“Thou therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus,” Paul admonishes his young protégé Timothy (II Tim. 2:1). It seems a strange, almost paradoxical, admonition. Since “the grace that is in Christ Jesus” is essentially a gift that is bestowed apart from any merit on the part of the recipient and over which we exercise no control as to its bestowal, how is it possible to maintain a position of strength and to be utterly dependent at the same time? The answer to that question, namely, experiencing personally Paul’s instruction to Timothy, is the essence of the Christian life.
A life of weakness and dependency. One of the realities of the Christian life that offends the flesh is that it is a life of utter weakness and dependency. A believer knows, or must come to realize that his own abilities are not the key to his victory. He must deny self, eschew self-esteem, set aside his own ego. He must bow in submission to the will of an invisible Being—even when it counters his own will. He must believe and obey a book whose most recent words were written two thousand years ago. Like David or Joshua, he must yield his great natural skills as a soldier to the superior wisdom and ability of God. Inexplicably, he must wait for “the sound of a going in the tops of the mulberry trees” before he attacks the Philistines (II Sam. 5:24), or in what answers for absurdity to the human mind, he must march around Jericho repeatedly, not only revealing the strength of his forces but exposing them to possible attack by the enemy from the more secure ramparts of the city walls.
Self-confidence, boldness, even brashness are qualities that many find to be admirable. But weakness and dependency? How far will that take anyone? And yet Scripture reminds us that Noah depended on God, having found grace in His sight. It was not Abraham’s bold, adventuresome spirit that motivated him to leave Ur of the Chaldees and go out “not knowing whither he went” (Heb. 11:8), but his faith in and dependence on the Lord. It was not Moses’ confidence in his training in the Egyptian court or his skills as a leader but his trust in and dependence upon God that enabled him to lead Israel out of Egypt. The truth is that nothing of eternal value, nothing that truly honors the Lord, has ever been done apart from a dependence upon the grace of God. To the extent that fleshly will and strength entered the equation, God’s grace was required to overcome them and still make all things work together for good despite us.
A life of strength and victory. True strength flows from dependence on God. Martin Luther’s declaration—“Here I stand, for I can do no other.”—when confronted by the full power and fury of the Roman Catholic church expresses the strength of utter reliance upon the grace of God. David’s defeat of Goliath evinces the strength of one completely trusting in the grace of God. To eschew the strength of the flesh and to insist upon the will and the way of God is to be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.
To affirm that “though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds)” (II Cor. 10:3, 4) is to be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.
It is the nature of our flesh to play to its strengths. If we are logical, we are tempted to debate. If our personality pleases, we wish to charm and disarm. If we are clever, we are enticed to use craft. Instead, the mature believer seeks for and waits upon the grace of God, His will and His way. True strength is discovered only when we rely on the unmerited favor of God’s grace.
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