we can't do anything
If you've been in church at all or have been around Christian people, you have probably heard something along the lines of:
"We can do nothing apart from Christ."
"We can't do anything without Jesus!"
We hear in John 15, a popular passage of scripture:
"I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 Every branch in me that does not produce fruit he removes, and he prunes every branch that produces fruit so that it will produce more fruit. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in me, and I in you. Just as a branch is unable to produce fruit by itself unless it remains on the vine, neither can you unless you remain in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in me and I in him produces much fruit, because you can do nothing without me."
Maybe you're not in the same places I am, but I feel like I hear some statement like the ones above all of the time in Christian circles -- that without Jesus we will fail, perish, suck, whatever you want to put in that blank.
Maybe you're not in the same place I am, but for a while my reaction was:
"Well, I mean, yes, I get it but...I've done plenty of things on my own. I put on my pants this morning all by myself, I ate cereal, I did well at my job. I feel like I see people accomplishing things every day without Jesus. There are people who aren't Christians who do things."
Are we really a complete failure without Jesus, no matter how "successful" we are?
The answer is actually yes.
So hang with me.
I know there are some people that are a lot holier than me that are out there reading that beginning part going: "Yes! Preach! I'm a useless blob without Jesus!"
And that's really cool. But if I were honest, my default human nature hears that I can't do anything without Jesus and thinks, "pshh, yes I can. Probably I could. Not everything, but at least something, right?"
Let's make a distinction now between doing something and doing something that matters.
Doing something: running, jumping, walking, eating, aimless work, etc. (things that, if we really thought about, He gave breath for us to do.)
Actually doing something: things that hold eternal value
At the very end of our lives, the only things that will hold value are the things that gave glory to God, things for His kingdom. And those things can only be done with His power. Everything else after this life is empty and meaningless. Ecclesiastes 1 repeats this over and over:
"2 “Meaningless! Meaningless!”
says the Teacher.
Everything is meaningless.”
3 What do people gain from all their labors
at which they toil under the sun?
4 Generations come and generations go,
but the earth remains forever.
5 The sun rises and the sun sets,
and hurries back to where it rises.
6 The wind blows to the south
and turns to the north;
round and round it goes,
ever returning on its course.
7 All streams flow into the sea,
yet the sea is never full.
To the place the streams come from,
there they return again.
8 All things are wearisome,
more than one can say.
The eye never has enough of seeing,
nor the ear its fill of hearing.
9 What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.
10 Is there anything of which one can say,
“Look! This is something new”?
It was here already, long ago;
it was here before our time.
11 No one remembers the former generations,
and even those yet to come
will not be remembered
by those who follow them.
12 I, the Teacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem. 13 I applied my mind to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under the heavens. What a heavy burden God has laid on mankind! 14 I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.
15 What is crooked cannot be straightened;
what is lacking cannot be counted.
16 I said to myself, “Look, I have increased in wisdom more than anyone who has ruled over Jerusalem before me; I have experienced much of wisdom and knowledge.” 17 Then I applied myself to the understanding of wisdom, and also of madness and folly, but I learned that this, too, is a chasing after the wind.
18 For with much wisdom comes much sorrow;
the more knowledge, the more grief."
What an unbelievably heavy passage of scripture to swallow. (If you skimmed it, go back and just read that thing again.) I can honestly feel a pit in my stomach just thinking about it.
I think we have all been in situations where we have poured energy, effort, and all of ourselves into something, for it just to come up completely unfulfilling. Can you think of one? I can probably name 50.
Everything without Christ is a bucket with a hole in the bottom. Everything we do without Christ is chasing after a wind. Our own wisdom, our own knowledge, our own efforts -- are nothing without investing in our eternity with God.
Something that I have learned recently about grace (and how it relates to this) is that as much as we want to sing about how beautiful it is (which it is, I'm not debating that) -- grace should shake us up a little bit.
You want to know what is crazy about grace? That as much as grace covers our wrongs, it also covers all of our "rights". It covers everything. Every effort we make. Like a giant blanket over our life.
Our efforts in the positive don't gain us extra points. We're not scoring points for ourselves.
Our efforts in the positive do nothing if it is not for the glory of God.
Our efforts in the positive do nothing if it is not proclaiming the truth about Christ.
If something is positive because it's the "right thing to do" or feels morally sound enough to bring the spotlight back on us -- it's meaningless.
If you think about this for a while, it will change your life.
I'll close this with a nice little Bible story to back up my point --
You've probably heard about Job and how great He was, right? What a poor guy. He was a righteous man and God ruined his life, right? To make a long story super short, Job did all the right stuff. He made all of the right sacrifices in line with the covenant. Cool dude.
