“God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it, for we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” – Ephesians 2:8-10.
“Just try harder.” Those words, or some variation of them, come up at school, at work, and at home. After all, this is how the world around us works. If you want to start on the varsity team, you had better make every practice condition throughout the summer and perform well on the field. If you want that flute solo, you’ll need to devote time to play each day, and if you want to get the promotion you seek, you need to try harder. But “trying harder” also comes up in spiritual circles. “I don’t read the Bible as much as I should, or I don’t pray enough, or I am stuck in some habitual sin that is robbing me of joy and intimacy with God: I guess I’ll just have to start trying harder.”
There is nothing wrong with working hard because following Jesus is hard work. But the Christian life should not be some miserable, teeth-clenching cycle of working harder to reach Heaven. Growing as a Christian is not about trying harder. It’s about surrendering and saying, “I can’t.”
Over and over in Scripture, Christ enables, heals, and changes people. Yet, we keep trying to fix ourselves. But the crippled don’t make themselves walk, and the blind don’t make themselves see, and addictions don’t go away by themselves. It’s God who does those things. Even Paul did not find strength within himself, as he stated in Philippians 4:13, “For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.” Success in this life is not about finding a better plan, a more sensible solution, or trying harder; it’s about seeking my Savior’s willing and available help. Isaiah 40:29–31 says, “He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless.”
”It’s not about your doing it; it’s about asking the Holy Spirit to do it within you. “But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative—that is, the Holy Spirit—he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you” (John 14:26). It’s about Him: His power, His grace, and His love.
Trying harder suggests that we must do something to earn intimacy with God. The need to read more, pray more, fast more, evangelize more, and give more are all good things, but we must first understand and accept the gift that is God’s boundless, amazing grace.
We must stop trying harder and fall in love with the One who knows we can never try hard enough. We must understand that intimacy with God leads to good works, not vice versa. Do good works today not to earn God’s favor but as a response to God’s favor already given to you.
- What does trying harder mean to you?
- What should be done rather than trying harder in spiritual matters?