Moore: A great theme of the New Testament is that apart from God, we can do nothing (column)
My wife and I recently returned from a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Italy. It was amazing, one of those trips where you do as much as humanly possible until you return home utterly exhausted and go to back to work the next day. Things were going perfect until we found ourselves in Naples. Ah, Napoli, the land of confused Americans and painful life lessons.
We were on the metro, standing shoulder to shoulder with half of southern Italy, when an American near us realized with great alarm that her phone had just been stolen. The locals smiled with pity, explaining that pickpockets were a real problem. Looking on, I honestly remember thinking, “You poor sap. Everyone knows that pickpockets are a problem here. For crying out loud, there were warning signs all over the train station. Live and learn, lady, live and learn.”
As I stood there basking in my superior public transportation skills, Lisa told me I should check my pockets. Why? Everything’s just fi … oh crud!” (Except I didn’t say crud.) Yes, my phone also was gone.
Now, this was a great inconvenience, but the really painful thing was remembering just how many people, including the polite ticket machine in the train station, had repeatedly warned me to secure everything before getting on a train in Naples. Yeah, yeah, I hear you, whatever. I’m self-aware; I’m not at risk, blah blah blah. Pickpockets are a problem for you other people, not for me. Or so I foolishly thought.
A great theme of the New Testament is that apart from God, we can do nothing. Truly, we are lost. The problem is we don’t know we are lost, and even if we instinctively recognize the fundamental flaw in our human condition (which people throughout history have recognized), a central characteristic of this flaw is a refusal to acknowledge we can’t fix it on our own.
Even in the face of overwhelming historical, societal and personal evidence to the contrary, we still think our own wisdom is sufficient to make life work. Like my foolish choice to ignore the many voices begging me to protect my belongings in the Naples Metro (because, you know, I’m special and I don’t need your advice, thank you), we continue in the millennia-old futile struggle (often using religion) to try to overcome the single reality we cannot.
As Jesus once said, “Apart from me, you can do nothing.” If you aren’t a Christian, that may sound offensive. Trust me, as a Christian, it is offensive — but it leads to the beautiful truth of the New Testament I missed for years.
You see, God isn’t interested in me being religious or beating my head up against an impossible standard no one has ever kept. Rather, God wants me to know him. Through faith in Jesus, to listen to him. To receive life from him. Experience freedom in him. To be transformed — one surrender at a time — back into His image that was lost so long ago. To put it simply, to love him.
As I wrote last month, the chief expression of that love of God, as the New Testament cries out, will be how I love you. And just maybe, have the humility to listen to the nice ticket machine in the Naples Train Station.
Ethan Moore is pastor of Trinity Church in Edwards, and he would love to talk to you on his new phone.