“Try Harder” Is Not the Gospel

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Sarah Condon tells the story of her experience at a Southern Baptist Bible study:

“Only once did I attend a Bible study in high school. It was hosted by the local (giant) Southern Baptist church and was the only option for socializing one could find on a Wednesday night in Mississippi. I don’t remember which passage we studied, but I do remember that the subject was about how we could always do more for God. This cattle call for Jesus begged an unanswerable question. I asked the leader how we could know if we loved God enough. I can still remember the desperate swelling of my heart as it longed to be sufficient for Jesus. Instead of offering me a word of consolation or compassion, instead of telling me that, as the old Methodist hymn goes, “Jesus Paid It All,” she offered me more challenge in the form of a platitude. ‘Well,’ she paused, ‘just do your best!’” (Sarah Condon, Churchy, pp. 41-42).

I don’t know if the Bible study leaders were presenting the gospel that night, and I’m not sure what the context was for saying we can “always do more for God,” but whatever they meant, Condon took it as bad news:

“I remember thinking, ‘I don’t even do my best for me. How in the world am I supposed to do that for God?’” (Condon, Churchy, p. 42)

When someone is looking for a lifeline, “Try harder” is a message of despair, not hope.

I have to confess that there was a time when I could easily have told someone, “Try harder!” That’s not what I would have said for salvation, which is by faith apart from trying, but I could easily have said it for discipleship. That was the view of the Christian life that I was taught or learned, and it took time for me to unlearn it.

I would no longer say that now that I have a much better grasp of what Paul meant when he said: “The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God” (Gal 2:20). We begin the Christian life through faith in Jesus, and that is the only way to restfully live the Christian life because He is perfectly sufficient for both. He is our rest for both salvation and discipleship, and that’s the message that Condon needed to hear that night:

“When we come to Christ, it is because we are done doing our best. It is because we cannot even pull off our most mediocre. It is because we are done doing anything, ever, period, the end. It is because all of our magnificent moments have failed us, and we long for the sweet relief of Jesus” (Condon, Churchy, p. 42).

Isn’t it comforting to know that when religion says, “Try harder,” Jesus says, “It is already finished”?

Send your questions or comments to Shawn.


One comment on ““Try Harder” Is Not the Gospel”

  1. When Paul says the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the son of God. I understand you to mean by that trusting Jesus to do what you otherwise will not be able to do on your own. That is is living a relatively successful moral or obedient life. At least this is my take from your previous blogs/writings.

    But the issue is deeper than that. Faith in the son of God is exactly believing in Jesus as in John 6.47 ie what you believed at the beginning. And it is always counted as righteousness. That is why the person who abides is Jesus does not sin. So living the Christian life has nothing to do with behavior but it is simply continued believe.

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