Because we live in decadent times, with a lot of wealth and food and entertainment, right on schedule, humanistic gurus show up on the scene to tell you how to get your life in order. There are the personal trainers, the body builders, the health and nutrition high priests, the how-to read a hundred books, how to have personal disciplines, how to schedule your week, your month, your decade, and there are of course many practical tips and ideas that can be really useful. We also believe that our bodies and our time are gifts from the Lord to be redeemed, to maximize the good we do for the glory of Christ. Self-discipline is one of the fruits of the Spirit, and godly ambition is a holy zeal. We should want to echo Paul’s astonishment in his work for the gospel: I worked harder than all the other apostles.
But it must be fixed in our hearts and minds that the real powerhouse of discipline, productivity, and ambition is not human wisdom, is not the perfect schedule, is not mental exercises and gimmicks, or personal rewards or punishments. The real powerhouse of self-discipline, productivity, and zealous ambition is grace. This is what Paul says, “I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me” (1 Cor. 15:10). The secret to success is grace. But when you hear that, it’s tempting to think: so that means don’t try harder? Don’t work harder? Don’t schedule anything? How does grace actually make you work harder? How does grace make you more productive, more zealous and ambitious?
Part of our problem is that we don’t really understand grace. We think God’s grace is this weak and flimsy thing. But the grace of God is the bloody cross of His beloved Son Jesus. The grace of God is potent. The grace of God – His mercy, His kindness, His favor, His blessing – is powerful. If your human effort is you jumping into the air, God’s grace is the rocket ship that carries you to the moon. This is why when Paul says to work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, He immediately adds: for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Paul isn’t saying, so jump harder. God’s grace is God working in you, and when you do the work that God is working, it’s His power doing it. And that’s why grace is the most powerful force, the most potent force for self-discipline, for productivity, for zealous ambition. It was the grace of God that drove Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, and to the cross, and out the other side of death.