Never Give Up – 6. The God-Dependent Life
2 Corinthians 3: 4 - 6
Do you know why God put you where you are right now? That’s a tough question for some of us to answer. Do you think it happened by chance that you are single (or married), with children at home (or long since moved away), with a good job (or stuck in a bad situation)? Or is there a larger purpose at work in your life? Let me ask that question from a completely different perspective. What will you have to show for your life when you stand before Jesus Christ? A good job? A degree? Money in the bank? Lots of friends? A large reputation? A successful career? The praise of others? A bagful of awards? Chairman, President or CEO? If that’s all you’ve got to show for your life, then you really don’t have much going for you. Sooner than you think, the things you worked so hard for won’t matter at all. Someone else will have your money and your job. Your fame will fade, your glory will disappear, and everything you now own will belong to others (and someone else will be sitting in your place at church). “Only two things in this world are eternal - the Word of God and people. It only makes sense to build your life around those things that will last forever.” The Word of God will last forever. People last forever. Everything else disappears.
In 2 Corinthians 3:4-6 the Apostle Paul offers a very simple explanation of life: It’s all about God! In fact he calls on all 3 Persons of the Trinity to show us how a God-centred, God-directed, God-saturated life functions. The first factor involves the source of confidence. It’s not about self-confidence or a positive self-image.
1. Confident Through Christ v. 4
You can tell a lot about a man by the way he talks about himself. Paul refused to play that game. He said things like, "I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength," (Philippians 4:13) and “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). He even said that his own accomplishments were “dung” compared to knowing Christ (Philippians 3:8). “No man can give at once the impression that he himself is clever and that Jesus Christ is mighty to save.” You can impress people with your cleverness or you can impress them with Jesus, but you can’t do both.
2. Sufficient From God v. 5
This is an amazing statement coming from Paul , a brilliant man who was trained in the Old Testament, able to communicate in several languages, at home in Jerusalem, Athens and Rome, a Jew through and through and also a true follower of the Lord Jesus. Surely if any man had reason to brag, it was Paul. But he says he is not even competent to make any claim for himself. Whatever good he has done, it all comes from God. Charles Spurgeon (in his sermon “Not Sufficient, and Yet Sufficient”) talks about the man our Lord prefers: “Christ’s men are more apt at weeping than at bragging: they feel their inability rather than their ability. The man who does everything for the Lord is the man who cannot do anything without the Lord. The man that knows he is nobody, God will make somebody.” I think Paul would heartily agree. A man who has to tell you how great he is, how great can he really be? Greatness needs no introduction. When God does the introducing, all the world will take notice.
3. Empowered By the Spirit v. 6
The “new covenant” refers not to what we call the “New Testament” but to God’s eternal plan of salvation whereby he sends his Spirit to write his law in our hearts. That’s the fundamental difference between the “letter” and the “Spirit.” Paul doesn’t mean to say that God’s law is bad or useless. Far from it. The law serves many good purposes. It restrains sin, shows us the way of holiness and reveals to us our own sinfulness. But the law by itself can never change my heart. The law functions like a CAT scan that reveals my cancer but does nothing to cure it. The law can tell me “Do not commit adultery,” and if I fear the penalty, it may even keep me from committing adultery. But it can’t change my inner desires. For instance, the law tells me I must not drive while under the influence of alcohol. That’s a very good law that saves many lives. Now suppose I violate that law by driving while I’m drunk. Let’s further suppose that I’m pulled over by a cop who sees me weaving all over the road. He can give me a ticket and confiscate my license. The judge may order me to go to jail. Has the law in that case done its job? Yes. But there’s one thing the law can’t do. It can’t stop me from drinking and driving next weekend when I get out of jail. The law by itself is powerless to change my heart. It punishes but it cannot transform. Here we see the vast difference the gospel makes. The Holy Spirit gives me new life and new desires. Now I am changed from the inside out. Under the old covenant, the harder you tried, the more you failed. Now in Christ the Holy Spirit lives within us, creating a new desire to obey the law from the heart.
Two Practical Applications
For those who live the God-dependent life.
1. We will not brag.
Nothing is more unseemly than a pastor or anyone else for that matter, who has to brag to prove his worth. If a man has to tell me repeatedly how much he is doing, how true can it be? It is a terrible thing, this temptation to brag about our size, to throw around numbers as if our worth is measured by the size of our church. I can say it is a terrible temptation because I have felt it and feel it still. We all have a need to prove ourselves, don’t we? We are all constantly being measured, weighed, evaluated, and put on a scale somewhere in the great pecking order of life. We can’t escape this fully, and we certainly can’t stop others from judging us, ranking us, comparing us, and so on. But we can do this. We can remind ourselves that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit have together given us whatever we need to do - whatever God calls us to do. Whatever we accomplish, be it small in the eyes of others or wins us great acclaim, it all comes from the Lord. Without him nothing good would ever be accomplished. If we are serving the Lord, we don’t need to brag and we certainly don’t need to try to put down anyone else to make ourselves feel better. When we get to heaven, the Lord can sort out the real differences between us, and we may in that great day be surprised to see that those who seemingly accomplished little on this earth receive a great reward from Him who valued the widow’s mite above the noisy offerings of the religious professionals.
2. We will not give up.
This is Paul’s exact application in 2 Corinthians 4:1 - “Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart.” As New Covenant believers, we have everything we need, all the time and in every circumstance, to do what we need to do. While living in this flesh, we face the same limitations as other men. We get tired and sometimes we get discouraged. Often we face situations for which there is no easy solution. We have questions we can’t answer. We may face daunting opposition or outright persecution. Sometimes the struggles of life threaten to overwhelm us. But we do not give up. That’s the whole point. We keep going because our confidence is on God, not in ourselves. So I’ve been thinking about my own life this week. I’m 55 and I suppose it is typical for men in my category - which I would call not young anymore but not a senior citizen yet - to be very careful and cautious about everything. If I am in charge of my destiny, then I have to play it safe. But if my sufficiency comes from God, I am truly free. I am immortal until my work on earth is done. I have everything I need to serve the Lord right now. So then let us press on to serve the Lord with joy, with vigour and with unlimited confidence in God. We can live with no regrets and with nothing held back, knowing that when our time on earth is done, the Lord himself will take us home to heaven. In the meantime, no confidence in ourselves. Our hope is in the Lord. Amen.