Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”
Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” John 6:28-29
This is the work God requires: to believe. This statement does not make sense. Work and belief are in two different realms, and Jesus puts them together here. One is the other. The people would have been scratching their heads over this one. We still are.
We understand work as work, especially when it comes to us and God. This is the way we all start out. We come to God wanting to know what He wants us to do. What does He expect of us? Different religions have different approaches to this, but they all operate pretty much on the same basis. Just tell us what to do, and we’ll do it. This is what we assume religion is. Religion is you and I doing what God requires. That is why the people asked Him this question.
And even when we should know better — we hear Jesus talking about believing. We think we know what He means. But the concept of working to please God is so engrained in us that we cannot shake it. As Brennan Manning used to say, “We ‘should’ on ourselves constantly.” As good Christians, we “should” do this, and we “should” do that.
We go to church, we read our Bibles, we pray, we attend Bible studies and seminars, we sing in the worship band, we teach Sunday school, we become a deacon or deaconess, we tithe, we serve on committees, we volunteer with the youth group, we go on mission trips, we have our daily devotions, we give to the poor, we read Christian books, and there’s no end to this list.
Wow … are we ever working the works of God! Who could question our salvation or our dedication? Who could ever bring a charge against us? But here’s the real question: Do we believe? Have we done all these things by working or by believing? How can you tell? Well, if you’ve done all these things by working, you’ll be very tired — maybe even burnt out. If you’ve done all these things be believing, you’ll be energized, because God did them through you. You just showed up. You’re going along for the ride, and what a ride it is!
So why do we keep slipping back? Because we want to know. We want to be in charge. We want something we can track. We want to prove to ourselves and to others that we are doing it right. We want a standard we can measure.
So just like the crowd around Jesus, we ask the same question: what must we do to work the works of God? To which Jesus replies, as He did then, to believe in the one He has sent.