I learned recently that Bert Dominy had passed away. Dr. Dominy was my systematic theology professor at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in the fall of 1980. His was the first course I took in my seminary career.
In our first class, he made a statement I have not forgotten: every significant doctrine of the Christian faith requires living with theological tension.
- Is God three or one?
- Is Jesus fully divine or fully human?
- Is the Bible divinely inspired or humanly written?
- Is God sovereign or are we free?
The biblical answer to each question is yes.
I have learned in the decades since that this theological tension is an everyday part of everyday faith. The more I know about the Lord, the less I seem to know. As someone noted, the closer we get to God, the further away we realize we are.
Nowhere has this tension been more personal or practical for me than with the question of divine agency and human effort. When it comes to advancing God’s kingdom, are we to “let go and let God”? Since we cannot convict people of sins or save souls, do we have anything significant to do?
If not, are we simply to “sit in the corner” and watch God work? What about all the people in Scripture and history called by God to act in courageous ways?
- God sent the flood, but Noah built the ark.
- God called Moses to face the Egyptian pharaoh, but Moses then had to face the Egyptian pharaoh.
- Jesus called Peter to fish for men, but Peter had to preach the Pentecost sermon.
- Jesus called Paul to be his apostle to the Gentiles, but Paul had to go to the Gentiles.
- God called Luther to help lead the Reformation, but Luther had to write the 95 Theses and stand on trial for his life.
- God called Martin Luther King Jr. to help lead the civil rights movement, but Dr. King had to risk and eventually give his life for this historic cause.
The list goes on and on.
Here’s the balance as I have come to understand it: as we work, God works. When we do what we are called to do, God does what only he can do.
Is this legalism?
On the contrary, our obedience positions us to experience what God does by grace. His Spirit will make us more like his Son (Romans 8:29) if we will submit to his Spirit (Ephesians 5:18) through spiritual disciplines and daily surrender.
Oswald Chambers noted: “God expects my personal life to be a ‘Bethlehem.’ Am I allowing my natural life to be slowly transfigured by the indwelling life of the Son of God? God’s ultimate purpose is that his Son might be manifested in my mortal flesh.”
When our lives are yielded to his Spirit, he works as we work, and our work, whatever it is, is his work.
C. S. Lewis noted in “Learning in War-Time”: “I reject at once an idea which lingers in the mind of some modern people that cultural activities are in their own right spiritual and meritorious—as though scholars and poets were intrinsically more pleasing to God than scavengers and bootblacks.” Lewis calls this a “most dangerous and most anti-Christian error” and explains: “The work of a Beethoven and the work of a charwoman become spiritual on precisely the same condition, that of being offered to God.”
He then notes, “This does not, of course, mean that it is for anyone a mere toss-up whether he should sweep rooms or compose symphonies. A mole must dig to the glory of God and a cock must crow. We are members of one body, but differentiated members, each with his own vacation.”
Lewis’ point is not that you do not have a specific and unique kingdom assignment. His point is that when that assignment is done in the power of God for the glory of God, it is just as “spiritual” as any other. If it is not, it is not.
As we work, God works. As we obey his call today, we experience his transforming grace today. And we become the conduits of grace to a world in desperate need of his transforming love and truth.
John Newton, the author of Amazing Grace, testified often to its power in his life. These lines are especially poignant:
O wondrous love! To bleed and die,
To bear the cross and shame,
That guilty sinners, such as I,
Might plead Thy gracious name!
What will you do to experience the power of his grace today?