Several years ago, I was introduced to the popular phrase, “Let go and Let God.” It’s popularity with the influence of social media has only increased in the last decade because it fits easily into posts, tweets, memes, or whatever the latest medium pithy quotes might fit best (t-shirts, coffee mugs, bumper stickers, etc.). In these uses, and in a wide variety of others, you’ll often find this saying used in reference to struggling through daily life issues independent of whether or not they are spiritual. For instance, it could be work/employment, financial, family/relationships all which might require the individual to simply, “Let go and Let God.”
Summarizing the origins of this phrase in his helpful overview, No Quick Fix, Andy Naselli, notes its roots may be found in the theology of Hannah Whitall Smith’s The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life, in which she provides the basis for this phrase as “entire surrender”, i.e. letting go, and “absolute faith”, i.e. letting God. Since then, circa 1885, the concept has evolved through the teachings of the Higher Life movement and Keswick theology proponents, including more recently by dispensationalism, which was heavily influenced by these aforementioned teachings. While this phrase, Let go and Let God, may sound like good advice or even a proper exercise of spiritual maturity, it is in fact wrong, misleading, and potentially dangerous.
In Hebrews chapters 3 and 4 we are introduced to the wilderness generation, i.e. those who were delivered out of Egyptian captivity by God through the leadership of Moses up to the doorstep of the Promised Land. This group is held up as an example of unfaithfulness and disobedience in their rebellion against God and His subsequent punishment of prohibition from entering the Promised Land. For more, see this post on Hebrews 3 The Builder of the House.
This is the context upon which the Author draws support for his exhortation for believers not to be like the Wilderness Generation, which fell at the hand of God’s wrath, but instead we are to strive to enter His rest
“Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.” Hebrews 4:11
The word translated in the ESV as strive, spoudazo, carries the idea of exertion or diligent effort. It’s root is also used in Hebrews 6:11, “And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end “
The word of exhortation in Hebrews 4:11 is for believers to exert themselves by faith and obedience, with a constant, diligent effort until they reach the finish line and enter God’s rest. It is an effort that is led by the Spirit, fueled by grace looking unto Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith, who has secured our victory and will bring us to the completion of our race. Nevertheless, it is an active Christian life, not a passive one. It is a Spirit-led life in which we are clothed with the armor of God and equipped to wield the sword of the Spirit with the expectation of battle.
Letting go and Letting God tells us to, “lie quietly before [God]. Open all the avenues of our being, and let Him come in and take possession of every chamber. Especially give Him your heart – the very seat of your desires, the throne of your affections. ” (Naselli, pg. 39-40) However the book of Hebrews presents a drastically different, less passive approach to our pursuit of holiness, which culminates in the finality of reaching God’s eschatological* rest.
It calls us to strive. To earnestly pursue. To diligently make it our business. There is not a letting go, there is a holding on, yet in our Christian duty to pursue Christ with a passion and mortify the deeds of the flesh we may become faint and weary, as did the Wilderness Generation. We may encounter opposition from within and persecution from without. Yet it is especially in these moments that we are exhorted to keep on believing and keep on obeying, persevering to the end. It is here that we may realize that the holding on was through no efforts of our own, but by the preserving hand of Almighty God who has held on to us every step of the way.
*eschatological – final; ultimate end.