Try Harder?


Photo by Macxbebe
Photo by Macxbebe


When I was in college, after receiving our semester grades, my best friend and I would always vow that *this* semester, we would buckle down. We would not wait until the last minute to write papers. We would not rely on all-nighters to cram for tests. We would get to class on time and not fall asleep. We would read what we were assigned in our syllabus. In essence, we would try harder.

This is sort the feeling I had in Adventism. After a convicting sermon, communion, or even a New Years Eve service, I always felt like I had a clean slate and a fresh opportunity to try harder to do what I thought pleased God. Never ever did I feel like my efforts were filthy rags. I felt that it must be the Holy Spirit prompting me to try harder.

A few weeks ago, I  was having an email conversation with a pastor in Alabama whom I have never met. We were talking about Adventism and its use of the law. He wrote, “When I talk about ‘the law’ with someone who is an Adventist, or simply a different kind of legalist, the reason that they don’t understand me isn’t because they do not understand law, per se. It is because they don’t understand grace and the desperate need for it. I’m not saying that no Adventist is saved, I’m saying that their effort to please God through rule-keeping has not yet left them in utter despair. I believe that a regenerate Adventist will eventually come to this place of despair…” In a million ways this concept has resurfaced over and over in various ways in the last few weeks.

Total depravity is the term that describes the way sin has corrupted every part of our fallen human nature. Somehow we missed this concept or glossed over it while immersed in the Adventist worldview.  Before being baptized as an SDA teenager, I don’t remember knowing, feeling or absorbing that I had been dead in sin at any point in time. I don’t ever remember feeling bad about my condition without Christ. I was a good girl (with a smart mouth, but generally a good girl). Baptism meant declaring my allegiance to the “true church,” I was also making a commitment before God and my family and friends that I would never give up trying to be good by upholding the beliefs and peculiar standards of the SDA church. I believed the Holy Spirit was available to me to empower and motivate me to keep trying harder. I could have lived the rest of my life trying to be good and feeling good about how much better I was than the year before … or how much better I was than the girl next to me in English class. That would have looked good, even to my Christian friends, but that would have been missing the point entirely. 

The law was designed to bring me to my knees and to make me recognize that the only way for any righteousness to be credited to my account was for the righteousness of Christ to be credited to me. In Adventism I never heard that the law was supposed to make me cry out for mercy. Instead, the law (meaning 10 commandments, of course) was a standard that I should, at all times, try to meet. It was also the measure by which I would be judged in the Investigative Judgement.

The law never brought me to my knees until I realized, while we studied Exodus in Bible Study Fellowship, that every day I was falling short of several of these beloved commandments. Previously, I had felt pretty good that I had not murdered or stolen (I once went out of my way to return three pennies of incorrect change I’d been given). I thought “God’s glorious standard” was reachable…with His help, of course. I don’t think I’m the only one who thought this way. Can you relate?

Sometimes, when talking about grace with those who feel indebted and committed to the law, we skip the reality of total depravity.  It’s a HUGE point we cannot afford to overlook in these conversations. Even good moral people (by society’s standards) are in desperate need of a Savior. There’s nothing more powerful and more real than what society would consider to be a “good person” recognizing her depraved state and recognizing her need for a Savior. The new person that emerges from the new birth is not just an old person who is motivated to buckle down and try harder. This new person is a new creation, one whose debt has been paid, one with Christ living His life through her. This person is free from the threat of condemnation (Romans 8:1), not obligated to the law (Galatians 5:18), and free to do the things He planned for us long ago (Ephesians 2:10). 

So, I ask you, conscientious, law-abiding, rule-keeping church member, “Do you understand your desperate need for a Savior? Does God’s law make you feel utter despair or simply motivate you to try harder and buckle down and do better? On your best day, do you still see the need for unmerited favor?”

[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’][/author_image] [author_info]Delina Pryce McPhaull is a Christ-follower, wife, mother of 3 young children and a writer. Delina and her husband Ben, a licensed minister, co-founded Quarterlife Ministries to encourage, equip and inspire young adults (quarterlifers) to get grounded in the Word. She writes regularly on her blog, and hosts webinars for Former Adventists at[/author_info] [/author] 

Delina McPhaull

Delina McPhaull

Delina Pryce McPhaull is a Christ-follower, wife, mother of 3 young children and a writer. She writes at her blog,
Delina McPhaull

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One comment

  1. Delina, I just want to say I completely agree with you above. Unless we admit our depravity and our need of a Savior who is completely our Substitute, we cannot grasp the gospel. You are absolutely correct. Thank you!

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