Stop Trying Harder

Mark Beuving —  February 21, 2012 — 8 Comments

The gospel should affect everything we do, and we will never move beyond its direction and power. Yesterday I asked a simple question: Do you really think there is some strategy, medication, or counselor that could be more effective in dealing with your sin than the grace of God as told in the gospel?

This is an important question. I think that most of us would quickly answer, “No, of course not!” We know (in theory) that nothing could be more effective than God’s power in the gospel. But we don’t really believe it. Instead, we try all sorts of strategies to try to whip ourselves into shape. We try to make ourselves into the type of people God wants us to be, never realizing that this is impossible.

We can’t make ourselves into the type of people God wants us to be. We are sinful, broken, and weak. This is what it means to be human on this side of the fall. And the problem is only made worse by the fact that we think we are righteous, whole, and strong. You’re probably saying, “You’re wrong—I realize how broken and powerless I am.” But do you?

How do you deal with the sin in your life? Do you recognize your own inability and turn to God for help? Or do you try harder to be the kind of person God wants you to be? Most of us use the “try harder” strategy most of the time. And when trying harder fails, we try harder again. The fact that we think trying harder will eventually fix our struggle with sin reveals that we think we are good enough and strong enough to please God on our own.

We all need to be reminded all of the time that we cannot please God on our own. This is the essence of the gospel.  It has never been about us being good enough so that God will love us in return. No, the gospel declares that while we were nothing more than dirty, powerless sinners, Jesus Christ died for us because He loved us—even in that pitiful state (see Romans 5:8).

You believed this when you first turned to Jesus and accepted the grace offered in the gospel. But do you still believe it? When you fall into sin, do you try to clean yourself up before you will pray to God again? Or do you immediately recognize that your struggle with sin means that you can’t clean yourself up? Do you wait until you can stand before God again or do you come crawling back to God, asking Him to forgive and restore you?

If we truly believe in the power of God’s grace as expressed in the gospel, we will stop trying harder. We will not wait until we feel clean before we approach God. We will run straight to God’s expression of love on the cross every time we encounter sin in our lives. The gospel is not about increased effort. It is about a constant acknowledgment of our own inadequacy and a constant acceptance of God’s grace.

No one ever pleased God by trying harder. Only one Man has ever truly pleased God. And we please God only through living in the grace He freely offers.

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Mark Beuving

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Mark has worked in youth, college, and worship ministry since 1999, and now serves at Eternity Bible College as the Associate Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies. He is passionate about building up the body of Christ, training future leaders for the Church, and writing. Though he is interested in many areas of theology and philosophy, Mark is most fascinated with practical theology and exploring the many ways in which the Bible can speak to and transform our world. He is the author of "Resonate: Enjoying God's Gift of Music" and the co-author with Francis Chan of "Multiply: Disciples Making Disciples." Mark lives in Simi Valley with his wife and two daughters.
  • Preston

    Awesome stuff, Mark! I’d also recommend Tullian’s sermons on Grace from last Summer’s podcast. I think they articulate much of what’s in his book “Jesus+Everything…”

    • Preston

      I mean “Jesus + Nothing…”

  • Lance Hancock

    Hey, Malek.

    I’d love to offer this in response to your question, and I hope Mark weighs in also… forgive me if this is as long as Mark’s post!

    The biblical call to put sin to death almost always follows the presentation and celebration of the gospel. For example, the first eleven chapters of Romans, the first three chapters of Ephesians, and the first two chapters of Colossians are all about the gospel. Paul expounds on the work of Christ in the gospel. He drives home who the readers used to be, but who they now are in Christ through the gospel (Eph 2:1-10).

    After these first sections about the gospel, then Paul goes on to show them how they are to live–in response to or in light of the gospel. He spends the remaining chapters in the previously mentioned letters talking about how to live a new life. So I think he is grounding them in their new identity through the gospel: This is who you are–no longer a slave to sin but a new creation in Christ Jesus, a slave of righteousness.

    Often Paul talks as if the sinful nature of Christians is extinct: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17). Again, Paul is rooting the believers firmly in their identity in Christ. One of the best examples of this is in Colossians 3:3, 5:

    “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God… Put to death therefore what is earthly in you…”

    Paul is essentially saying: You belong to Christ (1 Cor 6:19-20), you are in Him, therefore become who you really are. Christians have a new identity in Jesus. They ARE holy, because they are united to Christ (who is holy) by the power of the Spirit.

    This is why Jesus says in John 15 to abide in Him, for apart from Him we can do nothing. We must know who we are in Christ if we ever hope to overcome sin and temptation and live fruitful lives to the glory of God.

    Sorry this is long, but let me conclude with this. This is how you know if the gospel is giving you victory over sin: there is power in your victory. That is, you don’t still “struggle” with temptation and desire for “x” sin. When God pours out His grace on you by deepening your understanding of who you are in Christ because of the gospel, you begin to lose your taste for sin. This is true power. When an immoral thought comes and you remember that you are in Christ, and Chris doesn’t think these things, therefore you don’t need to think these things–that is power. When you have God’s heart and hate what He hates and love what He loves–that is power (Eze. 36:26-27)

    “The gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who belives” (Rom. 1:16). Through the gospel God pardons us, purifies us, and perfects us. We are justified, sanctified, and glorified–and the gospel is the good news in all of it!

  • Lance Hancock

    “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18)

    I’m thankful you’re writing these posts, Mark! Probably the biggest thing God has been teaching me since I moved to Ohio is that the gospel delivers us from not only the penalty of our sin, but its power also (and the presence of it, eventually)! The gospel really is the greatest news ever. Period.

    Have you by any chance read Tullian Tchividjian’s book “Jesus+Nothing=Everything”?

    • Mark Beuving

      It’s such a huge realization isn’t it?

      I’ve heard of Tchividjian’s book, but I haven’t read it. I take it you would recommend it?

      • Lance Hancock

        Bro, it’s an easy read and a bit repetitious… but it’s the gospel so it’s okay! I would definitely recommend it, if only for the fact that you can give your copy away when you’re finished :)

  • Malek

    Honest question – how just refusing to “try harder” jive with all the calls in the Bible to put sin to death?

    • Mark Beuving

      Great question, Malek. I’m certainly not trying to suggest that what we need in our fight against sin is less effort or more apathy. My point is pretty subte—is our hope of change placed in the amount of effort we are exerting, or is it in the grace of God empowering us? It’s subtle, but important.

      It goes back to Paul’s comment that we should work out our salvation BECAUSE God is working in us (Philip. 2:12-13), or his explanation that the work he does is energized by the power of God working through him (Col. 1:29).

      So try harder, but don’t think that trying harder in itself will solve your problem. Labor in God’s grace knowing that this is the only hope we have.