Sunday, August 06, 2017

Not As Simple As It Looks

Getting things done in the Christian life is not a simple process.

Oh, maybe it looks simple. The apostle Paul could pray this:

“… that our God may … fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Simple, right? Christians like Paul pray, and a powerful God takes care of business.

Well, I guess we could read it that way. But I think there’s another side to it.

Every Resolve for Good

That’s the ESV, and most modern translations say something similar to “every resolve for good”. The King James translates the same phrase as “all the good pleasure of his goodness”, which is more literal but slightly nebulous, and leaves us with two possible interpretations of what it was Paul aspired to with regard to the Thessalonians: (1) that God would fulfill in their lives all the good things to which God aspired on their behalf; or (2) that God would fulfill in their lives all the good things to which the Thessalonians aspired on his behalf.

I suppose when we consider it this is not such a big deal, because we read elsewhere that it is “God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” The impulse to do good in the first place is really God’s as well.

Which makes sense, doesn’t it. All good originates in God.

Resolving and Doing

Now, this is not to say that nothing of value is ever accomplished by the unsaved, but when they do good things they are not acting on impulses — or in the strength of anything — the least bit natural to their fallen humanity. It may be a distant sense of duty, a good example, a drilled-in morality or just longer time-preferences, but whatever it is that produces genuine good, we can be confident it originates — however distantly — in Heaven, not in Satan’s domain.

The fact that all good originates in God could lead us to erroneously conclude that there is no human choice involved, or that we are little more than fleshy automatons dancing on the strings pulled by our heavenly Master. But that is not quite right either. We are always free to reject an impulse to do good, aren’t we? At least, that’s my experience, and James certainly contemplates that possibility:
“So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.”
So then there are two inseparable components to actually doing good: resolving and actually doing. “It’s the thought that counts” … well … doesn’t.

Will and Emotions

The word “resolve” is in Greek eudokia. The angels could thus declare, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill [eudokia] toward men!” and Paul could say, “My heart’s desire [eudokia] … for Israel is that they may be saved.” It is a commitment that is both emotional and willed.

That’s not a simple combination. New Year’s resolutions get dropped in February because they are primarily emotional. Old habits die hard. We need to be rehabituated, not just spurred to try something different for a few weeks in hope it will catch on. Paul does not pray that God will fulfill every whim or idle wish for a good outcome, but “every resolve for good and every work of faith”. There is a necessary human component here. Somebody’s got to do actually do the work in order for God to “fulfill every resolve.”

Getting Past the Resolution

Sometimes, to our shame, we haven’t even gotten as far as resolving.

An example: Up until a few years ago my giving was, to put it generously, on the spotty side. I was inconsistent about sharing with others what God has given me. There were of course perfectly sensible financial reasons for this, none of which were much more than excuses. If you had asked me what the New Testament teaches about giving, I would have told you all the right things. But that was all theory. In practice I hadn’t even reached the “resolve” stage. To get to where I am now (wherever that may be), I needed first to resolve, and then every Friday since, to act on that resolve no matter the particular financial circumstances of that week.

Now, I believe that change in my life was both initiated and powered by God. But to expect God to fulfill my resolve without my active, sacrificial participation in the process would have been a bit ridiculous.

Wouldn’t it?

Scarily Responsible Creatures

That would seem to make you and me scarily responsible creatures: equipped for good works, prompted to them by the indwelling Holy Spirit, aided by the prayers of the saints and with the power of God acting on our behalf.

With all that going for us, wouldn’t it be a shame to do nothing? Or to do less than we know we should?

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