Many denominations are very emphatic in telling us all the things that are necessary yet impossible for us “on our own” or “apart from God”, such as believing or repenting or doing anything truly good. All these things, they stress, are possible only by the grace of God.
To which I usually reply that we cannot even so much as breathe or digest our food apart from the grace of God. That is, these people are not wrong about this, they’re just attacking a straw man. Why is it a straw man? Because there simply is no such thing as “on our own” or “apart from God” or “by my own strength”.
God does not, ever, literally desert anyone. Anyone. He pursues us wherever we go, even to the depths of hell.
Whither shall I go from Your spirit?
Or whether shall I flee from Your presence?
If I ascend up into heaven, You are there:
If I make my bed in hell, behold, You.
If I take the wings of the morning
And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea;
Even there shall Your hand lead me,
And Your right hand shall hold me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,”
Even the night shall be light about me.
Some people still think God abandons people, and for evidence, they quote verses such as Romans 1:24-26, which twice says, “God gave them up…” But this doesn’t mean He turns against anyone; it means He let them have their own way when they insisted; He did not force Himself upon people, precisely because He is unfailingly good to one and all.
God is not the Celestial Prig Who cannot tolerate proximity to sinners. That is why Jesus did not scorn the company of sinners, but actively sought out the demon-possessed, the traitors, the prostitutes, the cheats. God is not tainted by the presence of sinners; instead, the reverse: sinners are sanctified in His Presence.
God is often alleged to have abandoned Christ as He hung on the Cross – just at the climax of His faith, obedience, and love! – and Psalm 22:1 is cited in support of this idea. Read further if you believe it. Check out verse 24 of that same Psalm. It didn’t happen.
If you are searching for a gracious God, know that God is always gracious, and to everybody. The Lord taught us, “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and you shall be the children of the Highest: for He is kind to the unthankful and [to] the evil.” He is kind, unfailingly kind. He does not hope for any return, for Himself, upon His kindness.
He never leaves us to our own strength, never leaves us entirely on our own, although He does allow us, so to speak, a very long leash. And that’s why everyone can breathe, everyone can digest his food, and everyone can believe in Him when given a genuine opportunity.
Certain things, however, do remain which we cannot do apart from Christian faith.
Like love our enemies
or know ourselves as we really are
or have hope that does not end in the grave
or become deified
or, well, any of the things that matter to us most.