Thursday, June 16, 2011

Independence or Complete Dependence

We all have been born believing a lie. By default we think that we can do things on our own and that we do not need God's enablement. In a sense this was part of the temptation that led to the Fall. The serpent promised Eve that if she ate of the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, then she would be like God, knowing good and evil (Genesis 3:5). She would no longer need to rely on God to determine what was good or evil for her. She would be like Him and know it herself. One of the biggest sins in the church today is that of self-sufficiency; the idea that we can do things on our own without God. We struggle with this sin even after we are saved. Well meaning pastors have stated that "God helps those who help themselves" or "you need to put forth some effort so that God has something to work with." The problem with these statements are that they both are unbiblical. The Bible consistently shows that we cannot be as independent as we think we should be but instead must constantly be dependent upon God and His grace.

Jesus told His disciples that apart from Me you can do nothing (John 15:5). No one can bear spiritual fruit unless they abide in Christ. Jesus did not say that apart from Me you can do a little or some. Instead, He said nothing. In fact, the Greek uses a double negative to communicate this. Literally Jesus says that apart from Me you cannot do nothing. We need to be fully dependent on Christ in order for any fruit to bear in our lives. It is not up to us but we need Him.

The Apostle Paul recognized that all of the ministry that he did was not a result of his work but God's instead. He tells the church at Corinth that But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me (1 Corinthians 15:10). He points out that it was not he who labored but the grace of God. Paul knew that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh (Romans 7:18). The very reason that he could labor more than all of the others was due to God's grace and not any intrinsic effort that he exerted. I think Paul indicates here that his labor was fully dependent on God's grace to be effective. In fact, after giving us a list of instructions on how to live the Christian life in 1 Thessalonians 5:12-22, Paul then prays that Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ (v. 23). The ability to be obedient to these commands that he gave must come from God. If we had the ability to "sanctify" ourselves and live out these commands to please God, then Paul would not have needed to pray that God Himself would sanctify you entirely. He recognized that we need God to bring us every step of the way in our salvation, from our initial justification through our progressive sanctification to our future glorification. We cannot make it on our own but must be utterly dependent upon Him.

Any work that we do to progress in our sanctification cannot be done without God's divine work through us. Paul commands us in Philippians 2:12 to work out your salvation with fear and trembling. Then in the next verse he informs us that it is really God who works through us so that we can live out this command: for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure (v. 13). We can only work because God is working. Verse 12 cannot be a reality in our lives unless verse 13 is a reality. We are fully dependent upon God for our growth in grace and righteousness. We are not self-sufficient but utterly dependent. Augustine realized this when he wrote the following prayer in his autobiography: "Command what you will and give what you command." He asked God to command for him to do whatever He wished but also that He would give what is necessary to be obedient to that command. He realized that he could not be obedient to any of God's commands without God's grace. He knew that he was utterly dependent upon God.

What about you? Are you trying to live your life independently or relying on God every step of the way. The old hymn is true that "we need thee every hour." In fact, we need thee every second. Perhaps some of your problems and struggles right now are due to the fact that you are trying to handle something on your own instead of seeking God for His strength and grace to do whatever it may be. We cannot live this life on our own. We were made dependent creatures and must remain dependent upon our Creator. Let's quit believing the age old lie that we can do it ourselves and instead be completely dependent upon God for everything!

In Christ,
Soli Deo Gloria!!!