Human Effort and the Battle with Sin

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We live in a society that believes in human effort.*

The love of human effort can be seen as a siren song that has become a “brain worm”, you know, one of those tunes you hear on the radio or hear on a television commercial, a tune that you can’t get out of your mind. We sing it over and over and it just won’t leave our minds.

This past Sunday, my Sunday School lesson was devoted to Galatians 5. We discussed Paul’s exhortations to the Galatians about their concern for circumcision, their backward steps toward legalism. Paul as much as said that this is not what Jesus intended for you; He came to earth and gave His life for you so you would not have to follow some ritualistic regulation. He gave you freedom. It was His free gift to you. He gave you grace. To be legalistic is to deny Christ.

The class tossed these ideas around a lot. I love it when I become a coordinator of comments, just giving people time to express themselves in some orderly manner. I let the class teach themselves and I throw away my lesson plan.

Then it happened. I knew it would. That “brain worm” showed up. Someone said “we have to do something to get God’s grace”. The focus went right back to human effort.

Pastor Billy Graham says this way of thinking is a major stumbling block in our battle with the flesh. We have to “do” something to make ourselves better or good. We have to perform some human effort. Then he says this: “If we as Christians try to make ourselves better or good or even acceptable to God by some human effort, we will fail.”

Then he really says something that is hard for many people to swallow. He writes “What we have to do is yield ourselves to the Spirit of God.” Yield. For many people, that word is synonymous with giving up or laziness or loss of control or simply just not doing anything. But what does Graham mean by yield?

Sadly, I believe the root cause of so much of our lack of understanding comes from our sense of pride. We think we have what it takes to do battle with the forces [internal and external] that lead us to sin.

Here is the bottom line: we don’t have what it takes.

Here is another bottom line: if we have victory from time to time, it is the Holy Spirit doing the work; we can’t claim the victory as ours.

God does His work in us via the Holy Spirit. He empowers us through the Holy Spirit to transition from the old sinful person to the new less sinful person. Galatians 5: 17 “For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another.” Graham mirrors everyone’s experience when he says that the devil often meets him very early in the morning. Like many of us, we awaken thinking that today we won’t allow our problem to reappear. It is not going to assert itself into my life today. But after being awake, the devil sends something our way to tempt us and we find ourselves doing in our flesh what we don’t want to do in our mind.
At that point we need to do the powerful thing; we need to ask God to help us.
He will…through our Holy Spirit.

Every day we are in warfare with our sin nature. We won’t win a battle, much less a war with our human effort.

Here is the bottom line: we don’t have what it takes.

When talking to a pastor the other day, he described a situation that was of great concern to him. He described something that happened that helped a young man get beyond temptation. In getting beyond temptation, the young man felt God working in his life, helping him battle evil forces; the pastor felt that too. But in describing the young man involved, the pastor said something very important. He said the young man “feared God.” Fearing God is a phrase that many struggle with. Coming into today’s church, many pastors preach that God and His Son Jesus are benevolent shepherds, full of love and kindness to all. Why would someone fear God? But that is not what fear means. Fear is the foundation of spiritual wisdom and knowledge. It means awe, adoration and submission to God’s will. It means yielding.

The Apostle Paul instructs us that yielding is the secret. We are to dedicate our bodies, all members and faculties as a living sacrifice pleasing to God. The secret is not human effort. The power we need is right before us. It comes through surrender to God [paraphrase from Romans 12].

As hard as it is to understand, as hard as it is to fight the norms of society, it boils down to the keys to winning the war against sin…

Here is my understanding: in my dependence, that is where I find God. In my weakness, that is where I find God’s strength.

*Human effort is not all bad; no one would accomplish anything without it.

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