A woman in our church just wrote a book about her life as a missionary in Papua New Guinea. We just had a lovely dedication service, and right now on our table sits a brand, spankin’ new, signed copy, waiting to be read. I haven’t actually opened it yet, but I adore the title:
God Plus Nothing.
Arvalee Palmer’s whole life, everything she and her husband accomplished on the mission field, she sums up as being God plus nothing else.
In my life, God has allowed me to do some pretty cool things for Him. I have never had the opportunity to go onto the mission field but I have had the chance to write this blog, to teach Sunday School, and to help with and teach at our church’s children’s program. I have even had the opportunity to witness to a couple of people, though I didn’t get to see them actually accept Jesus.
The problem is, I tend to think that those cool things happened because of some of the skills I brought to the table. Deep down, I would describe them as God plus my teaching skills or God plus my gathered up courage or God plus my love of writing. In reality, they were God plus nothing.
After all, the Bible says that it is God that gives us the talents that we have (1 Corinthians 12:4-11), God that gives us the strength to serve Him (Philippians 4:13), God that gives us any kind of love for people (1 John 4:19, 1 Corinthians 13), God that chooses the outcome and works in people’s hearts (Proverbs 16:33), and God that allowed us to get up in the morning and breathe throughout the day (Psalm 3:5).
Jesus used some pretty clear imagery to describe this. He said that it’s like we are the branches of a plant, and he is the main vine. He said, “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me” (John 15:4).
This might sound really depressing and a little bit frustrating. We put ourselves out there and did some work, after all. Yet, we don’t get any credit? We still count as just nothing?
But actually, this is more freeing than anything, and kind of inspiring. We aren’t limited to what we think we are able to do. If God asks something of us, we know that He can give us the ability to do it. We know that He controls the outcome. The factor of fear or worry is completely taken out of the equation, because we can depend on Him!
And the super crazy thing is, even though it is God working through us, God still gives us some credit for it! 2 Corinthians 5:10 says, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.” When we get to Heaven, we will be rewarded for the good things that we do on Earth, even though we are only doing what we are supposed to do, and even though we are doing it entirely on God’s direction and strength. What a loving, gracious God we have!
God knows that, from our perspective, sometimes doing good looks hard. We are infested with a sin nature, and that’s hard to fight. But we can never let that struggle, that choice to follow God or not, make us believe that we have been able to do good on our own merit. That way leads to the sin of pride.
The Bible tells us that our works, the things we do every day, need to be built on a foundation of Jesus Christ, and must be made humbly, with lasting materials that only He can give to us. If we do anything to bring ourselves glory, those motives will be judged. 1 Corinthians 3:12-14 tell us, again with imagery, “Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward.”
Good works done for our own glory will be burned away, but those done for the glory of God will last.
Because it is only through Him that they have been done. We are nothing. He is everything.
God plus nothing.