After God moved mightily in our church 2006, I noticed that some people tried to get right, or stay right with God, through their own human effort. They put pressure on themselves to perform well enough to be acceptable to God. I believe this kept people from experiencing the full lasting impact of the Lord’s visitation.
What we sometimes fail to appreciate and appropriate is this: for those of us who are genuinely born again, we are already accepted. The mercy we have received sets us free from striving to be “good enough” for God and
serves as motivation to live a holy life. We live a godly life as a grateful response to our right standing with God which we have received through our faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection. As Paul puts it:
“Therefore I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices holy and pleasing to God which is your spiritual worship”
Imagine that you are a gifted basketball player trying out for the U.S. Olympic team. As coaches evaluate you during practice sessions, you feel a great deal of pressure to perform well. You try hard to make every shot, move without the ball, crash the boards, pass to the open player, block out on rebounds, stay with the person you are guarding, etc. You give it your best effort to earn a spot on the team.
Many in the church are living their spiritual life in this way: pressuring themselves to live good enough to be acceptable to God.
Now imagine that you have already been selected to be an Olympian. During practice you still want to play hard and play well but for a different reason. You are grateful to be on the team and want to express your gratitude by giving maximum effort. Furthermore, you want to represent your country well.
Likewise, as Christians we are grateful to be part of the family of God and we show our gratitude by abandoning ourselves to God and His purposes. Our love for the Lord also motivates us to represent Him well.
The effort to live righteous lives due to self-reliance rather than reliance on God leads to frustration and failure. Peter states:
“If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ”
(1 Peter 4:11).
Living for Christ is not just a matter of knowing what is righteous but tapping into the power that enables us to live righteously. The good news is that God’s Word promises believers a new nature and access to resurrection power (Eph. 1:18-21). This is the difference between serving in our own strength versus serving in the strength God supplies.
I taught kindergarten for seven years. One of my instructional goals was to teach children to write the letters of the alphabet. Over and over again, and in a variety of ways, I had my students do exercises that taught them what each letter looked like. They wrote letters in little cardboard sandboxes, made their bodies into the shape of letters, made Playdough letters, etc. When the letters they wrote did not look right, I had them examine the real letter so that they would know exactly what it looked like.
After years of this kind of instruction I discovered something that changed my perspective. I was fooling around one evening at home experimenting with left-handed writing. The letters I produced with my non-dominant left hand looked very much like the kindergartners’ handwriting that I had so often tried to get the students to improve upon.
Failure to know what the letters looked like was not the reason I was unable to duplicate them with my left hand. I knew exactly what they looked like. The problem was that my left hand was not capable of making perfect copies. It dawned on me that the kindergartners’ handwriting problems were not caused by the lack of letter recognition but by their lack of motor skills.
Their young hand wrote like my left hand.
The parallel in the Christian life is this:
It is not enough to know what God’s standards are. We also need the power to carry them out. And He has promised us the enabling power we need. Peter wrote,
“His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness
” (2 Peter 1:3). And Paul wrote,
“…it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose
We can rely on that divine power rather than on our own resources as we seek to live righteously in response to the mercy He has shown us by accepting us into His family.
Have you ceased trying to earn God’s approval by being good enough? Have you received the acceptance that is yours in Christ? Does that motivate you to holy living? Are you living in dependence upon the strength that God provides as opposed to your own strength?
Copyright Ed Skipper 2013
For more information about Ed’s ministry, to listen to him speak or to contact him about speaking to your group, visit heartofrevival.net.