“Doing things for God” or “God doing things through you.”
The two phrases above represent two alternate ways of viewing our work in the world. I hope that we believe and embrace the latter; I’m afraid more often we buy into the former. Many Christians talk about “doing things for God,” like God needs us to give him a hand. Poor God, he’s so overwhelmed, what with running the entire universe and all, that he needs me to do some things for him. To say we “do things for God” implies one or more of the following: a) God can’t do it himself; b) God is lost without me; c) my identity is in my doing; d) I deserve credit for what I’ve done. You could probably think of other implications of this ideology. Truth be told, God can accomplish his will without your help; it’s you who are lost without him; your identity isn’t what you do for God, but who you are in God; and it’s only God who deserves glory. Moreover, if we’re left with this way of thinking, then we must admit that we are failures, because of our constant failure to do much good for anyone other than ourselves, and even then, we often fail.
The better phrase that captures Christian work is “God doing things through you.” God calls us to his work and enables us to do it. He empowers us to fulfill his will through his personal, powerful presence in us—the Spirit. God is with us to accomplish his work.
I remember when I was a kid I asked my Dad, who works in a non-profit ministry, “How many people have you saved?” His reply surprised me: “None,” he said. Then he explained to this effect: It’s not we that save people, but God. We don’t have the power to save, the power to heal, the power to restore—but God does. God works his will through us, as channels of his grace, ambassadors of the gospel.
One of my favorite verses in Scripture is 1 Thessalonians 5:24: “Faithful is the one who calls you, who also will do it” (my translation). The first word in the Greek text is the adjective “faithful.” Paul stresses that God is faithful. Since it is God that has called us to our work for him, and he is faithful, then it also means that God will see us through in the fulfillment of his purposes. I like to express the truth of this verse, and throughout Scripture this way: God enables us for what he expects of us. We don’t do it ourselves; we don’t do things for God. But we also don’t do them without his help. He doesn’t ask us to build a building without providing blueprints and tools. He doesn’t call us to tell people about salvation without the presence of his Spirit in our lives, with his power and love.
You’ll never save anyone’s soul. But I believe God will save many through your faithful witness. You may never “do great things for God,” but I believe he will do great things through your surrendered, dedicated life. May all this be to his glory, forever. Amen!