This is Part 3 in a 12 Part series. The premise is this: "Two men in their in their late 20’s walk into a coffee shop around 7:00 a.m. In college they had been good friends, but over the past few years had gotten out of touch. Having lived in the same dormitory for three of their four years at City Christian College, they still had many fond—and a few not-so-fond memories—of their time together in college. Just by accident (or so Michael thought) they had run into each other in a hardware store and had set up a time to talk over breakfast. This is their third breakfast together.
If you want to read this series of conversations from the beginning (you don't have to start at the beginning), please see Part 1.
Michael: Good morning!
Jim: You look better this morning.
Michael: Thanks, I feel better.
Jim: What do you want for breakfast?
Jim: I think I’ll have the same. Shall we dive right in?
Jim: You made a comment at the end of our last discussion that the key to the Christian life was to let go and let God do his work through us.
Michael: And we were going to discuss that topic today.
Jim: Do you still want to?
Michael: I’m game.
Jim: (pause) Did you hear about the guy who asked his friend if he wanted to go hunting? His friend said, “I’m game,” so he shot him.
Michael: (dryly) Real funny … Let’s start our discussion.
Jim: OK, start shooting. (Jim laughs at his own joke, Michael doesn’t.)
Michael: I’m really interested in this question. You know I’m in the midst of trying to sort out about six years of mediocre living and attempting to figure out what God really intends for me now. During this time I’ve begun reconsidering many things I’ve always thought I understood.
Jim: For example?
Michael: Like this question: What does it mean to be a victorious Christian? And if there is such a thing as a victorious Christian life, how do we take a hold of it? Every time I’ve brought up this topic, it seems that there is someone nearby who has the final word on victorious Christian living—if there is such a thing. These people have all begun to look the same to me, though they use different terms. Some talk about “the exchanged life,” others about “the crucified life,” or “the victorious life.” But they usually share a common thread.
Jim: What’s that?
Michael: As far as I can gather, they all suggest that we have to let go of our own willfulness so that God can do his work in us. If we can somehow get to a state of letting go, a victorious Christian life is assured.
Jim: Do you think that’s the key?
Michael: An awful lot of Christians I’ve come across seem to think so. What do you think?
Jim: I’ve also encountered a lot of the type of people you’re talking about. Their testimonies read something like this: They used to be model Christians. They went to church whenever it was open, read the Bible, witnessed to friends. But one day, they had an encounter with God that forever changed their view of life. They realized that they had been trying to serve God in their own strength, but it hadn’t been working. They were usually spiritually burned out and felt needy for God’s filling and strength. Then, in one way or another, God specially touched each person, whether at a camp, a church meeting, or at home. From that day onward, they knew that they would never try to live the Christian life in their own strength again. In addition, they often became evangelists of their new discovery, telling everyone that this was the key to becoming a victorious Christian.
Michael: OK. We’re talking about the same subject.
Jim: Do you think that their experiences are true?
Michael: Who am I to question someone’s experience?
Jim: More than you probably realize. But forget that for the moment … do you think the teaching is true?
Michael: It may be—but it hasn’t worked for me and I have no idea why it hasn’t. I’m aware that God is the strength of our lives and that we really need his power. I truly believe that. But I’ve been sitting around waiting for God to do what I’m beginning to think he may have been wanting me to do all these years.
Jim: God helps those who help themselves?
Michael: No. That’s not what I’m trying to say. I think I may have found in “let go, let God” teaching an excuse to do almost nothing.
Jim: That’s interesting. You’re not the first person I’ve heard this from.
Jim: It’s not uncommon for me to come across others who say things similar.
Michael: I don’t know whether that’s encouraging or discouraging. When you drop a brick on your toe, you might feel frustrated that no one else understands the pain. But you would feel more than a little guilty wishing that your friend would drop a brick on his toe, just so he could understand how you feel.
Jim: But it’s not just people who struggle with their walk with God who talk like this.
Michael: It’s not?
Jim: Haven’t you noticed that some preachers concentrate on themes of forsaking all to follow Christ, personal discipline, faithfulness in prayer, radical discipleship, the lordship of Christ, and the like, while others exhort us to let go of our self-reliance and learn about the inner joys of the life that God offers?
Michael: I’ve never really though of it that way, but you’re right.
Jim: Which should they be preaching?
Michael: I’m not sure.
Jim: I’ve got a theory.
Jim: People who have spiritually grown up with obedience-oriented approaches to the Christian life tend to swing hard in favor of “let go, let God” teaching at some point in their lives. And people who have spiritually grown up in a “let go, let God” environment tend to find direction in their spiritual lives when they learn about Christ’s lordship over their lives and faithful obedience.
Michael: People like me, right?
Jim: You tell me.
Michael: Why do you think it’s like this?
