I've been spending a lot of time in the last two weeks reflecting, meditating and studying weakness and faith, and subsequently, sanctification. I've had some enlightening and disturbing conversations with fellow believers and this morning it is all converging on me in a wave. I, as you may know, process best when I write it all out. Bear with me...
I usually associate weakness with shame, failure and renewed effort. This is unbiblical. For real. UN-BIBLICAL. Need proof?
Read Romans 8:26: "Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weakness." Footnote in ESV Reformation Study Bible says, "The Holy Spirit strengthens us in our state of weakness, of which we are constantly conscious. Perplexity as to how to pray for oneself is a universal Christian experience. Our inarticulate longings to pray properly are an indication to us that the indwelling Spirit is already helping us by interceding for us in our hearts, making requests that the Father will certainly answer."
Read I Corinthians 1:25 "For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men." Why am I even trying to do this life on my own? My best effort is foolishness.
Read II Corinthians 12:5-9 "...I will not boast, except of my weaknesses... 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong."
Read Hebrews 4:15 Christ sympathizes with us in our weakness.
Read Hebrews 5:2 He deals gently with our weakness.
I know that was a lot of reading, but I hope you read it. SLOWLY. Reading it slowly turns it from skimming to meditating.
From these passages I realize that God not only doesn't condemn our weakness, He encourages us to acknowledge it and BOAST in it.
This blows my mind. I work really hard to cover up my weaknesses. Know what happens when I do that? I am actually using my own strength to deal with my flesh. "Trying harder is attempting to add your works to the work of Christ." - World Harvest study on Grace (lesson 4.2) Yep. I do this partly because I don't want others to see it, especially those unsafe people who will use it against me. I do this because I am afraid. BUT this is rooted in the false truth that Jesus is not enough for me in that moment.
This takes me to I Corinthians 1:18-31. Do you know who God chooses to accomplish his kingdom work? Oh, I know," you say, "It's those people with degrees who have all their sh*^ together!" Nope. He chose what is foolish, what is weak, what is low and despised. So what about those people with the outward togetherness? Well. No one was more competent that Paul. He had all of his crap together... and yet... "And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling." 2 Cor 2:1-3 (emphasis mine)
So Paul set aside his gifts, his eloquence, his pride, his togetherness and it left him nauseous. Sick feeling. Shaking all over. Why?
"So your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God." 2 Cor 2:5
This brings my feverish mind to faith.
But can I first just say something? I feel a little nauseous too. I like to function out of my strength, not my weakness. I like to conquer an issue and then stand at the top of the mountain and yell for others to get it together and join me. I do not like the idea of weakness. Here I am reminded of the scene on the slopes of Mordor's Mt Doom. I am Frodo and I've done all I can. I've collapsed in weakness. Sam comes along and picks me up and carries me across his shoulders up the heated, crumbling slope. ... THIS is faith.
Faith is resting across the shoulders of my Jesus and letting him carry me to where I need to go. Francis Schaeffer calls this "active passivity." Not a sheer passivity, but an active yielding of ourselves to God. "Faith involves a choice to yield to the work of the gospel and the Spirit on our part. It is not resignation. We are called to live in dependence on God by choice, on the basis of the finished work of Christ... by faith."
In a study that I have done many times and that has been taught by many of the godliest pastors I know, there is a section called Vague Feeling/Truth. One in particular sticks in my mind. And I quote:
Vague Feeling: Justification is an act of God. Sanctification is what I do.
Truth: Sanctification grows as I focus on my justification. That focus or looking to Christ is called faith. Faith is at the very heart of my becoming holy. While justification and sanctification are two distinct concepts both are a work of grace through faith.
Go get your Bible. Imma bout to blow your mind. Turn to John 6:28-29. For real. Go do it. ...
They asked Jesus what they were supposed to be doing to be doing the works of God.
Did Jesus say tithe more? Nope. Did Jesus say go to church? No. Did Jesus say read your Bible more? NO! What did He say? Read it. Out loud.
"This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent."
Jesus said believe.
Against all appearances. Against all other hopes and strategies. Against the mounting evidence to the contrary. Believe.
And if you're having trouble believing, turn to Hebrews 11. What did those lying, cheating, adulterating, murdering, whoring sinners have in common? They believed. They believed that God loved them and chose them and set his love on them. They believed that God would raise their dead and rescue them from certain death and that God was bigger than their physical pain. They were stoned, sawn in two, flogged, mocked and imprisoned. But they also, right there in the middle of verse 34, "were made strong out of weakness."
They were losers, just like me. They screwed up, just like me. They didn't know what the heck they were doing, just like me. But they had a God. A God who chose them above all the peoples of the earth. A God who rescued them from this fallen world "so that they might rise again to a better life."
Oh my heart! Oh my soul!
He is real and He loves us.
My faith is made stronger as Paul says in 2 Cor 12:9 when, "I will boast ALL THE MORE GLADLY of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me."
The weaker I am, the bigger He is. Can you see that? Can you see what I'm talking about? If I can do all the good things, without ever feeling my weakness (aka fear and trembling) and having to depend on the indwelling Spirit, who is glorified? Me, that's who. Good job, me! The Westminster Confession says that even if we could attain to the greatest height possible in this life of good deeds we would never be able to do any more than our duty and our duty is mixed with sin and corruption. And yet... "Yet notwithstanding, the persons of believers being accepted through Christ, their good works also are accepted in him."
The Westminster Confession also says of this, "Their ability to do good works is not at all of themselves, but wholly from the Spirit of Christ." (chapter 16, section 3)
What I like to do is try harder. What we are told to do many times is to try harder. What trying harder involves is us relying on our will power to break bad habits and our gift packages to do ministry. We experience zero freedom and just manage our sin.
In his book, When Being Good Isn't Good Enough, Steve Brown wrote, "People become antinomian (wild, immoral) for the most part, not because they are rebellious or because they don't care but because they are tired. They become antinomian because they just can't keep on keeping on anymore, because they have tried and failed so many times that trying again seems pointless, because the flesh is weak and they can't deal with the guilt anymore."
I'm here to tell you that if someone, no matter what their title, leaves you feeling condemned, exhausted, joyless and frustrated, rest assured that they are not speaking the gospel of grace to you. An admonition, an exhortation, always starts with a reminder of who you are and ends with who you are, with freedom sprinkled in the middle. We are freed to obey. We are gifted with faith and our lamest attempts and best efforts are accepted because of Jesus.
I had someone ask me once, "If you teach your kids grace, what will keep them from going wild as teenagers?" This reminded me of Romans 5 and 6. Where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more! What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means!!! You know what has kept my teenagers from going wild? The same thing that has kept their momma from going wild, or from giving up - grace.
Grace alone. By faith alone.
In our 5 Solas, there are no 'by works alone'. Or 'by trying harder alone'. Or by doing our best. Or by striving.
By faith alone
By Scripture alone
Through Christ alone
By Grace alone
with GLORY to God alone.
I'll leave you with this thought. The Law of God is good. But when the Law begins to rage at you, set it aside and cling to the Cross. And go read Galatians 5:1 and repeat it to yourself over and over and over again.
More on spiritual disciplines later. Don't worry about that right now. Give yourself permission to bask in the glow of God's acceptance of you. Learn to gaze upon the face of the One who loves you. HE will add the works that He's prepared for you before the foundation of the world . Relax into his embrace.