Total Inability & the Sweetness of the Gospel
You tell someone you are a Christian and they in return ask you, “What does it mean to be a Christian?” How do you answer?
You ask someone if they are a Christian and they reply, “Well, I try really hard so I think so.” How do you answer?
I’ve been mulling over these two interactions in my brain for a while and I’ve come to the conclusion that I would start in the same place with the same concept: Inability.
in·a·bil·i·ty (/ˌinəˈbilədē/) noun, 1. the state of being unable to do something.
Most who hear this word tend to put a negative connotation along with it. When was the last time you told someone about your inabilities? Yet with the kingdom of God, inability equals supreme blessedness, happiness (Matthew 5:3).
Being a Christian means that I see my sins and my inability to pay for my sins. I’m unable to save myself from the judgement of a just God. I deserve eternal punishment and there is no way out. The paradox is that it is only when we see this inability that the gospel becomes glorious.
John Murray, a Scottish theologian, explains it in this way: “The only gospel there is is a gospel which rests upon the assumption of total inability. It is this truth that lays the basis for the glory of the gospel of grace.”
How dull grace becomes if you or I can achieve it ourselves. The grace offered to us in Christ only becomes amazing when we see how completely helpless we are.
This means that ability is the antithesis to the gospel. Murray continues, “The doctrine of ability makes men self-sufficient and that is the contradiction of the gospel and makes them immune to its appeal.” The doctrine of ability is most clearly seen in the Pharisees all over the gospels. The keeping of laws, the self justification, establishing their own righteousness, (Romans 10:3) and yet their utter blindness to who Jesus was. They were immune to the appeal of the gospel because they had already figured this righteousness thing out on their own.
Not only is inability important as we receive this saving grace, inability is part of our continued walk with Christ as His Spirit sanctifies us. Am I able on my own to say no to the things God asks me to, to persevere in this marathon life of a believer, to love like He has loved me, to give thanks in suffering, to die to myself daily, to speak kind words, to forebear with others as he has done so with me, to cast of idols…and on? If you have lived one day you know the answer to this question is an emphatic, “no!” I am fully dependent on the Lord to keep me, work in me, and to conform me to the image of Jesus.
As believers we can become immune to the gospel as self-sufficiency grows in our hearts. We want immunity to a lot of things, but the gospel most certainly isn’t one of them. The Lord was gracious recently in my own life to reveal how dependent I was becoming on myself. I want to end each day astonished that the Lord kept me following Him for another day. I see what my flesh is capable of if left to myself. Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord who is the only one that can save me from this path of death! (Romans 7:24-25).
Being a Christian is about seeing my neediness time and time again and turning to Jesus with great dependence on Him and what He accomplished through his life, death, and resurrection.
Being a Christian is about us decreasing and Christ increasing (John 3:20).
Being a Christian is less about how hard we try and more about who we trust.
Being a Christian means that I am unable and Christ is the one who is able.
Being a Christian means that with man it is impossible but with God all things are possible (Matthew 19:26).
“I’ll make up for it” becomes “Jesus paid for it.”
“I’ll try harder” becomes “Help me Jesus.”
“I can do it” becomes “Jesus did it.”
Do you want supreme happiness? This is what Jesus promises for those who are poor in spirit. The helpless, unable, powerless, inadequate, weak people who turn to Christ day in and day out are supremely happy. Why? Because we become free from trying to produce something ourselves that is impossible to produce. What sheer joy to release this burden onto Christ! Our inability becomes the pathway for our boasting all the more in Jesus.
May our hearts beat the drum of inability in our own lives and to others around us.