Why Trying to be a Christian Doesn’t Work
When I was a young buck I loved to play basketball. I breathed basketball. ‘Obsessed’ would not be a word too strong. Unfortunately, I was a short guy playing a tall man’s sport. At 5’9”, I was unable to achieve a lot of my goals. I was never the leading rebounder. I was never able to dunk the basketball and after severely injuring my left ankle at age 16 I was never able to grab the rim. It wasn’t because I didn’t try. I jumped and I jumped and I jumped. I told myself over and over just jump higher and you will finally do it, but no amount of effort could overcome the physical limitations that bound me.
I also learned the futility of self-effort in my spiritual life. A Christian is naturally filled with a desire to be Christ-like. But this Christ-like nature cannot be achieved through self-effort. It is especially troubling to watch young Christians who have not yet learned this valuable lesson. They are so sincere in their attempt to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. Many fail to understanding the full plan of salvation of the human soul. Yes, he died and he arose so that we might have life. But there is more, He lives so that he might live through us. Our sanctification is a preparation of the soul so that not only might we have life, but that we might experience a more abundant life, indeed, the very life of Christ living through us.
Christ calls on us to live through him just as he lived through the Father when he took on human flesh. This may be difficult to absorb but read carefully the words of Jesus. “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” (John 5:19) Jesus, in his humanity, never succumbed to the temptation to be self-sufficient. He leaned, not just heavily but entirely, on the Father for all that he said and did. Christ was the vessel containing the Living Water through which God carried himself to fallen man.
Jesus said, “For I sanctify myself that they too may be truly sanctified.” (John 17:19) This doesn’t refer to the cleansing of a sinful nature. Christ knew no sin. This means that he was consecrated to the will of his Father. He was totally and utterly dependent upon him. He is teaching us that we are too weak and frail to accomplish anything in our own effort. There is no hope whatsoever that we will ever be able to grab the rim unless he fills us with his strength, unless our feeble efforts are replaced by a trust in him to do something miraculous through us.
Jesus’ life and ministry would have been an utter failure had he tried to perform in his own strength. He always called upon the Father for wisdom, strength and stamina. He teaches us through his example that we are utterly helpless when we lean upon our own strength. Jesus chose beautiful prose to explain this, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)
Just as Christ needed the Father we need the Son. We are nothing. We are capable of nothing and we have no purpose without Christ. Christ alone provides meaning for our lives. What was the Father able to do through the Son? We have yet to see the infinite amount that he has done. What might the Son do through us? There is no limit if we would remove doubt and disobedience.
How might we experience this fullness of his indwelling? There is no need to get too complicated here. “The just shall live by faith.” (Romans 1:17) It is this simple faith that pulls us up out of the muck of doubt. It is faith that gives us boldness when asked to perform a task we know would be impossible for us without the indwelling Christ. It is faith that brings light to our dark days. That restores sweetness to our lives when they are poisoned with bitterness.
Have you ever seen anyone suffer more than you thought a person could endure? Several examples come to mind. When I attended a Bible College in eastern Kentucky I was astonished at the spiritual depth of some of my elderly instructors. I wanted so much to experience the depth in Christ that they experienced. But I was astonished when I discovered what some of these Christian warriors had been through.
Ms. Nettie Myers comes to mind. She was a young teacher there at the fledgling school in the beginning of the last century. A flash flood swept through the ‘hollow’ where she and her family lived. Thirty feet of water swept the whole family downstream. Her husband and all her sons perished and she alone survived. It was a tragedy many struggle to explain. But the miracle was yet to follow. Ms. Myers harbored no bitterness. She invited Christ to indwell within her and was thus enabled to live out a long and happy life saturated with the sweetness of Christ.
Have you come upon a problem in your life that seems to have no solution? Is there a situation that seems only to bring you misery? Is your life a darkness yearning for light, a bitterness yearning for sweetness?
I bought a Hyosung scooter a couple years ago because it gives me nearly 70 miles to a gallon. Imagine how foolish it would be were I to buy the scooter and push it everywhere I go. I could save a lot of gas money but the effort would kill me.
When we as Christians have been redeemed by the blood of Christ, he imparts unto us his Spirit. In a sense, he puts within us an engine. How foolish we are when we spend our own effort in an attempt to achieve a certain level of Christianity. We will never reach our goal. The effort will destroy us. But, if we use the engine within, if we draw on the power of the Indwelling Spirit we will discover that we “can do all things through Christ which strengthens us.” (Philippians 4:13)