God allows satan to mess with Job. God basically accepts satan's challenge that Job wasn't actually as loyal as he seemed, but gives satan very strict parameters on what satan can't touch (because God's just sovereign in that way). Job proceeds to lose basically everything except his wife.
His wife and friends tell him that "wow Job, the only reason this stuff is happening is because you have something wrong going on. We know that God is just, so you need to fix yourself and everything will be better." (This was not true, the book affirms, because Job was a righteous man and did everything so he could be right with God.)
Job's suffering became greater and greater as he begins to loathe his life, crying out to God. Eventually, the cry turns to accusing God of being unjust. How could God allow cursing on a righteous man? Job proclaims that he's done all the right stuff to win favor in the eyes of God, so why was all of this happening?
“How long will you torment me
and crush me with words?
3 Ten times now you have reproached me;
shamelessly you attack me.
4 If it is true that I have gone astray,
my error remains my concern alone.
5 If indeed you would exalt yourselves above me
and use my humiliation against me,
6 then know that God has wronged me
and drawn his net around me.
7 “Though I cry, ‘Violence!’ I get no response;
though I call for help, there is no justice.
8 He has blocked my way so I cannot pass;
he has shrouded my paths in darkness.
9 He has stripped me of my honor
and removed the crown from my head.
10 He tears me down on every side till I am gone;
he uproots my hope like a tree.
11 His anger burns against me;
he counts me among his enemies.
12 His troops advance in force;
they build a siege ramp against me
and encamp around my tent.
“I made a covenant with my eyes
not to look lustfully at a young woman.
2 For what is our lot from God above,
our heritage from the Almighty on high?
3 Is it not ruin for the wicked,
disaster for those who do wrong?
4 Does he not see my ways
and count my every step?"
What we miss is that we equate our actions with the blessings of God. That if we act good, we get good. It's just how we are wired. If we do the right thing, we get a star sticker. Why wouldn't that be how it worked with God?
Again: Because as much as grace covers our wrongs, it also covers all of our "rights". It covers everything. Every effort we make. Like a giant blanket over our life.
God doesn't owe us a cozy, happy life on earth because we work hard. That's not how grace works.
Continuing, Job has accused God of being unjust and short-sighted. God's response goes on for multiple chapters. God gets a little sassy. (I'll copy a little bit of it here, it's not even the whole response.)
4 “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
Tell me, if you understand.
5 Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
Who stretched a measuring line across it?
6 On what were its footings set,
or who laid its cornerstone—
7 while the morning stars sang together
and all the angels shouted for joy?
8 “Who shut up the sea behind doors
when it burst forth from the womb,
9 when I made the clouds its garment
and wrapped it in thick darkness,
10 when I fixed limits for it
and set its doors and bars in place,
11 when I said, ‘This far you may come and no farther;
here is where your proud waves halt’?
12 “Have you ever given orders to the morning,
or shown the dawn its place,
13 that it might take the earth by the edges
and shake the wicked out of it?
14 The earth takes shape like clay under a seal;
its features stand out like those of a garment.
15 The wicked are denied their light,
and their upraised arm is broken.
16 “Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea
or walked in the recesses of the deep?
17 Have the gates of death been shown to you?
Have you seen the gates of the deepest darkness?
18 Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth?
Tell me, if you know all this.
19 “What is the way to the abode of light?
And where does darkness reside?
20 Can you take them to their places?
Do you know the paths to their dwellings?
21 Surely you know, for you were already born!
You have lived so many years!"
“I am unworthy—how can I reply to you?
I put my hand over my mouth.
I spoke once, but I have no answer—
twice, but I will say no more [...] I know that you can do all things;
no purpose of yours can be thwarted.”
Now what does Job have to do with this conversation about how we can do nothing without Christ?
What Job experienced was that he is s m a l l and God is BIG. A lot bigger than him.
The most righteous man is bowing down, saying he should not have spoken. For us, it displays that it is almost comedic that we should try to "score points" with God. How would anything we do on our own measure up to our Creator?
It's like in the game -- God has 2 billion trillion points and we have 0 and are trying score 3 pointers to win. It's almost ridiculous to look at our actions like we are trying to achieve something.
So what do we do with all of this?
We do things because God is God, it's God's world, all for His glory. Everything else is meaningless. It's hard to internalize and apply, but the idea that we could achieve anything of substance without Him is unfathomable, when we see the facts.
One of my favorite things to do is to take a common Christian phrase that gets thrown around all of the time, and throw it around some more to make sure what we're saying is true. And I can't agree with this one any more.
We can't do anything apart from Him, but we have eternal significance with Him. That's complete significance. The only significance that exists.
“Where was I when He laid the earth’s foundation?
Who marked off its dimensions?
Who stretched a measuring line across it?"