Children love to do whatever we’re doing. They see it as helping. We see it as extra work for us. Once in a while, though, we need to make time for them to try.
Recently Skylar saw me spreading peanut butter on a rice cake and pleaded to do the same. I tried to hand her the one I’d already fixed, but she wanted to make it herself. Since grandmas love to say yes, I plunked her on the counter and gave her a knife, the PB, and a rice cake. Although she eventually got it done, her effort was clumsy at best.
When children try to do what we do, they approach the project feeling capable of accomplishing adult work with adult tools and getting adult results. In their minds, they bring sophisticated competence to every task and could take the place of any one of us.
God describes a spiritual parallel much like this. We come to him to “get saved” and he saves us. Then we promptly begin a program to “save ourselves,” after the fact, trying to earn our salvation. It makes no sense but is as common as children believing they’re as skilled as adults. In terms of our relationship with God, we’re as unable to help him as a young child is to help us.
Does God see our behavior the way I saw Skylar’s? He says, “I’ve done it already and am trying to hand you the finished product.” But we want to do it ourselves, just as Skylar did. From his perspective, our assistance toward getting saved is but a clumsy mishandling of the perfect gift he wants to give us.
As I watched Skylar’s small hands struggle to manipulate her adult-sized knife, I knew she was in a learning process. Experience was teaching her, and she would do a little bit better next time. But in the case of our salvation, no amount of trying, even with better and better effort, can get the job done. God has seen to it that everything’s already been done, through the death of his Son.
To put ourselves in the role of assistant to the Almighty is improper and, from his perspective, laughable. Of course in reality, there’s nothing funny about trying to make ourselves good enough for God. Actually, it’s the opposite of funny. It’s a serious mistake.
When Nate and I were raising our family and the children misbehaved, he would snap his fingers to get their attention and say, “Act right.” It’s a good command, and it’s something God is hoping all of us will do, all the time. But applying right deeds as credit toward salvation is like asking Skylar to spread PB on 500 rice cakes in 5 seconds. It can’t be done.
“At just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.” (Romans 5:6)