In coming to an adult faith by putting some key components together, I have been convicted of lacking something – humility. This means the full embrace of one’s weakness – our inability to perform. We don’t really want to admit we can’t live the Christian life. Now, I know I can’t, but that doesn’t mean I’m humble. I don’t condemn myself, I just excuse myself. Bonhoeffer called that “cheap grace.” For more on that, read “The Cost of Discipleship.”
So, finding a balance is hard: If we’ve been at this for any length of time, we know performance-orientation and sin-management only lead to legalism, which makes us Pharisees. This is pure death, but what other option is there? Well, for me, I just live with it. I say “oh, well.” I try to be better than I am, but I’m not a model of Christianity. I’m a Jerk, to be polite. I really wanted to say something more vulgar, but you get the point. I know better than to bulk up and play the good soldier; to try again to live a righteous life and fail. Then, build up my courage again and try again.
We cannot follow Christ in the power of the flesh.
In 2 Cor. 12, Paul wrote: “I must go on boasting. Though there is nothing to be gained by it, I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter. On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses….”
Paul was talking about himself, but was identifying with his false self, so he spoke of his true self in the third person. He chose to identify with his false self, but only in its weakness. I wish I could operate out of my true self all the time, but trying to again and again and failing and trying and failing and trying is just a cycle of death. It’s insane! I can’t do it! So, the best I can do is to cultivate humility and operate from the false self in it’s weakness.
Paul goes on: “But he (the Lord) said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”
There is some really cool stuff in this verse. The Greek word used here for grace is “charis.” This is the root word for “charismata” used in 1 Cor. 12 in relation to the Gifts of the Spirit. The word means “spiritual gift or endowment.” In this verse, charis speaks to divine influence upon the heart and it being reflected in one’s life. This leads me, not first to the gifts, but to the fruit. So, the Lord told Paul that the Fruit of the Spirit and the Gifts of the Spirit – the full measure of His life – is sufficient for Paul, and for us.
In the remainder of the verse, the King James uses two words from the Greek word “dumanis” – “strength” and “power.” Dunamis is similar to “dynamite” in English, but with a divine kick: it means “supernatural power.” This leads me to both the fruit I cannot bear through performance and the gifts I cannot even come close to generating in the flesh.
So, the short end of it is this: The only way Christ’s life – the Life of the Kingdom, or Eternal Life, or Abundant Life – can be realized in us, or in following Christ – is through our identifying our false self with it’s weakness. Since we cannot permanently kill it or refrain from operating in it, it has to be quarantined in humility. Put it under house arrest until God kills it off permanently.
How do we do that? Don’t try. If we try to do anything to the false self, it will be the false self trying to control itself. This doesn’t work and it’s why legalists are so unhappy. Following Christ in the power of the flesh is a futile endeavor. Pharisees operate in a deep-seated condemnation and are miserable. This is why they demand everyone else be like them – misery loves company. The bigger problem is that a fire is smoldering and the house is going to crumble. This is what happened to Jimmy Swaggart – he self-destructed because he couldn’t handle the pressure of the spiritual bondage he was in as a Pharisee.
So, the answer is to not try to do anything over and against the false self, for that would be spending our energy reacting to it. The answer is to fall in love with Christ. Personally, I have come to a place of admitting that I really don’t love my (false) self and I don’t want to. There isn’t anything in it that inspires me – that makes my soul stand up and say YES! – because there isn’t anything in me (apart from Christ, which means the false self) that is lovely enough to do that for me. But Christ does do it for me – He is lovely. He does inspire me. but if I keep trying to find something in me that is as lovely, I’m trapped in a cycle of death. So, falling in love with Jesus is the answer because when I’m in love with Him, Christ in me the Hope of Glory is filling my empty cup and an empty cup is all he requires of me to begin with. How to give him an empty cup? Boast in weakness.
May we partner together in prayer for each other that we all move in this Truth. The life of the community can be supernaturally-charged with power, support and accountability in Grace. I don’t think there is any other way for us to accomplish anything pertaining to the Kingdom.