Your Faith Isn't Forceful Enough.

by Jul 15, 2014

For the past few months, our church has been wrestling with the sovereignty of God in a powerful way as we’ve studied Paul’s thought-provoking arguments in Romans 9 through 11. We’ve seen that everything good in life “depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy” (Rom 9:16).

When you fully embrace the sovereignty of God’s mercy, you experience more peace, contentment, boldness, and courage than you ever did before. But you also encounter a new temptation. It’s the tendency to think, “If God is sovereign over everything, then I can just kick back, drink a Kona Brew, and let the Sovereign Handyman do all the work.”

If Paul were here today, he would slap the bottle out of our hands, kick our lazy okoles off the sofa, and tell us to get us to work. Because God’s sovereign grace doesn’t give us an excuse to be lazy, it empowers us to be more hardworking, intentional, and forceful than we ever were.

In Philippians 3, Paul celebrated God’s gift of mercy: “Not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith” (Phil 3:9). At the same time, he wanted us to know that this gift didn’t make him complacent: “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” (3:12).

Whenever spiritual leaders confess imperfection and fallenness and brokenness and sin, people usually respond in one of two ways. Some people get very upset, because they really thought he was perfect (or close to it). They start to feel like they can’t trust that leader anymore.
 They might even get depressed: “If that guy can’t even pull it together, then what hope do I have?”

Other people respond the opposite way. They love it when leaders admit imperfection, because that lets them off the hook. “If that guy can’t get it together, then I don’t need to waste my time trying!” They love to hear about the sin of spiritual leaders, because then that helps them justify their own sin. They use it as an excuse to keep on sinning: “We’re all on a journey. We’re all growing.”

They can brush off any guilty feelings inside, or any confrontation from other people, and say, “Well, God isn’t finished with me yet.” You say, “Hey, you just totally blew off your wife and kids so you could go surf.” They say, “Well, God isn’t finished with me yet.” … “Hey, you just drank a whole 6-pack in half an hour. Right before you went to church.” … “Yeah, God isn’t finished with me yet.”

But Paul didn’t allow the gift of God’s grace to excuse his sin. He said, “I’m not already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” In some translations, it says something like, “I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.” Literally, that word means to grab something. To seize it. To take it by force.

That’s how the Christian life works. Jesus grabs you, and then you grab him! In Matthew 11, Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven comes in violence, and the violent take it by force.”

God comes on you forcefully. There’s a point in your life where he overthrows you. He overthrows your selfishness and pride and self-centeredness. He takes hold of you! He makes you his own. And the result is that you want to forcefully take hold of him. He gives you a desire to work and strive and push and strain to be like him. To do whatever it takes to be perfect.

As Paul said, “One thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (3:13-14). That’s the second time in the same breath that he’s used the phrase “press on,” and it’s the same phrase he used earlier in the chapter when he talked about persecuting the church. It means to vigorously pursue.

Before Jesus took hold of him, Paul was vigorously pursuing the church. He was murdering Christians. He was taking mothers away, and leaving their babies behind to starve to death. But then Jesus seized him, and he began vigorously pursuing Jesus. He began vigorously pursuing perfection. Think about all the intensity, and passion, and vehement resolve that went into his persecution of the church before. It’s the same kind of vehemence that began to drive him toward Jesus. The same forcefulness that made him happy to give up everything in life to serve God.

Florence Nightingale knew what this kind of forceful faith looks like. She wrote in her diaries:

  • At age 30: “I am the age at which Christ began his mission. Now no more childish things, no more vain things, no more love, no more marriage. Now, Lord, let me only think of thy will.”
  • At age 32: “I am so glad that this year is over; yet it has not been wasted, I trust. . . . I have learned to know God. I have recast my social belief. . . . All my admirers are married; most of my friends are dead; and I stand with all the world before me, where to choose a path to make in it.”
  • At age 33: “There are many disappointments, such sickenings of the heart that they can only be borne by the feeling that one is called to the work by God, that it is a part of his work, that one is a fellow-worker with God.”

She was pursuing the same thing as Paul. “Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”