“And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6, ESV)
Living the Christian life is a dance of faith and obedience. We trust God to do what He has said, to redeem His people, to complete the good work He began in us, and to protect us from all evil.
We also obey Him. His Word comes to us as a beautiful mixture of law and gospel. Often the two can be hard to separate, for there are promises in the law (“Seek first the Kingdom of God and all these things will be added unto you”), just as much as there are commands in the gospel (Believe! Repent! Press on!).
As such, in a certain sense, it is wrong to draw a strict antithesis between law and gospel, as if the gospel was good and the law was somehow bad. For the Christian, the law is the Father’s standard for family life, no longer the law of sin and death, it is now the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1ff). We never approach the law behind the back of Christ, as if we could fulfill its demands outside of our faith-union with Him, inspiring and energizing our every Godward thought. No, we approach the law in union with Christ, the Christ who fulfilled the law for us, the Christ who gives His Spirit to us, the Christ who leads us to the abundant life of new obedience. In Him we are perfect, yet we strive.
This faith/obedience dance reminds us there are things we must do, and there are things only God can do. How many worries could we put to bed if we only remembered that principle. Isn’t worry just the confession that we aren’t quite sure God will get it right? How many arguments would we avoid if we only remembered that principle as well. Wereason with our children from Scripture, but we cannot change their heart, we cannot move them one inch away from hell, or one inch closer to heaven. Yet, when they sin, how often do we reach across the sacred divide in an attempt to do God’s work for Him. Gentle but firm rebuke, Scriptural admonition and prayer seem so ineffective. Perhaps, if I used anger, maybe I could threaten my children into a change of heart? Do you ever find yourself acting like that? I know I do, and when I do, I am forgetting God’s non-negotiable principle, “The wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” Even though God says very clearly, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger,” we somehow think it’ll be an exception this time in a difficult conversation with our spouse. Englishmen use the same logic abroad when a local doesn’t understand the world’s mother tongue. Perhaps, he thinks, turning up the volume will assist the communicative process. But, alas, it rarely ever does.
So as you approach the weekend, remember who you are, remember how weak you are, remember all you can do is all you can do. Rather than shouldering the burden of changing the difficult people in your life, why not try a new approach. Love them. Be patient with them. Listen to them. Try to understand them. Trust God for them. And above all pray for them. God holds the keys to their heart. I am reminded of Paul Miller’s observation in his excellent book, The Praying Life, where he says, I try to talk to God more about my children than I talk to my children about God. If we did this in all our relationships, I think we would find less need for anger, more room for gratitude, and greater hope of change.