John Owen, Puritan theologian (1616-1683), said in his biography points out a harsh truth. We are poor and weak.
Let our hearts admit, “I am poor and weak. Satan is too subtle, too cunning, too powerful; he watches constantly for advantages over my soul. The world presses in upon me with all sorts of pressures, pleas, and pretences. My own corruption is violent, tumultuous, enticing, and entangling. As it conceives sin, it wars within me and against me. Occasions and opportunities for temptation are innumerable. No wonder I do not know how deeply involved I have been with sin. Therefore, on God alone will I rely for my keeping. I will continually look to Him.”
We can’t just pull ourselves up by the boot straps and soldier on because we were dead.
Billy Crystal who plays Miracle Max in one of my favorite movies, The Princess Bride, (don’t judge) had a line about reviving the hero Westley, played Cary Elwes, he said well he’s only “mostly dead” there’s a difference between being “mostly” dead and “completely” dead.
The Bible describes our condition and unlike Westley, we are not just “mostly dead.”
“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,” (Ephesians 2:1-6, ESV).
Without Jesus, without His work on the cross those of us who know Christ would still be dead in our sins, under God’s wrath, enslaved by Satan, and without hope in this world. Jesus raises us up with Him and seated us in the heavenly places. We are transformed – He has made us alive, otherwise we are still are utterly deprave.
We still struggle, after walking with Jesus since 1992 I still get frustrated with myself. I succumb to some of the same old temptations. I battle the flesh. I succumb. I see victory. I fail. A roller coaster. Can I get an amen? Anybody with me here?
I’m sure John Owen could relate to the Apostle Paul, as can I. You’d think Paul, author of a third of the New Testament, church planter, apostle, and eventually martyr for Jesus. You’d think that he’d have his ducks in a row. It would seem likely that Paul of all people would know what it means to resist the internal struggle that all those who follow Christ face.
“For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me,” (Romans 7:15-20, ESV).
We, as Owen put it, have to “rely on God for (our) keeping.” We are weak. God isn’t. We must rely on Him. We must remain in Him.
“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches,. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing,” (John 15:4-5, ESV).
We must abide. Abide is translated from the Greek word μένω (ménō). It means to stay in a given place, state, relation or expectancy. We are to remain, stay in Christ. Only if we stay in Christ and rely upon Him can we ever expect to bear fruit.
We can’t actively bear fruit any more than a branch in a vine actively bear grapes. The branch must remain part of the vine.
Sinclair Ferguson put it like this in his work, In Christ Alone, “In a nutshell, abiding in Christ means allowing His Word to fill our minds, direct our wills, and transform our affections.”
Christ fills, He directs, and He transforms. We abide. We cling. We seek. He grows fruit in our lives.
What is this fruit that we can bear? “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control,” (Galatians 5:22-23).
We have to admit that like John Owen we are “poor and weak,” but Christ is not.