Here’s my latest Our Daily Journey entry which arose from reading Calvin’s 1541 Institutes with my students.
read > Ephesians 2:1-10
God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it (2:8-9).
Wildlife officials in my town vainly tried to save a duck which had an arrow sticking through its breast. The wounded duck ate the bread which the rescuers threw her way, but she flew away whenever their nets came close. It’s hard to blame the duck. She didn’t understand that the same self-reliance which normally kept her alive was now preventing her from receiving the help she needed.
We are that duck. Crippled by the self-inflicted wound of our sin, we stubbornly think that we can survive by trying harder. But every flap of our wings sucks the arrow in, and if we don’t get help soon we will bleed out.
The first step to being a Christian is admitting that we can’t fix ourselves. John Calvin observed that “the one who has been completely reduced to nothing and has given up…is fitly prepared to receive the fruits of God’s mercy. For in proportion as someone relies on himself, by so much he puts obstacles to God’s grace.”
Salvation is for quitters. Only those who give up on their ability to please God are ready to embrace the gospel. The gospel is not about what we can do for God but what God has done for us. It is the “Good News” that “Christ died for our sins…was buried, and…was raised from the dead” (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). But we won’t trust this work of Christ unless we concede that we are spiritually bankrupt, hopelessly “dead because of our sins” (Ephesians 2:5). We won’t give ourselves to Christ until we first give up on ourselves.
The gospel is counter-intuitive. What serves us well in most areas of life can be a disaster in our walk with Jesus. The normal secret to success is to try harder. The secret of salvation is to stop trying.