For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel,
“In returning and rest you shall be saved;
in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”
But you were unwilling.
Isaiah’s prophecies often focus on the unwillingness of Israel to follow the commands of God and how the nation suffers for that unwillingness. We see this in the verse above. God called the people to trust in him, but the people instead ran to Egypt for support. Though God had proved himself to the people, they still failed to believe that he would be enough to keep them safe from their enemies.
The human unwillingness to let go of our own efforts and trust the power of God extends well beyond the borders of Israel. Take a look at every single world religion outside of Christianity to see examples. All world religions except Christianity demand that people do right things in order to find blessing or favor from the deity. Christianity is the opposite. In Christianity, God commands us to stop trying to make ourselves good before him. Instead of self-effort, all we can do is fall on the mercy of God that was purchased for us through the sacrifice of Jesus.
Even within Christianity, we see people sometimes forgetting God’s call to rest in Christ. Many of us think that we were saved by grace, but then still strive to earn favor from God through our lifestyle or our spiritual efforts. Indeed, spiritual discipline is good. However, when our work toward the disciplines becomes a sort of self-effort to improve our standing before God, we are woefully inadequate. We cannot be saved by grace and then perfected through self-effort. No, both our salvation and sanctification is of God, fully to the glory of Christ.
What then do we do? Do we work or not? Yes and no. We give our all to honor God, but not for the purpose of self-perfection. Instead, we work to honor God for the joy of his glory. We work to honor God because this is what makes us happy. We work to honor God, but all the while we recognize that our best efforts, apart from the grace of Jesus, are filthy in the sight of God. But we never work thinking that our work will buy us higher standing before the God who saved us by a grace that is completely his doing.
This is almost paradoxical, I realize. But realize, Christians, that this is the very tension that Paul ran into as he preached his gospel. Some people accused Paul of antinomianism (lawlessness) because of the grace-focus of his preaching. Yet Paul did not tolerate sin in his own life. Paul worked with all his might, yet he knew that God was working in him to perfect him (Philippians 2:12-13).
So, again, what do we do? We rest in the gospel of Jesus Christ. We acknowledge that our salvation is fully by grace alone through faith alone (Ephesians 2:8-9). Then we follow God for the joy that is before us, and we honor him as we acknowledge that all good in us is from him to begin with.