Am I the only one who ever feels like the Christian life can be exhausting at times? There are days, sometimes weeks, where I feel like I’m just spinning my wheels. I feel like I can’t do anything right. I get beaten down by my guilt & sinful desires. My mind is a frequent battleground for the war that Paul describes in between the old nature & the new. I end up either beating myself up, or throwing a giant pity party. But why does it get this way? How do we get to that point of exhaustion, and what drives us there?
The last few weeks at High Pointe, we’ve had the privilege of learning from John . We’ve heard sermons on the concept of abiding in Christ and continued the discussion within our small groups. Personally, it has been eye-opening, refreshing, and mindset-altering. And in the midst of saturating my mind with these truths, the Spirit of God has helped me realize the catalyst that leads to our periods of “spiritual exhaustion.” It’s when we forget that we are branches & try to act like the vine.
“Apart from Me you can do nothing.” – I think it’s safe to say that truth is the foundation of any & all Christian growth. We would all readily nod our heads and say a hearty “amen” while listening to someone read that verse. We would all agree that “of course we can’t do anything apart from Christ,” – and we’d probably even try to sound smarter by victoriously adding, “Instead, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me!” But for some reason, even though we would all nod our heads in agreement to this foundational truth…it’s usually the first one that we practically abandon.
One of the most difficult things in our walk with Christ is to get our hearts to agree & mesh with what our mind knows to be true. When it comes to our salvation, our minds know & understand that what truly took place was a divine miracle of passing from death to life (; ). Our minds know & understand that it wasn’t based on anything we have done, could do, or ever deserve – it was truly an act of God & through His grace alone (; ). Our minds know & understand that once we place our faith & trust in Christ, we are forever justified & viewed by God through the righteousness of Christ (; ; ). And we know that nothing can ever change our position in Christ. However…when it comes to our sanctification, for some reason our hearts tend to hold on to some deep-seated desire to continue to work for that salvation. To try & prove our worth to God. To dig deep and do everything in our power to “be all that we can be.” Our hearts try to hold on to the notion that God is disgusted with us when we fail, and that our good behavior is required to keep God’s approval. This is the disconnect that causes our disappointment & exhaustion.
These contrasts of belief & practice are what pastor & author Tullian Tchividjian calls “self-salvation projects,” and they eventually give way to legalism & slavery. In his book Jesus + Nothing = Everything, Tullian says most believers realize that we could never earn our salvation, “…but when it comes to our sanctification, suddenly we become legalists.” He goes on to say,
“We seem to inherently assume that our performance is what will finally determine whether our relationship with God is good or bad: so much good behavior from us generates so much affection from God; or so much bad behavior from us generates so much anger from God … Legalism happens when what we need to do, not what Jesus has already done, becomes the end game. Our performancism leads to pride when we succeed and to despair when we fail. But ultimately it leads to slavery either way, because it becomes all about us…”
And when being a Christian becomes all about us – when it becomes all about following our “to-do lists” – that is the very moment that we, as a branch, have broken off in a futile attempt to be the vine. We subconsciously believe that we are our own life source. We start reading the Bible as if it was mainly written about what we need to do for God instead of what God in Christ has done for us. And the whole time we’re “working hard” to build up our spiritual résumé & impress God, we don’t even realize how far we’ve strayed from the foundational truth that we were once saying ‘amen’ to: “apart from Me you can do nothing.” Talk about a definition of exhaustion – working hard to do nothing.
So how do we avoid this? What does it look like to “abide in Christ?” I believe it starts with a daily acknowledgment of the gospel. The gospel, ironically, starts with us – but it’s not good. As William Temple said, “the only thing you contribute to your salvation and to your sanctification is the sin that makes them necessary” (; ). Too often, I fail to daily acknowledge the fact that Jesus brought me out of death. If I could do nothing on my own to escape my spiritual death, why would I ever think that I could do anything on my own to become more like Jesus ()? “Sanctification consists of the daily realization that in Christ we have died and in Christ we have been raised. Life change happens as the heart daily grasps death and life.” – Tchividjian
So is sanctification effortless? Does our growth require no “work” at all? Of course not – Jesus says in to keep His commandments. But the work isn’t focused on us or our performance – it’s focused on Jesus and His performance for us. We work to recognize that He is the one at work in us & through us (; ). To gain a deeper understanding of what we already possess in Christ. And perhaps the thing we need to work the hardest at is to simply stay put; to remain; to abide. To stay attached to the true vine – our life source – and let His grace, mercy, and love propel us to then let our light shine before men, so that ultimately He is glorified (). “Practice doesn’t dictate position. Position dictates practice.” – Judah Smith
When we try to do it on our own, the Christian life will become exhausting. But when we abide in Jesus, we find true rest. Abiding in Christ doesn’t mean that we have to work hard to keep a good standing with God – it means living with the freedom that Jesus has done all the work for us, and will continue to remind us each day that “It is finished.”
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
7:1 Or do you not know, brothers—for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives? 2 For a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage. 3 Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress.
4 Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. 5 For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. 6 But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.
7 What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” 8 But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead. 9 I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. 10 The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. 11 For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. 12 So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.
13 Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. 14 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. 15 For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. 17 So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.
21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. (ESV)
15:1 We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. 2 Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. 3 For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.” 4 For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. 5 May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, 6 that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. 7 Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.
8 For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, 9 and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written,
“Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles,
and sing to your name.”
10 And again it is said,
“Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people.”
11 And again,
“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles,
and let all the peoples extol him.”
12 And again Isaiah says,
“The root of Jesse will come,
even he who arises to rule the Gentiles;
in him will the Gentiles hope.”
13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.
14 I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another. 15 But on some points I have written to you very boldly by way of reminder, because of the grace given me by God 16 to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. 17 In Christ Jesus, then, I have reason to be proud of my work for God. 18 For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience—by word and deed, 19 by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God—so that from Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ; 20 and thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation, 21 but as it is written,
“Those who have never been told of him will see,
and those who have never heard will understand.”
22 This is the reason why I have so often been hindered from coming to you. 23 But now, since I no longer have any room for work in these regions, and since I have longed for many years to come to you, 24 I hope to see you in passing as I go to Spain, and to be helped on my journey there by you, once I have enjoyed your company for a while. 25 At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem bringing aid to the saints. 26 For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem. 27 For they were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material blessings. 28 When therefore I have completed this and have delivered to them what has been collected, I will leave for Spain by way of you. 29 I know that when I come to you I will come in the fullness of the blessing of Christ.
30 I appeal to you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf, 31 that I may be delivered from the unbelievers in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints, 32 so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and be refreshed in your company. 33 May the God of peace be with you all. Amen. (ESV)
5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. (ESV)
2:1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— (ESV)
13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. (ESV)
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. (ESV)
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (ESV)
5:1 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. (ESV)
8:1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (ESV)
33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (ESV)
10 as it is written:
“None is righteous, no, not one;
11 no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.” (ESV)
23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, (ESV)
2 Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? (ESV)
10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. (ESV)
20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (ESV)
3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. (ESV)
16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (ESV)
28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (ESV)