God is holy and perfect and commands us to be “perfect as He is perfect.” Perfection: it is a standard that we all know we cannot keep. Those who spend a great deal of time thinking about it are in real danger of driving themselves crazy. It is this insistence of perfections that drives the “wretched urgency” that Michael Spencer, AKA the Internet Monk, used to opine about back in the day.
But we humans have a hard time with not taking this the other direction entirely. Since we know we can’t be perfect, we have developed whole theological systems that essentially say, “why bother.” Jesus paid it all, you can do nothing; so just fall on Him and do nothing. What’s wrong with this? You are saved by grace and that not of works lest any man should boast (Ephesians 2:8). Right?!? So just sit back and relax and quit. Be still and know that I am God, if you will.
It is the problem of all or nothing. If all isn’t enough, then why bother. If nothing will get me there, then why not.
I saw an interesting quote from Dallas Willard posted by a friend of mine.
“In most churches we’re not only saved by grace, we’re paralyzed by it. We’re afraid to do anything that might be a “work.” The funny thing is we will preach to people for an hour that they can’t do anything to be saved, and then sing to them for a half an hour trying to get them to do something. This is confusing. People need to see that action is a receptacle for grace, not a substitute for it. Grace is God acting in our lives to do things we can’t do on our own. Grace is not opposed to effort; it’s opposed to earning.” -Dallas Willard
This is the problem of all or nothing boiled down into a couple of sentences. That same Bible that tells you that there is nothing you can do to earn salvation, still calls you to a life of service and obedience once you have been saved. Keep reading from that quote I earlier pulled from Ephesians:
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. – Ephesians 2:8-10
The problem is that if you don’t take all of Scripture to place a single verse in good context, you may find that nothing you say makes good sense.
We don’t handle this dilemma well. Might I suggest a solution with a little humor in it.
“If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing badly.” – G.K. Chesterton
Stop making it all or nothing. God takes care of it all, but not so that you can do nothing until eternity. Rest period doesn’t start until then. In the meantime, do all that you can, badly if you must.