Christianity 201

August 20, 2019

Natural Abilities versus God-Given Strength

Today we’re back again at Biblical Diagnosis. I chose to go back a few months for this one which is a reminder of something we know but often forget. If you are married, I’ve included a link to this excellent article; for today’s reading here, click the header below.

No Confidence in the Flesh

Friends, it is astonishing to see just how anti-biblical some of the deeply held beliefs in our societies are. And it is even more troubling when we see that they are deeply held even by our own Christian brothers.

Take for instance, the notion that we need to believe in ourselves.

This commonly accepted belief takes many forms: We need to have faith in ourselves. We can do anything that we put our minds to. We have amazing potential that just needs to be unleashed. These are just some of the ways this belief is expressed.

We see this belief applied in every domain of our lives, all geared toward some “betterment” of ourselves, our loved ones or our community, whether it be physical fitness, career advancement, or wealth generation.

But look at how the Apostle Paul expresses one of the defining characteristics of Christ’s followers:

Philippians 3:3 – …we are the circumcision, the ones who worship by the Spirit of God, boast in Christ Jesus, and do not put confidence in the flesh

The statement…do not put confidence in the flesh…refers to the fact that Christians should believe that they are incapable of doing anything worthy of anything by themselves, through some form of inner ability that – as being widely believed today – all of us may possess (what the Scripture calls the flesh).

Romans 7:18For I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh. For the desire to do what is good is with me, but there is no ability to do it.

This statement is perhaps even more troubling and echoes the sentiment of Philippians 3. Paul said that nothing good lives in him. It is incongruent to both believe that nothing good lives in you and at the same time believe that you have within you what it takes to accomplish anything worthy.

Now, you may at this point read these and call to mind the countless stories of success (your own, or of others) which attest to the contrary: Evidences which prove that indeed we have within ourselves the ability to accomplish whatever we put our minds into.

Romans 3:4…Let God be true, even though everyone is a liar

Man does indeed have an inner ability, but it is not to do anything good

How we do reconcile what the scripture says with the countless evidences which seem to affirm the opposite of what God says?

I submit to you that one may find the answer – among other places – in Romans 7:18 we just read.

Romans 7:18For I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh. For the desire to do what is good is with me, but there is no ability to do it.

Whatever we can accomplish through the strength of our will, our inner strength (however that ability is labeled) is not good.

But what is “good”?

GOD defines what is good (unless we want to define for ourselves what is good, at which point we have made of ourselves our own God). And only things that can be accomplished through Him and Him alone are considered good. Everything else is not good.

Hence we may say, that if one desires to satisfy the passions of his flesh, he indeed has the ability to do so within himself, for his flesh is inside him. But the one who desires to do anything that is good – and hence, pleasing to God – is incapable to do so but with the help of God Himself.

Should we therefore hold onto the belief that we can do anything we put our minds to?

No, we run away from it, for that mentality only promotes the flesh, and its sinful desires, no matter holy those desires may portray themselves. Just think of the Galatians who thought it a good thing to circumcise themselves (Galatians 3:1-5).

And this applies to ALL of our aspirations in life. No matter how noble and right they might appear. If we are able to attain to them through our own strength, then we ought to know that they were nothing more than the sinful desires of our flesh.

In me dwells no good thing. I place no confidence in my flesh. I am incapable of doing anything that is good, for myself, my children or my community. I am wretched and miserable, destitute.  

Romans 7:24What a wretched man I am!

We should truly believe in our utter destitution so that we may truly believe in our utter dependence on God.

Only with the profound belief that we are destitute and incapable of doing anything good for ourselves or anyone will we cherish and hold onto our dependence on GOD, THROUGH WHOM WE CAN DO EVERYTHING THAT IS GOOD.

Philippians 4:13I am able to do all things through him who strengthens me.

May the Spirit of Christ ministers to you the Word of Truth, for the glory of His own Name.

Again, if you are married, be sure to check out this article. I know we have readers who are single, separated, widowed, etc., and I don’t like to exclude people in what’s presented here, so I try not to include too many marriage-themed items.

March 1, 2015

Self Evaluation

James MacDonaldAs I read today’s thoughts by Harvest Bible Chapel pastor and Walk in the Word host James MacDonald, I was reminded of those times in school when the teacher would allow you to mark your own paper. That is what God asks you do in the various verses of scripture highlighted below.  To read this at source at James MacDonald’s blog, and then have an opportunity to look around at other articles and available resources, click the title below.

