As I read the chapter O Wretched Man that I Am! in Andrew Murray’s book Absolute Surrender a great truth began to take root in my heart. Murray writes:
The new will is a permanent gift, and attribute of the new nature. The power to do is not a permanent gift, but must be each moment received from the Holy Spirit. It is the man who is conscious of his own impotence as a believer who will learn that by the Holy Spirit he can live a holy life (p. 122; Humility and Absolute Surrender).
While it is true that there is a Divine side and a human side of transformation, the reality is that even what God has left for us to do requires His power. I can’t crucify my flesh on my own, I can’t love my enemies on my own, and I can’t be holy like God is holy on my own; I need God’s help.
One of the thoughts I had as I pondered Murray’s words was what we lost at the Fall. You see, Adam and Eve couldn’t live out their design apart from their relationship to God. They needed that relationship in order to truly be human. I think we sometimes get the idea that we can get along fine by our own effort, and we only need God’s power when we really get into a jam. Over and over again we try to change our lives by our own power and to try to work up the love, courage, and strength we need to do the work God has placed before us, and over and over again we fail. We keep telling ourselves that if we only had more desire or a better plan, then we could accomplish what God wants from our lives, but we never seem to able to muster up what we need. That is why we are miserable people, because we have new hearts that desire what is right, but our flesh is unable to to do it.
Even in an unfallen state you and I need God’s strength, power, and Spirit to assist us in doing what is right. That is why the apostle Paul wrote:
Dear friends, you always followed my instructions when I was with you. And now that I am away, it is even more important. Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him (Philippians 2:12-13; NLT).
Paul tells the Philippians that they are to work so that the fruit of salvation could be seen in their lives and that they were to obey God in what He asked them to do. Yet, what does Paul say in verse 13? It was God is working in them that made all that possible. They would not be able to live lives that pleased God without the reality of God working in their lives.
That brings us back to the Andrew Murray quote. We can’t change our desires, that is something only God can do, and so the promise of Scripture is that God will give His people new hearts and in the process begin to change our desires. Yet, the next part is something that we must do, and that is to respond to those new desires by doing what is right. Too often, at least for me, we have thought this meant that we had to crucify our flesh, that we had to stop doing evil and start doing good, and we always ended up failing. Which then caused us to feel guilty and unhappy, in other words we began to be miserable. There has been a time in my life I was so miserable that I was ready to hang Christianity up, not because I thought it was false, but because I thought it was impossible.
It is impossible, but what is impossible for you and me is possible with God. That is why when it comes to acting out our new nature and living out our new desires the first step isn’t action, but it is surrender. It is offering our bodies as living sacrifices, which means that we get up on the cross, but we allow the Holy Spirit to pound the nails. You and I need start each day asking God to fill us with His Spirit and to help us to be loving and courageous, because we cannot live holy lives otherwise.
I guess what I am trying to say today is this: We cannot live holy lives [lives that love God and love people] until we daily surrender our lives to Him. That means we have to let go of all of our pride and self-love and humbly give our lives to God. This is not easy, but I bet that the more we do it the more will begin to look like Jesus, and that will help us to become the people God created us to be.