Jesus answered, "The work of God is this: to believe in the One He has sent."
All the trying to clean up, cover up, and measure up, and it still comes down to that. "To believe in the One He has sent."
Something in me, some deceived, self-important part, wants it to be more than that. It can't be that simple, or that easy, or that hard. Aren't the works God requires obedience and humility, justice and mercy? Can't I please Him, draw near to Him by these beautiful but abstract ideas, by doing good for my fellow man, by denying myself and cleaning up my life?
He comes first. The rest, though vitally important, come after. If I reverse this, compassion and wisdom and goodness are still about me. The soil of my own righteouness cannot support the Tree of Life, the water of my own love cannot sustain it. It may look ready to bear figs, but a closer inspection reveals they are nowhere to be found. All such trees must wither and die, else they remain deceptive and we remain hungry. This is the only way.
Early in the morning, as He was on His way back to the city, He was hungry. Seeing a fig tree on the road, He went up to it, but found nothing on it except leaves. Then He said to it, "May you never bear fruit again!" Immediately the tree withered.
"The work of God is this: to believe in the One He has sent"— not just in His majesty, but also on His cross. We do not truly believe in the crown upon His head until we believe in the towel He wrapped around His waist. He is the suffering servant of Isaiah: by His wounds we are healed. Just as we cannot take away the glory of His sovereignty, we dare not take away the glory of His servanthood and suffering. This is what Peter struggled with, and he is not alone. It makes the gospel scandalous and offensive, ridiculous and foolish, and wholly true. This is love, and He must be its suffering source.
I know this is the question. You know this is the answer.
He came to Simon Peter, who said to Him, "Lord, are you going to wash my feet?"
Jesus replied, "You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand."
"No," said Peter, "You shall never wash my feet."
Jesus answered, "Unless I wash you, you have no part with Me."