By Michael E. Brooks
“Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God” (Romans 10:1-3 NKJV).
Austin is 3 years old. I recently received the following news in an email from his father in Khulna, Bangladesh:
“We had an accident. Austin burned the right side of his belly, his left hand and his right leg with hot tea. Last Monday Austin went to the campus kitchen and wanted to drink hot tea. George and Shova our cooks wanted to help him by pouring tea from the flask (a pump top vacuum bottle). Austin refused and wanted to do it himself so they let him serve himself. So he took the cup and standing on a chair he pushed the top of the flask and got a full cup of tea. He set the cup on the table first and then as he was sitting down on the chair to drink from the cup, looking at something else, he pushed the cup and tea spilled on him. The tea was freshly made and too hot. He is better now. We took him the doctor yesterday for checkup and doctor said he is recovering but he might have the scars for while.”
I am old enough to remember the commercials from the early 1960s which featured the line, “I’d rather do it myself!” Most of us feel that way. There is a spirit of independence and self reliance that is basic to our development of the abilities necessary for success. We normally encourage our children to have this spirit and to learn helpful skills by doing. Inevitably there are bumps, bruises, cuts and burns along the way. Few learn to walk and run without an occasional fall. As one pursues more difficult endeavors his risk of injury increases proportionately. Eventually the danger involved becomes greater than the potential benefit of the activity. This constitutes an unacceptable level of risk, at least for most rational people. Those who persist in such efforts are rightly considered foolhardy.
The most foolish thing of all is to attempt that which is not possible, and must inevitably lead to fatal results. That is precisely what Paul accuses the leaders of Judaism of trying. They refused to accept grace, preferring to achieve righteousness (salvation) through their own efforts. Their zeal and acceptance of responsibility was commendable. But it was foolish, because it was completely impossible.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
There is a fine line between accepting responsibility and refusing God’s grace. When one humbly submits to God’s will and obeys his commands, he must perform certain basic tasks (Romans 6:17; Philippians 2:12). Self sufficiency is encouraged, to a point.
“But let each one examine his own work, and then he will have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. For each one shall bear his own load” (Galatians 6:4-5).
Never however may we imagine that our obedience justifies us or entitles us to the many blessings God gives us freely from his own love and mercy. Rather we are commanded:
“Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that he might exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon him, for he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:6-7).
Little Austin learns by doing. Occasionally his courage and independent spirit results in pain and scars, but with proper supervision he will not incur major injury. There are many things that he is not allowed to do, and others that he will never be able to do. He will probably learn those limits as he grows.
We too must learn our limits, especially those of a spiritual nature. We must do that which God commands, but leave to him that which only His power and wisdom can accomplish. We simply give thanks that “[t]he grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men” (Titus 2:11).
By Michael E. Brooks