Article for St Catharines Standard newspaper by Peter Youngren.
What is God’s love? Many think of it as a big strong rope, a lifeline that God dropped down from heaven, and now we have the privilege of trying to climb it. In other words, God sent Jesus because of His love, and now that He has done His part, the rest is up to us. God has thrown us a rope and now we need to climb ever closer to Him. There are many Christian books that tell you how to climb faster, higher, and with greater success. Many study such books, underline them and then get on with the task of holding on to the rope and clawing ourselves upward to God.
That’s when the trouble starts. By the time you’ve climbed about a tenth of the way up, you realize, “I’m exhausted, I’ll never get to the top”, so you start going down. As you descend you notice there are others passing you on the same rope; they’re on their way up, you’re on your way down. As you descend they ask, “Can we pray for you?”, or they may offer, “Have you read the latest book, ‘Seven Keys to Reach God’?” Finally you get to the bottom and after a time of rest, you try another religious climb. This time, some of the folks you met on your way down, you now meet again, only this time they are descending. This is how many live; up and down, down and up, in a never-ending effort to get to God.
People deal with themselves and their problems trying to shape themselves into persons more acceptable to God. The problem is that if we successfully remake ourselves, then the remade version isn’t any better than the old, at least not from God’s point of view. The new you that you have created may know a little bit more about how to win friends, how to be a leader and how to think positively, but inwardly you remain the same.
Yes, many think that the message of grace from God is a rope you have to pull yourself up by, that Jesus is a rope of hope for lost humanity, and now you have to do your best to climb.
If you have been caught in this dilemma, I have good news for you. The christian life is grace from start to finish. It is 100% God’s unmerited favor to you. God initiated it, God made is possible, and God is at work in you to complete it. Only God in us is able to live the life we are supposed to live. God has not met 50% of our need by grace, and then it’s up to us to make up the other 50% by efforts, discipline and good works. One popular song says “I take one step and God takes two”. That puts the ratio of God’s effort at about double ours, but still we are good for about one third of the requirements. This is an awful trap. It takes the joy out of life. To think that “God saved me and forgave me, but now the rest is up to me”, makes for a very disappointing life. Have you tried to be perfect and holy? Good luck! Those virtues are only obtained by someone else living through you; Jesus, the holy one.
What role do we play? Only one; to be willing. God doesn’t cause anything to happen in us that we don’t want to happen. God never overrules or violates your will. Instead, He loves you, embraces your will and draws it to Himself. He never overrides it. For some that is a terrible blow to their ego. To think that the only part we play in God’s plan is willingness. There is no rope to climb, no effort that we can take credit for. Instead there is a new life that can be received by anyone who is willing. Paul, who had been full of murder, hatred and religious bigotry, received that life and wrote, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).