key national figures who grew up in the language. Then they began to translate one paragraph at a time. It would have to be tested and retested. New fonts had to be developed by their IT department. Typesetting. Printing. Proof-reading. Publishing. Packing. Shipping. There was so much that needed to be done. Now how does that phrase sound. "Brother, we can do nothing.."

But they did it. It's not that they did nothing. It's that they did nothing apart from Him. But IN HIM, they gave it their all.

If we are standing in the right place, there are all kinds of things we can and should do. We must do.
By standing in the right place, I mean understanding and believing with all of my heart that God is Sovereign and I owe Him my all.
By standing in the right place I mean that I believe Jesus Christ atoned for all of my sin(s), and there is nothing left for me to do to "top off" any kind of payment to God by my works, penitence or devotion. Jesus indeed, "paid it all".

But now, on this side of Calvary we can and must be doing. In His strength, of course. In His name, to be sure. But we dare not be passive; there is so much to do. Let's maintain balance in our theology.