Some things seem contradictory. For example, a baseball coach once said, “Half this game is ninety percent mental." Maybe you can explain that to me.
Another conundrum people have been trying to make sense of for centuries is how spiritual growth takes place. Some Scripture seems to suggest that God causes the growth, and some seems to suggest that we must do that for ourselves. Which is it?
Consider Paul’s words to the Galatian church: “Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? . . .But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (3:3, 5:22-23). Sounds like it’s all up to God, right?
Then listen to Peter’s advice to Christians: “make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive” (2 Peter 2:5-8). That sounds like it’s all up to us, right?
So, which is it? Maybe it’s both.
Consider an analogy. If you plant a garden, who makes your tomatoes grow? You plant and
water and maybe even fertilize and weed, but you really can’t make a plant grow and produce fruit. God does that. On the other hand, if you don’t do your part, you really shouldn’t go out to your yard looking for fresh tomatoes. There won’t be any. To get produce, you must plant and nurture so God can do his part.
The same is true, I think, with spiritual growth. We can’t conjure it up or make it happen by ourselves. That’s why it’s a fruit of God’s spirit. He holds the power. Yet, fruit doesn’t spring up in our lives on its own either. That’s why Peter says to “make every effort.”
Yes, there is some tension between human effort and the work of God. But tension isn’t a bad thing. Just the right amount of it and a guitar string produces a beautiful sound. Too little and you get an off key “twang”. Too much and you break a string and get nothing.
Enjoy the tension between grace and works. The pleasant tune that results is called godliness.