Monday, September 19, 2016

The ‘How-To’ Book That Teaches We Can’t

Self-help and how-to books promise help for just
about anything, except what's most important.
Have you checked out the self-help section at the local bookstore lately? On those shelves we can find “how-to” books on practically everything: Becoming a millionaire. Growing prize-winning flowers. Finding lasting happiness. Redesigning a house. Taking eye-catching photos. Starting a successful business. Achieving greater intimacy.

We all would like to know how to excel in our favorite pursuits and passions. And if by reading their how-to books we can learn the secrets of others who have already excelled at them, it can save us lots of time and effort. At least that’s what the books promise.

But there’s one book you won’t find on most self-help shelves, because it stresses how not to do something. In fact, it emphasizes that what we might yearn to do is exactly what we truly can’t do. What’s the book? The Bible.

And what is it the Bible teaches that we can’t do? It tells us emphatically that we can’t live the so-called “Christian life.”

We’ve all heard the saying, “God helps those that help themselves.” Well, you won’t find that adage in the Scriptures. Maybe it’s in 2 Opinions, but not in the 66 books of the Bible. In fact, what we find is quite the opposite. During one of His discourses, Jesus declared, “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).

In terms of accomplishing things of eternal value, Jesus didn’t say there are only some things we can do. No. He stated we’re unable to accomplish anything of lasting significance apart from Him.

The apostle Paul affirmed this when he stated, “for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose” (Philippians 2:13). Later he added, “I can do everything through him (Jesus Christ) who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13).

Recently I spoke at a men’s breakfast on, “How Do You Live the Christian Life?” I explained the process God began in my life in 1981, enabling me to understand with increasing certainty over the past 35 years that the answer to this question is simple: I can’t. The Christian life isn’t hard. It’s not difficult. It’s impossible to live, humanly speaking.

This is one of the truths that set Christianity apart from any other belief system or religion. Religions essentially stipulate, “This is what you must do – and what you must not do.” In the Scriptures we find that in Jesus, what must be done has already been done. Once and for all.

The Bible’s Old Testament shows the people of Israel had plenty of laws of follow. They just did a miserable job of following them. As someone observed, “Before Moses got to the bottom of Mt. Sinai with the Ten Commandments, the Israelites had already broken every one of them!”

But the fact we can’t possibly live the perfect, holy life God requires doesn’t mean we should shrug our shoulders and resign ourselves to being “sinners saved by grace.” Because through the power of Christ, we can live the life we can’t possibly live in what the Bible calls “the flesh.”

We all have struggles; some of them seem insurmountable. Deep-seated anger, or anxiety, as I’ve dealt with for much of my life. There might be addictions or other compulsions we can’t control. Inability to forgive and bitterness are particularly problematic for some. But in wrestling with such “besetting sins,” those who have truly been “born again” in Christ can’t opt for the excuse that comedian Flip Wilson’s character, “Geraldine,” often used: “The devil made me do it!”

Because if we scour the Scriptures, doing as the ancient Bereans did, who “examined the Scriptures every day to see if what (they heard) was true” (Acts 17:11), we discover sin no longer holds mastery over us.

In the 6th chapter of Romans alone, we find numerous passages declaring we have “a new life,” that “we should no longer be slaves to sin,” we are “dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus,” and we “have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.” If we can grasp such truth, believe it, and act according to it, rather than depending on our feelings at any particular moment, the impact can be transformative.

As Galatians 5:1 declares, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free….” Years before the apostle Paul made that assertion, Jesus gave this promise: “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free…if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:32-36).

We’d do well to heed the oft-repeated words of the late Wayne Barber, beloved pastor of a church in Chattanooga, Tenn. who recently passed from this life: 
      “I can’t. God never said I could. He can, and He always said He would!” 

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