To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me. – Col 1:29
As disciples, we know we are supposed to “strive to enter the narrow gate” (Lk 13:24), and so we set out enthusiastically to do so. Then we wake up one day and feel completely exhausted in our battle against sin, our efforts to serve, or our efforts to find joy or produce fruit. We know something is wrong.
Our striving is killing us and then we read Mt 11:28-29 and we go….huh? Where is that rest that He promised and how do I get in on some of that light burden that Jesus is talking about?
If you feel this kind of exhaustion, you can know for sure that you are striving to follow the “law” in your own strength. If you stay this course, you will crash and burn, possibly even giving up and walking away from Christ altogether. God forbid!
The greatest evil of religion is that it tries to achieve righteousness apart from an actual relationship with God. The focus is on religious tradition and rule-following, rather than on being in actual relationship with Christ learning to live by and be empowered by His Spirit. As we move through this study, we will learn the John 15 secret of abiding in Jesus and how that is so different than tryingto follow the external regulations of the law, which were abolished (Eph 2:15) and fulfilled by Christ. (Gal 2:19)
Salvation is by faith, not by works, but that does not mean that you don’t have to obey God’s commands. It means you aren’t saved by following them alone. You are saved by faith, but true saving faith is evidenced by obedience. (1 Jn 2:4)
Do we then nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather we uphold the law. – Rom 3:31
If you have truly trusted Christ as your Savior and have obeyed His command to repent and you have turned from your sins, He has placed His Holy Spirit in you. However, there are many people that call themselves Christians, but who do not actually have the Holy Spirit living in them. They only believe in Christ through intellectual assent rather than a sincere obedient, maturing faith. (2 Cor 13:5)
Do not be deceived. If you are really struggling to live the Christian life, it could be that you are not maturing (Lk 8:14) or because you have not yet truly been born again. Either way, you would not inherit eternal life (Lk 13:6-9, Rom 8:9). In spite of what you may hear in some circles, the Spirit is given to those who obey (sincerely turning from sin), not those who just so happen to be at the right conference with that “anointed prophet” who will lay hands on you, or blow on you. That’s nonsense! (Jn 14:15-17, Acts 2:38, 5:32, 1 Jn 3:24)
You could shut yourself all alone in a closet and if you pray to the Lord and truly turn from your sin, putting your faith in Him, as the Lord of your life, God will send His Spirit into your heart, right there.
It is impossible to live the Christian life without the Holy Spirit. He is the One who works and empowers you for service and godly living, but He doesn’t overpower your flesh and just take over. You have to learn how to walk according to the Spirit, obeying His initial promptings in your heart.
Once you have received the Spirit, you have to participate with Him. His presence and power must be cultivated and continually welcomed by godly living and steadfast faith, lest we grieve or quench Him (Eph 4:30). This is how we stay filled with the Spirit (Eph 5:15-18).
Once you know that the Spirit is living in you, the secret to avoiding a powerless, exhausted walk with Christ is found in John 15. We must abide in Christ whereupon He does all the heavy lifting. This happens as you remain in close relationship with Him through humble, childlike faith and dependence (Jam 4:6). To abide in Christ means you are daily renewing your mind in His word, meditating and reflecting on what He is saying, storing His words up in your heart and obeying them, and any other direction He gives you, to the very best of your understanding and current ability.
Think of a 3 year old who drops a loaded bowl of cereal. He wants to clean it up and he tries and tries, but on his own it stays a mess. “Daddy, I need help!”, he says. Daddy comes and lets the boy continue to help, but now Daddy comes behind his little smear job and gets it all just perfect. It was teamwork. The boy needed help and He asked for it and got it. Our “Daddy requires that we too must have this same childlike humility and dependence.