I typically cringe inside when I her people saying “we just need to do it in God’s strength”. That sounds odd, but here’s why. I rarely her anyone explain what they practically mean by that. How do they discern doing something in their own strength versus His strength? I am practical. I want to know what is happening in their heart or actions.
I recently saw a dynamic in my soul. I have long strived after various points in my Christian growth. I have wondered why sometimes the Lord does not bless my efforts, yet other times, He pours out grace. James 1:25 says we will be “blessed in our doing”, yet so often my doing leads to no progress. So what is the deal?
I see that one difference in the ground of my confidence. Much of the time, I am expecting my self-discipline, problem solving, and planning will get the job done. So much in my life has been accomplish by raw effort. I therefore apply that to my sanctification (my maturity in Christ). I also can discern a second motive which is grounded more in Scripture. Sometimes, my striving is motivated by the fact that (a) I am simply overjoyed in who God is, and (b) I am sure that God’s blesses those who seek after Him (Heb. 11:6) and not merely some goal.
Paul is actually pretty explicit on this point. Philippians 2:12-13 says, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”
Notice the GROUNDS for Paul’s challenge to obey, “FOR it is God who….” Some people say, “If God is sovereign over my life, heart, and sanctification, why try?” Well, Paul saw it the others way. Because God asserts Himself upon our affections, we have hope we’re progress. Here that last sentence” Because it is God works to will and work in us, we can mature. To think otherwise is nothing less that pride and presumption. What makes you or I think we’ll wake up Christians tomorrow except for the sustaining grace of God upon our hearts.
How does this relate to the “in his strength” line we often hear? Let me link a few verses.
1 Peter 4:10-11 As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace….whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies--in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.
Then in 5:2, Paul says to elder-pastors: “shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly;
Finally, Neh. 8:10, “the joy of the LORD is your strength.”
The strength God provides enabling us to obey comes from a joy in Christ and a hope for great satisfaction in Him. What really motivates your service and sanctification? A sense of achievement? Fear? A desire for recognition? Or for the pleasure of see grace manifest in your life, in the hope that your affection for Him would increase more and more and more?