Revive Your Soul through Self-Examination

I confess to a little ‘blogger’s block’ the past few weeks, at least in part due to my own grieving over the fall, failure, fallout, and firestorm about men formerly in ministry who are very dear to me personally. In the past two years, I count 6 or 7 . . . wow, wow, wow. Knowing their backstories provokes my heart to greater mercy than those who only think they know. But I don’t have a single word of critique about others on any side of any battle, not in public at least. I can say this for sure: Men, for the most part, are far more stricken with self doubt and awareness of their own sinful flaws than ever seems to reach the public awareness. Further, those who have failed in significant ways often come to a new and deeper awareness of their need for daily grace and the importance, above all, of extending that grace to others. Oswald Chambers has rightly said, “I will never despair of any man, when I rightly discern what lies in me apart from the grace of God.”But that is an incredible hardship, “rightly discerning what lies in me.” If we were better at the discipline of personal reflection and confession, we would be better men for Christ and His church. Where this discipline is neglected, we grow in pride and presumption. Worst of all we grow in self-righteous oblivion about our own condition. As ministers of the gospel, we need frequent personal detox. We need time to cultivate our own souls and revive the authenticity of our own relationship with Christ. From Isaiah’s “unclean lips” (Isaiah 6:5), to Peter’s “Depart from me, O Lord, for I am a sinful man” (Luke 5:8), to John’s “When I saw the Lord, I fell at his feet as though dead” (Revelation 1:17), all genuine contact with our Creator Christ initially produces an immense sense of personal sin.

How long has it been since you had tears of conviction about yourself, instead of the sorry substitute of self-righteous superiority over others? How long since you were truly grieved by an accurate assessment of the actual condition of your soul in God’s eyes? When rejoicing in our positional standing of ‘declared and treated as righteous’ through faith in Christ impairs our comprehension of here-and-now stalled sanctification, we can be sure that hyper grace has found a home in our hearts. As Tozer said, “A man can believe in total depravity and never have any sense of it for himself at all. Lots of us believe in total depravity who have never been wounded with the knowledge that we’ve sinned.” What an incredible insight. To get there, to get to accurate self-examination that dismantles self-righteousness and elevates afresh our reveling in grace for self and others, we need three things: 1) attention to the voice of conscience; 2) listening for Holy Spirit conviction through the Scriptures; and 3) insight from a trusted friend who knows us well and observes us frequently.

1) Attention to the voice of conscience.

To harness the directives of a biblically-informed conscience, defined by Hobbes as the soul gazing upon itself, we must search our own hearts and confess our own sins. But what exactly am I gazing upon? What can I do so I don’t just sit still in feigned spirituality and let my mind wander? I find it helpful to pray in four areas, with my Bible and journal open and a pen in hand.

a) Look up. I turn to God in His Word, which is a mirror, and get down on my knees in prayer, centering my life back on the Lord. b) Look back. Where have I been this week? And this month? What failures should I confess as sin and forsake? What priorities have been lost that must be regathered with focus and emphasis? c) Look around. Who am I neglecting? Who have I hurt? Who has needs I should be meeting? I’m not alone in this world. Other people matter to God and they should matter to me, too. d) Look ahead.  What’s up ahead? How should I be different? How can I make it so? What is important that has been neglected? What’s unimportant that has had my attention?

2) Listening for Holy Spirit conviction through the Scriptures.

Recognizing the deceitful nature of my own heart, I would never allow the foolishness of thinking, I don’t see anything wrong in my actions or attitudes. To get beyond our lack of self-awareness, we invite the Holy Spirit to engage with us about matters our conscience is blind to. “Search me oh God, and know my heart. Try me and know my anxious thoughts, see if there be any wicked way in me” (Psalm 139:23-24). “The Spirit bears witness with our Spirit, that we are the children of God” (Romans 8:16), and “As many as are led by the Spirit of God these are the sons of God” (Romans 8:14). It is interesting to me that those who decry the personal ministry of the Holy Spirit in speaking to us are often those most apparently in need of that work. Oh, Holy Spirit come now and convict me of sin (the things I have done and the attitudes I have allowed which grieve your heart), of righteousness (Your holy standard revealed in Your Word), and the judgement to come (the reality of my pending accountability) (John 16:8).

3) Insight from a trusted friend who knows us well and observes us frequently.

All ministry of the Holy Spirit to us as individuals remains in the category of the subjective. To truly examine ourselves, we must seek a final quality check of our self-examination through the counsel of a trusted friend. Even the apostle Paul said, “I know nothing against myself, but I am not justified by this” (1 Corinthians 4:4). Paul was aware, as we must be, that claiming to be without fault simply because we are not aware of any is akin to “I see, said the blind man.”  “Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future” (Proverbs 19:20). “Oil and perfume make the heart glad, and the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel” (Proverbs 27:9). When a friend who knows us well is assured of our intention to listen without rebuttal and embrace their counsel without hesitation, we are in a position to learn what we are blind to and score big gains in progressive sanctification. When that happens, everyone wins—our spouses, our kids, our ministry partners, our congregants. Most of all, the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.

“But let a man examine himself” (1 Corinthians 11:28). Someone has said “the unexamined life is not worth living.” I was going to look up the source of that quote, but I thought it better just to get busy doing it again. I know from experience that many will read this; few will actually do it. Will you?

UPDATE: Here is an excellent diagnostic tool that we found after this blog post had already published. 35 Questions to ask yourself.