Have you ever read the familiar verse, “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10) and wondered: Well, how, then do I manage my chaotic life, my disobedient children, or that project at work that my boss expects me to complete if I want to receive a promotion. Does “cease striving” (as the New American Standard translation reads) mean that I just take a day off, and stop trying to do my best?
How do weary Christ-followers live in the reality of a demanding world? If God desires that I trust him, and cease striving, what does that really mean?
If you’ve spent any time in the epistles—letters written by disciples in the New Testament—you may have noticed a pattern. In conveying important instructions, exhortations, and reminders to the young churches learning to live out their faith as a community, these letters all began with clear reminders of biblical truth…clear reminders of who God is and who they are in Christ, because of God’s grace.
The reader would’ve already known the gospel, but Paul, for example, who wrote the letter to the Colossians, waited to give instructions on how to do the Christian life until after he realigned the reader with the truth of Christ and redemption. Why? Why was it so important for him to repeat himself, to restate what should’ve been obvious and already known?
Well, I think because we so easily forget who we belong to, forget who our Father is, forget what he’s done for us. Because we get out of alignment and so easily turn to striving in our own strength in order to face the demands of our everyday lives.
The epistle writers reminded us of all these things because it’s easy to fall back into a pattern of striving for grace rather than striving in grace. You see, without being firmly planted in the truths of God’s redemption and our identity in him, we’d easily wander into trying to succeed in the Christian life by my own means, rather than God’s. When God says for us to “be still and know that [He] is God,” it’s not because he desires for us to do nothing, but because he’s created us to do all things from the overflow of a life that knows God as Rescuer, Redeemer, and Trustworthy King.
So when we read in Colossians 2:6–7:
“Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.”
…we know that the “therefore” points back to all that we remember about what God has done for us.
I love imagining Paul as he wrote this letter, pausing after all the glorious truths he’s written —-about who we once were as sinners and how the grace of God rescues us— and he gets to this part of the letter and he’s asking himself, “So what? So what do I want my readers to grasp in response to all this good news?”
He chooses the words, “so walk in Him.”
He doesn’t say,
“so, feel good about yourself.”
“so, give yourself a break!”
“so, just relax.”
No, he tells us to actively live and go forth as we believe. He tells believers to strive IN GRACE.
Striving in our own strength is, in essence: straining and anxiously toiling to achieve or secure what we don’t truly trust God to provide.
As a recovering striver myself, I can appreciate the distinction Paul makes here. Striving out of scarcity, fear, self-preservation, and distrust of God’s purposes for your life is not the same as striving from the grace that frees us.
What kind of good works are we freed then to do from a place of grace?
Well, Paul’s about to tell them in Colossians 3:12-15:
“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.”
Sounds similar to the fruit of the Spirit Paul teaches to the churches in Galatia in Galatians 5:22-24, which says:
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”
God’s grace through Christ, relieved us of the burden of sin, and our continual striving to perform our way to acceptance in Him. This newfound freedom that measures us by Christ’s perfect righteousness and not our own merit is the same freedom that we now use to serve others.
We aren’t saved by good works. We are saved to good works in love. We can strive in grace.
In the same way that an apple tree will never bear oranges, even if you were to dangle some from its branches, so it is that a self-striving person —no matter how gifted or kind— will never bear the fruit of genuine good works in Christ if not rooted in grace.
Friend, if you, too, are a recovering self-striver who is discovering how to strive in grace rather than your own strength, hear Jesus’s invitation to me and to you:
“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.” John 15:4
Friend, grace replaces striving with abiding. Apart from Jesus, we can do nothing. You can “cease striving” today, because of Christ —because of grace. When we consider all that he’s done to rescue us from sin and brokenness, we don’t dare try and produce through striving; instead, we overflow in praise and thanksgiving…and strive in grace.
Ruth Chou Simons is a Wall Street Journal bestselling and award-winning author of several books, including GraceLaced, Beholding and Becoming, and Foundations. Her first Bible study curriculum, TruthFilled, released in 2020. She is an artist, entrepreneur, and speaker who uses each of these platforms to spiritually sow the Word of God into people’s hearts. Through her online shoppe at GraceLaced.com and her social media community, Simons shares her journey of God’s grace intersecting daily life with word and art. Ruth and her husband, Troy, are grateful parents to six boys–their greatest adventure.