It is an exceedingly beautiful and wondrous paradox: that the sovereign God of the universe has called us not unto blind, rote, or automatic conformity with His will, but unto willing obedience and submission to His will.
The animals, who live purely by instinct, display behavior that is sometimes consistent with God's original design, sometimes consistent rather with the fallenness of this present creation. But it is exclusively man who is held accountable by God for his own behavior. Thus, the will of man is clearly involved in his walk with God, for it is our will which God would touch, not only our nature. The latter, He could change by force in a moment, simply by sovereign decree. Yet He does not, for there is something deeper which He seeks in us.
Learn to do what is good. Seek justice. Correct the oppressor. Defend the rights of the fatherless. Plead the widow’s cause.
“Come, let us discuss this,” says the Lord . “Though your sins are like scarlet, they will be as white as snow; though they are as red as crimson, they will be like wool.
If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the good things of the land. But if you refuse and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.” For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
—Isaiah 1:17-20 HCSB
Yet we cannot escape the words of Jesus:
"No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him, and I will raise him up on the last day. It is written in the Prophets: And they will all be taught by God. Everyone who has listened to and learned from the Father comes to Me."
— John 6:44-45 HCSB
The paradox is this: that God calls on us to will ourselves to do His will, yet we cannot, will not, and shall not do so apart from His calling and enabling.
I love this paradox, because it points so clearly to the ultimate supremacy and mangnificence of our God and His Son, our Savior! I cannot explain it. No theologian can explain it. But those who cannot embrace it—those who object to the paradox on some superficial logical or moral grounds—not only do so to their own peril, but further elucidate their own smallness before the infinite God who created them.
So the question is not one of our capability, but one of our willingness. In other words, God is not requiring that we be capable of doing His will—of being godly—for we are clearly not capable, by ourselves. Rather, God is requiring that we be willing to do His will, that's all. And then, with His help, we become capable. For it is a futile effort to aspire to godliness in our own strength. Think about it: one does only good, as best he can, all his life, and then… he dies! The whole effort is pretty stupid when you think about it… "I'm gonna spend my entire life striving to do only good, so that at my funeral people will give testimony to what a good person I was…" In what kind of future are we therein investing? We're dead, folks! Will we, in the grave, enjoy the accolades of man? Last time I checked, dead guys don't enjoy stuff, because they're dead. So why do we fall for this?
My answer: because we each (if only secretly) want to be god. In our pride, we want to be the self-made man. We want it to go on record that we recognized right from wrong, and chose right over wrong. This desire is not purely evil in and of itself, for it is indicative of an aspiration toward righteousness. The problem is that it requires no humility—specifically the humility of recognizing that we ourselves are not the author of righteousness; we do not define virtue; no matter how good we are, there remain those bad parts of our character. There is a standard to which we can never measure up, no matter how long or how hard we try. And Jesus Christ is that standard.
This is why it only makes sense that, since Christ offers us the imputation of His own righteousness, we should humbly acquiesce. We should set our pride aside, admit that we are incapable of attaining righteousness apart from God's assistance, and answer His call. And God's call is not a call to performance, but a call to willingness. He provides the performance. And of course, true humility derives from our recognition that it is only by God's grace and sovereign election that we ever heard His call in the first place.
I love this paradox, which cannot be solved by human logic. Yet I find it to be entirely reasonable when I consider that God is god, and I am not.
"Come now, and let us reason together," says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they will be as white as snow; though they are as red as crimson, they will be like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the good things of the land. But if you refuse and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.”
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken
Stop trying to be good in your own strength, my friends! Cling, instead, to the Cross of Christ: the source of goodness and righteousness made available to us through His sacrificial death and ressurrection!