A Culture of Self-resolve

In a season of “new year’s resolutions” I want to bring you back to the only possible resolve, that without him we can do nothing. In a world being overrun by corporatism we are again being indoctrinated with the humanist dogma of man’s ability. Anyone can do “it” � whatever “it” may be � so long as he is willing to persevere and to strive.

Motivation is the catch-cry of success and success is the desire of our heart for many reasons. To feel good about our achievements or to have others notice and commend our success are prime movers. Of course to refuse to succeed is the outworking of the same motivations; I can feel good about myself regardless; or others should accept me as I am; and to wish for success without effort is apathy. Spurgeon comments:

If we looked more carefully we should find this iniquity to be far greater than appears at first sight. Dr. Payson, writing to his brother, says, “My parish, as well as my heart, very much resembles the garden of the sluggard; and what is worse, I find that very many of my desires for the melioration of both, proceed either from pride or vanity or indolence. I look at the weeds which overspread my garden, and breathe out an earnest wish that they were eradicated. But why? What prompts the wish? It may be that I may walk out and say to myself, ‘In what fine order is my garden kept!’ This is pride. Or, it may be that my neighbours may look over the wall and say, ‘How finely your garden flourishes!’ This is vanity. Or I may wish for the destruction of the weeds, because I am weary of pulling them up. This is indolence.” So that even our desires after holiness may be polluted by ill motives.

(from Spurgeon’s Morning & Evening, PC Study Bible formatted electronic database Copyright © 1999, 2003 by Biblesoft, Inc. All rights reserved.)

Internal motivation may well flow from pride, external motivators from vanity, and a “wish-upon-a-star” (dreaming with no motivation to act) the result of laziness.

Why do I begin by pointing out the sin of motivation? It is because, like the business world and the sporting arena, the church has been inundated with personal motivation as the replacement for the gospel of Jesus Christ.

To speak of “my choosing Jesus” means I made a good decision. I am satisfied to exclaim Jesus “is my best friend”. Indeed the “I” in so much of modern Christianity’s language is far removed from the language of the gospel. To say that “I will never let you go” is to bolster my ability to hang on. There is a strong message of “motivation” being proclaimed to encourage people to become “good” fathers/mothers; husbands/wives; givers; Christians; witnesses etc.

Parrett, speaking about the language of our worship and the need to teach rather than to change meaningful language, makes the following statement relevant to my point:

Other types of hymn revisions are even more troubling. Consider the many choruses that have lifted titles or phrases from hymns of earlier days. “Jesus, lover of my soul” has turned up in a number of contemporary songs. In one such song, the worshiper is invited to promise Jesus that “I will never let you go” and “I will worship you until the very end.” The original, written in 1752 by Charles Wesley, could not be more different in emphasis. “Hide me, O my Savior hide, till the storm of life be past” and “Other refuge have I none, hangs my helpless soul on thee” are cries of utter dependence upon God’s faithfulness, not promises of our determined faithfulness to God.

(Gary A. Parrett Copyright © 2006 Christianity Today. January 2006, Vol. 50, No. 1, Page 62)

The reality of the gospel is this, while we were “powerless” (unable to achieve anything great) Christ died for us (Rom 5:6). While we were “dead” (a state of complete powerlessness) Christ made us alive (Eph 2:1,5). While it is true that once born again we receive power it is “His” energy that works powerfully within (Col 1:29).

When we “encourage” people to “be strong” neglecting “in the Lord” (Eph 6:10) we fail to “build” people up into the head which is Jesus Christ (Eph 4:11-16) from whom all power flows. When we fail to bring unworthy people to a worthy God we promote the gospel of this age which speaks a word of worth and competence to its citizens. The gospel conversely speaks a word of unworthiness and incompetence to every person of every age and of every nation and tongue. We cannot encourage a worthy and able people to come to a worthy and able God, for this is meaningless.

Pastors, teachers, leaders, if you want people to succeed it can only be accomplished in God. The motivational language of self-help professionals is anti-Christ and a promotion of the doctrine of demons. Is this language too strong? If one can only be saved by the grace of God then to encourage self-empowerment is to move people away from absolute dependence upon the message of the cross; foolishness to those who are perishing BUT the POWER OF GOD to those who are being saved.

When people are struggling, encouragement according to self-help motivation doctrines may make them feel good about themselves but it fails to enable them to be strong in the Lord. We need to embrace our powerlessness � not as an excuse that leaves us destitute � but as a reality of life. Only then can we be enabled by His Spirit to cry out to the faithful God who will never let us go. We cannot be faithful for this requires constancy; but God alone remains constant, unwavering and fully faithful.

As Charles Wesley wrote:

“Other refuge have I none, hangs my helpless soul on thee”

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