Jim: Because there’s a balance in our lives that every mature Christian lives, whether he fully understands it or not. We need a heavy dose both of trust and obedience. Remember the old chorus: Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus than to trust and obey. That song expresses the balance well. If a person receives his early Christian training from people who always talk about trust—and when I say this, I’m referring to “let go, let God” teaching—then they really need to learn about radical obedience to the Lord. When they learn this, it may feel like a kick in the back-end. But a person who receives his spiritual orientation in an obedience-oriented community had better learn about deep trust—and he’d better learn fast—or he’ll end up a dry and lifeless Christian.
Michael: Something just occurred to me.
Michael: If what you said is true, it’s possible that a preacher who almost exclusively teaches about trust may actually be balanced in his own life—assuming of course that he comes from a background that stresses obedience.
Jim: Or a person who primarily teaches about personal discipleship may himself be balanced if he has a background that emphasizes trust.
Michael: But it doesn’t help us to become balanced if they only preach one theme or the other!
Jim: Maybe they don’t understand it themselves.
Michael: Maybe not. But just because they aren’t preaching a balanced message doesn’t mean that they aren’t balanced in their personal lives.
Jim: It’s possible they are balanced, though not necessarily so.
Michael: That makes sense. Now let me make sure I understand what you’re trying to say on this subject. A person who already has a good grasp of trust in their lives may need to learn about personal discipleship and obedience. A person who already understands the call to discipleship may need a powerful lesson about trust.
Jim: That’s right. Do you think any of this applies to your situation?
Michael Sure it does. My earliest orientation to Christian living was an obedience-approach, so when I heard about a life of surrender, I was excited. But for the past six years, I’ve assumed that if I simply had an attitude of surrender, things would automatically work out in my Christian life. In the process, I have probably failed to emphasize personal discipleship and costly obedience. I think, perhaps, “let go” teaching was out of balance for me.
Jim: I’ve been reading the Old Testament recently—and since I knew that we were going to talk about this subject today, I brought along something to show you. I’ve just finished a little study of some Old Testament battles. Maybe this will help.
Michael: Let’s see.
Jim: I looked at four battles. The first is found in 2 Kings 18:17-19:36. The men of the city prayed, then fell asleep. The angel of the Lord put to death a good portion of the Assyrian army. The remaining portion of the army had to retreat.
Michael: The only thing the men of the city had to do was pray and trust God.
Jim: It would make a great sermon for the “let go, let God” folks. But that’s not the only battle in the Old Testament. The second passage I looked at was 2 Chronicles 20:1-30. The men of Judah had to go out and take their battle formations. God had already said that they were going to win this battle, but they still had to put on their armor and get in battle formation. And the choir had to sing! Then God routed the other army without the men of Judah having to fight at all. God wanted them to do something.
Michael: They didn’t sleep through it.
Jim: The third battle I looked at was in Joshua 6—the battle for Jericho. God was responsible for winning this battle, too. But the men of Israel had to obey. They had to march around the walls of the city six times in six days and then seven times on the seventh day for a grand total of thirteen—a lucky number that day. They had to blow the trumpet. God dropped the walls but they had to fight the rest of the battle in hand-to-hand combat.
Michael: They watched God do some of the work alone—drop the walls, that is—but they watched God use them, too.
Jim: Yep. The last battle I looked at is found in Judges 11. The judge Jephthah and his army had to fight this battle in hand-to-hand combat from beginning until end, but verse 32 says that it was God who was responsible for the victory. The point seems pretty clear. God uses different means to accomplish his purposes. Sometimes we have to stand by and simply watch God do all the work; sometimes we have to get in there and fight or work with all our might.
Michael: Sometimes God takes care of certain aspects of the battle without requiring us to lift a finger, but empowers us to accomplish other aspects.
Jim: However he does it, it is all God’s work, God’s battle, God’s victory. God wants our deepest trust and God wants our complete obedience. The Bible resoundingly declares, “I no longer live but Christ lives in me.” We must deeply understand that we cannot do anything apart from the power of Christ in us. But we must never forget that the Bible also says, “Do your best—or try hard—to present yourself approved to God.” We’re to give it everything we’ve got. The reason we’ve got a lot to give is because Christ lives within us. We need both trust and active obedience.
(Waitress walks up)
Waitress: Can I get you anything else?
Jim: No, thanks.
Waitress: I’ll leave the bill on the table.
Jim: Michael, do you think meeting together is helping you at all?
Michael: I think it’s helping a lot—it’s helping my thinking. Maybe the saying—“you already know enough, you simply have to do it”—is true in the case of others, but I don’t think it is for me. Some of my perspectives don’t seem to be in line with what God says.
Jim: Well, I really hope that you’re able to take hold of the life that the Lord has planned for you.
Michael: That’s what I want, too. I think that’s what I’m seeking.
Jim: I’ll keep praying for you.
Michael: Don’t do that! The Lord might just hear you and make sure I start doing something with my life!
Jim: I hope he does.
Michael: (sheepishly) I hope he does, too.