In a spiritual world of quick fixes and vague emotion, is it crazy to believe there is still a place for insights based on simple, basic, theological understanding. I believe it is worth exploring.
Thursday, December 1, 2011
To Paddle or Not to Paddle?
How should Christians approach living for Christ? Is it active or passive? I can see the main thing as my working hard to become more like Christ. This takes my focus off Christ and puts it on what I do. I end up relying on my own self-control and often being frustrated at my inadequacies. The proponents of the opposing view have likened this to being required to paddle our own canoe. It leads to either self-righteousness or discouragement. But Scripture says the Holy Spirit is at work in us to transform us (2 Corinthians 3:18; Philippians 2:13; Colossians 1:29). It says God has given us the power we need to accomplish His purposes (2 Corinthians 3:5,6; Ephesians 2:10; 2 Peter 1:3). It claims God has given us the victory (2 Corinthians 2:14; Romans 8:37; 1 John 5:4,5). This does not sound like being left to paddle our own canoe.
The opposite is to advocate a state of passive surrender: I should give myself over to God, and He will take it from there. This is like having a motor on the boat; I turn it on and it takes me where I want to go. The problem is that it is not quite that simple. What I have found is that when I take that first step, I am still me and am still faced with living my life out, day by day, by making specific choices. And if my life fails to reflect what is promised by this method, I must conclude that I am doing the first step wrong and become discouraged. Or if I can convince myself I do live up to it, I can think I have arrived spiritually, which leads to complacency. Scripture, however, likens the Christian life to a battle (Ephesians 6:10-18; 2 Timothy 2:3,4; 2 Corinthians 10:4-6). It likens the spiritual life to training and to competing in an athletic event (Hebrews 12:1,2; 1 Timothy 4:7,8; 1 Corinthians 9:24-27). It also pictures growth in Christ as a process that takes place over time (Hebrews 5:12-14; Philippians 3:12-16; Colossians 2:19). This does not sound like surrendering one's self, with God taking it from there.
How then can these be brought together? The key issue Scripturally is, what am I trusting in (Psalms 127:1,2; Proverbs 3:5,6; Isaiah 40:29-31)? None of the promises of the Spirit's working in our life are conditional for the Christian. But we are still required to respond to them (Galatians 5:16; Romans 6:12-14; Ephesians 5:18). Returning to the boat analogy, God's power is the current that carries us along. We do paddle to direct the boat down the center of the current. But if we try to paddle forward, expecting to get ahead of the current, we will simply wear ourselves out . But we can, if we choose paddle hard against the current and slow our progress toward who God wants us to be. But we did not make the current and cannot start it or stop it.