Many are familiar with the old expression: “But for the grace of God there go I.” It typically wells up within some grateful believer’s heart when he sees a drunk staggering down the street or some such scene. Although I appreciate the gratitude and humility being expressed, I’ve come to dislike this statement.
Oh, don’t get me wrong! There isn’t a redeemed person alive who doesn’t owe his salvation and freedom to the grace of God. But there is an underlying inference with this statement that the alcoholic, through no fault of his own, has been destined to defeat and damnation because God’s grace didn’t shine upon him. For those who are caught up in habitual sin, this viewpoint can lock them into the fatalistic mindset that their condition is proof that God’s grace is unavailable or somehow inadequate for them.
The truth is that victory over sin comes about through the joint effort of God and the believer. His grace to save us and free us from sin is available to “whosoever will” appropriate it.
The Victory From God
One of the great passages of Scripture that really brings this truth out is in Philippians: “Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.” (2:12b-13 NLT)
Here we see the perfect balance between the efficacious power of a sovereign God and the personal efforts of His child. What an encouragement to know that God’s might is available to me in my spiritual battles! In my book, Standing Firm Through the Great Apostasy I wrote:
There is a mighty force from heaven that is available to every child of God. The Lord greatly desires for His children to be “clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:49) He wants them to know about “the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe.” (Ephesians 1:18-19) He wants it to be real that He “has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.” (II Timothy 1:7) He longs for believers to taste “the powers of the age to come,” (Hebrews 6:5) and to experience “the power of an indestructible life.” (Hebrews 7:16) He wants them to be “strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might…” (Colossians 1:11) This kind of power is seen in the lives of true saints…
What, but the power of God, can flush the filth out of the heart of a sexual addict and leave innocence and purity in its wake? What else but the Indwelling Spirit can change a hopeless drunk or drug addict into a sober-minded man?...
The great need for Christians today is for the invigorating life of God to flow through their beings, enlightening their minds with spiritual truth, purifying their motives, fortifying their convictions, molding their personalities, solidifying their vacillating wills, sweetening their natures, cleansing and renewing their hearts and subduing their flesh. We need to be revitalized and energized by the quickening power of the Holy Spirit.
The Victory in God
“If that kind of power is available,” you might ask, “then why are there so many defeated Christians?” First, I am convinced that there are many evangelicals who have never actually been born again. Just because a person once said the “sinners’ prayer,” attends church services and avoids obvious sin does not mean that he has truly been converted. Pseudo-Christians are those who have made certain alterations in their lives to conform to evangelical standards but have never truly surrendered to Christ. They see many of the demands of Christianity as so many unwanted infringements upon their lives because they feel powerless to live up to them. And they are!
How different it is for the genuine believer. Something dramatic occurs deep within a person when Christ takes up residence in his heart. One of the sure signs of this is that there is power available to live the Christian life because the Spirit of God is indwelling him, compelling him and empowering him unto good works. Unquestionably, a large percentage of “defeated Christians” have simply never crossed the line into real Christianity.
Then there are those who have truly been saved but continue to languish in sin simply because they are still bogged down in behavioral ruts which they have maintained for years. A believer may have the power available to walk in freedom, but if he doesn’t appropriate it, he may remain buried in habit patterns from the past. In another post, (“Only Believe and You Will be Free”) I told the story of an African-American lady alive when Abraham Lincoln issued his famous Emancipation Proclamation. This poor woman was still living as a slave simply because no one told her she was legally free. Once she came to understand that she no longer had to obey her master, she simply walked away from him. Many believers have yet to accept by faith the freedom that has been promised to them.
Another faulty perspective that affects some believers has to do with the will. In his book, The Pursuit of Holiness, Jerry Bridges writes: “Too often we say we are ‘defeated’ by this or that sin. No, we are not defeated; we are simply disobedient!” He goes on to explain that many people use this thinking to avoid the responsibility of obeying Christ. Part of this comes about from a faulty attitude toward the Lord. He writes: “…our attitude toward sin is more self-centered than God centered. We are more concerned about our ‘victory’ over sin than we are about the fact that our sins grieve the heart of God.” As long as Self remains the focus of being free from habitual sin, our motives will remain skewed and we will not be able to tap into the power available to us.
There simply is no avoiding the fact that anyone who desires a victorious Christian life may have one. The Bible makes it perfectly clear that there is a standing offer of freedom as long as we exist in the realm of Time. If someone ignores or rejects the offer, others will not be shaking their heads in pity and saying, “But for the grace of God there go I.” No, if anything, they will affirm the wonderful offer made by God: “Whosoever will!”
Steve Gallagher is the Founder and President of Pure Life Ministries. He has dedicated his life to helping men find freedom from sexual sin and leading Christians into the abundant life in God that comes through deep repentance.
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