If you abide in Me and My word abides in you, then you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.
My Sunday School teacher has spent the last few weeks talking about man’s desire to improve: to improve himself, to improve his family and friends, and to improve others. His fundamental premise is that a normal person has an innate desire for such improvement, a premise everyone is our class agreed with.
The discussions we’ve had on this subject led me to put together this blog post. I agree with his premise, but I think most people go about it 180 degrees in the wrong direction. I think most of our efforts to improve ourselves could be classified as trying to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps.
Most of you know that my Tuesday blogs are aimed at Christians, hence the cross at the top and the ichthus at the end. Today’s subject is even more directly aimed at the born-again Christian.
How does a Christian go about improving himself? The simple answer is that he doesn’t and can’t. Wait a minute, David. Do you mean a Christian cannot grow and mature? Cannot be a better person tomorrow than he is today?
No, that is emphatically not what I mean. In the normal course of events, growth over time should be a hallmark of a Christian. But my contention is that a person cannot grow himself.
A number of scriptures deal with the matter of Christian growth. Romans 8:28 and following tell us that God brings all things together for our good to conform us to the image of His Son. That definitely involves growth. But it says God does this, not we ourselves.
1 John 1:9 says when we confess our sins God will be faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us of all unrighteousness. Again, this is growth, but again, God causes the growth in us, not we ourselves.
Galatians 5:16 gives us the key to our own growth: “But I say, walk by the [Holy] Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.”
Even as we read this simple verse, most of us get it wrong most of the time. We read that and then tell ourselves “If I want to walk by the Holy Spirit, I must stop yielding to the desire of the flesh.” Then we go about trying to make ourselves holy enough to walk by the Holy Spirit.
That’s an impossible task. I can’t make myself quit succumbing to the lures of the flesh. It’s in my nature to follow these lures, and I can’t cut that nature out of myself.
What the verse actually says is that I need to walk by the Holy Spirit, and if I do that, the Holy Spirit can change me to the point that I don’t carry out the desire of the flesh. The change in my character is not my job, but that of the Holy Spirit.
Okay, so what does walking by the Holy Spirit mean? How do I do that. Actually, I can’t even make myself do that. My job in all of this is to keep myself submitted to God. Period.
That sounds so simplistic we Christians have trouble believing it. We keep thinking there must be something we have to grunt and groan and strive to do, but there isn’t. God takes all of this upon Himself.
He saves us through His Son. That requires no merit and no effort on our part, but it does require our submission. We receive salvation by confessing we can’t save ourselves and submitting ourselves for Jesus to save us.
He grows and perfects us through His Holy Spirit. Again, this requires no merit or effort on our part, but again, it does require submission. We receive, forgiveness, cleansing, growth or perfection by confessing we can’t cleanse, grow or perfect ourselves, and submitting ourselves for His Holy Spirit to do it in us.
I’m not preaching that we can achieve perfection, just that we can be perfected—be better tomorrow than today, and better than that the day after tomorrow. We’ll never attain perfection in this life, but the Holy Spirit can move us along the road to that perfection if we remain in submission to God.
It would be so simple, if our own egos didn’t demand that we do it ourselves. That’s the hard part. Overcoming ourselves enough to recognize the simplicity. We always seem to want to practice “bootstrap” Christianity instead of following God’s simple plan.
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Contact him at dnwalkertx (at) gmail (dot) com or tweet him at @davidnwalkertx.