Need/Provision vs. Cause/Effect
Updated: Feb 19
I have been seeing a lot of things and being handed a lot of stuff on a silver platter, per se, that discusses what our relationship with God is supposed to look like. Things that I should already know, but that somehow have not quite made it into the way I live out my Christian life. And the difference is noted in my title. I often still live life as if it is something I can control by cause/effect as opposed to an endless list of needs for God’s provision. You may think that going with the second way seems to render one rather helpless. Indeed, it does. Because we are helpless.
We just like to pretend that we are not because it makes us feel better.
Now, to be truthful, the majority of the time cause/effect scenarios will hold true. If we add 1+1, we get 2. If we do A and B, we get C, pick your own situation. However, there are more times than we like to admit that this is NOT the case – times when we did A and B perfectly, but instead got something like Q, and it rattles us. We get shaken. And if our faith is still built, even marginally, on the belief that some bit of our own efforts gives us certain rights, allows us some extra favor with God, then our faith is shaken with us.
We are uncomfortable, as a general rule, with accepting help for which we have no payment. So, although we may take the initial step into God’s love and grace by accepting His forgiveness through the offering of Jesus as payment for our sins, it is all followed by an immediate act of will to clean ourselves up so that we will subsequently become acceptable to God.
I have a friend who recently sent me some amazing stuff that delves into this idea, so I just wanted to take a moment to say thanks. You know who you are.
The common problem most of us have is that we do not recognize that all of our efforts to “do” Christianity within our own strength will be met with, at best, temporary success…or the illusion of temporary success – possibly even the illusion of continual success for those who have the energy to keep it up. However, the man inside of us will always still be fumbling, floundering and feeling one of a few possible things: 1) that they wish they could get their inner man to catch up with the shiny exterior they have managed to portray; 2) that they cannot possibly keep this exterior up much longer because the inner man is so tired; 3) that they are greater and more disciplined than everyone around them who does not seem to be able to hold it together; or 4) guilty because they don’t even manage to keep the exterior looking very nice for a day.
There are more Christian “do-ers” out there than there are any other kind, I would say. They live life by whatever set of socially acceptable rules they have absorbed as their belief system, so to the world around them, they look very nice. Perhaps I should not say “nice,” because they are not always nice people. They look clean. Like they don’t want to get messy.
Christianity is for those who know they are messy, and want to get cleaned up. Jesus says so. Mark 2:16&17: “When the teachers of the law [human effort] who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples, ‘Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ On hearing this, Jesus said to them, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but the sinners.'”
We come to Jesus knowing that we need His help, and once we get our “shot” of salvation, we go away and try to heal ourselves. It does not work. I cannot say that I am the expert on exactly how we are supposed to get there, but I know that the abundant life Christ promises us in John 10:10 has never found me while I was following a list of man-made rules, but while I was living in complete humility because I understood my complete inability to offer anything worthy to God.
The Bible is very clear about our offerings of righteousness being pointless: Isaiah 64:6 says “all our righteousness is as filthy rags.” And in Genesis 6:5 that “every inclination of the thoughts of his [man’s] heart was only evil all the time.” Those verses don’t leave us very much in the way of loopholes for trying to think much of our own righteousness.
So, if we cannot offer our works, our righteousness, our good deeds to God, then what are we to offer? Psalm 51:17 answers: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” No wonder Jesus had a problem with the Pharisees.
All of this comes from being able to die to ourselves – be crucified with Christ and raised up a new creation – not just spending all of our time trying to polish up the old creation. Doing that is literally like trying to please God with an animated corpse…we were dead in sin, but instead of allowing Him to transform us into that new, living creation, we are trying to make the old corpse do what we, in our limited understanding, have decided He wants from us. It is simply a revised version of the law given to us in the Old Testament. The things we do determine (to us) whether we are a “good” Christian or not – though we have just proved from Scriptures that nothing “good” comes from our own efforts of achieving righteousness.
So, if cause (right living) and effect (God’s pleasure and rewards) are not the route for us to take, then what is? We are back to that uncomfortable acceptance of something that we know we have no way of paying for. The Bible says that God is love. (I John 4:8) For this example, I’d like you to remember the word charity, which now means, in our culture, giving to someone who is poor or ill and cannot repay you. It’s original meaning was the love of God or Christ for humankind. I think it means more when we combine these meanings: charity – the love of God or Christ for humankind, which means He gives to us, knowing that we need and that we are unable to repay.
God is the plumber who fixes your sink when he knows have no money to pay his bill – the accountant who gets your finances in order when you have no clue about how to do it yourself, and then does not take his cut. God is not the plumber who brings you a wrench and then tells you to fix it yourself, nor the accountant who brings you a calculator and expects that is going to put you on a budget. It is rare to find God this way, through the actions of people. Therefore, we think it impossible that God is actually this way. He must want something from us. He only wants our choice, our need for Him.
I know some of you read the paragraph above, and were a little put off. I’m sure you thought, “Yes, but doesn’t God give us the tools we need to live our lives according to His will? What about ‘teaching a man to fish instead of just giving him one’?” YES, God teaches us to “fish”. He teaches us that our only true provision comes through Him, and that fishing in any other water is only going to lead to a different kind of poverty – and that includes the waters of our own abilities. Have you ever noticed how often God works through people in the Bible out of their inabilities? The resumes of Bible heroes would not read so good.
And now I would like to quote a few passages from a book by Madeleine L’Engle called “Walking on Water.”
“For the opposite of sin is faith and never virtue, and we live in a world which believes that self-control can make us virtuous. But that’s not how it works. How many men and women we have encountered, of great personal virtue and moral rectitude, convinced of their own righteousness, who have also been totally insensitive to the needs of others and sometimes downright cruel!…To quote H.A. Williams again, ‘When I attempt to make myself virtuous, the me I can thus organize and discipline is no more than the me of which I am aware. And it is precisely the equation of my total self with this one small part of it which is the root cause of all sin. This is the fundamental mistake often made in exhortations to repentance and amendment. They attempt to confirm me in my lack of faith by getting me to organize the self I know against the self I do not know.’ …And Williams continues, ‘there is a sort of devilish perversity in this organizing me not to sin by means of the very thing which ensures I shall [the flesh]. Faith, on the other hand, consists in the awareness that I am more than I know…such faith cannot be contrived. If it were contrivable, if it were something I could create in myself by following some recipe or other, then it would not be faith. It would be works – my organizing the self I know. That faith can be only the gift of God emphasizes the scandal of our human condition – the scandal of our absolute dependence on Him. I have to depend completely upon what very largely I do not know and cannot control…justification by faith means that I have nothing else on which to depend except my receptivity to what I can never own or manage. And this very capacity to receive cannot be the result of effort. Faith is something given, not achieved. It is created by God’s word in Christ.'”
That was quite a quote, I know. But the point is that most of us are trying to quell the sin of our flesh by using our flesh and that is just not possible. We have to be given the grace of God’s spirit and the faith that God will guide us out of it, in spite of our flesh, not through its efforts. To reiterate: “Self-control cannot make us virtuous.” It can make us look virtuous, but is that what we are really after? A life of appearances that must be kept up, when we are supposed to have lives of freedom?
And that is the wonder of all of this – living in the freedom of our own helplessness releases us from living lives of both terrible guilt and of terrible pride. It brings us to a place of forgetting ourselves so that God can most effectively work through us, because we have stopped trying to work through Him.
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