Until recently, having Cerebral Palsy was little more than a nuisance to me. It always rather shocked me to hear people refer to me as having a severe case. Although I obviously knew that I can’t walk, use my hands or speak clearly, I focused on all my abilities and accomplishments to such a degree that I saw little distinction between myself and others. School and church friends pretty much included me in all their activities, allowing me to feel as if I had a sizeable amount of control in my life. Looking back, I’m forced to acknowledge that I developed quite a sense of pride in my apparent normalcy.
Lately, circumstances have changed my perception of my control. Possibly due to the current health and economic mayhem overtaking the world right now, I’m having trouble getting a weekend Personal Care Attendant, and my weekday PCA often has legitimate reasons for having to call out. The Lord always provides help at least once a day, but sometimes it means I can only get up to use the bathroom. Snowstorms especially confine me to bed, leaving me feeling helpless and vulnerable,
That vulnerability makes me wonder why I struggle so much with the sin of pride.
But then, what cause do any of us have for pride? Able-bodied people probably feel as if they control the greatest percentage of their worlds. After all, they can get out of bed, dress themselves and fix their own meals without giving it a second thought. They forget that they depend on the Lord for every breath and every beat of their heart.
We all forget, don’t we?
My increased trials due to my disability, as disheartening and exasperating as they are, have made me more appreciative of God’s grace. Yes, I appreciate His faithfulness in providing people to help with my basic physical needs, and sometime I probably should do an article just on that topic. But right now I want to discuss God’s grace in saving me from spiritual helplessness. You see, I’m beginning to understand my physical dependence on others as a daily metaphor for the dependence that all Christians have on the Lord.
Scripture tells us that we need Christ in order to have salvation. As much as we like to pat ourselves on the back for “deciding to follow Jesus,” the plain truth is that He reached down to us before we had any ability to look up to Him.
6 For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. 8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. ~~Romans 5:6-8 (NASB95)
If Christ died for the ungodly while we were still sinners, shouldn’t it tell us that we took no part in activating our salvation? Why would ungodly sinners have any interest in becoming sanctified? More to the point, how on earth could ungodly sinners work up the ability to put their faith in Jesus Christ? Why would they want to acknowledge their sin and admit their need for a Savior? And why would they submit to His authority over them? Sisters, that kind of humility just doesn’t come naturally. Only the Holy Spirit can change hearts of ungodly sinners.
I understand that some people will maintain that this passage doesn’t really teach that we play no part in affecting our salvation. I must confess that I never recognized the connection until twelve or so years ago. Usually, I’d present my salvation testimony in a manner that drew attention primarily to my apparent decision for Christ rather than His grace and mercy to bring me to Himself. Of course, I didn’t recognize what I did, and I used a lot of semantics whenever anyone tried to show me my self-focus. So I certainly understand how difficult it is to view salvation as being exclusively God’s work. Romans 5:6-8 may not, in and of itself, persuade anyone that they didn’t somehow participate in becoming a Christian.
Because Romans 5:6-8 alone doesn’t make the most convincing case for God’s unilateral work in bringing people to salvation, Ephesians 2:1-10 wonderfully expands on the theme. Let’s look at the passage for a moment, and then talk about a couple key points.
And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. 3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. ~~Ephesians 2:1-10 (NASB95)
Paul wastes no time in describing our wretched condition before Christ saved us. We were dead. Devoid of spiritual life. We were utterly unable to choose anything except the types of sins we preferred to embrace and the depth of involvement with those sins. Like a quadriplegic without a Personal Care Attendant, we were absolutely helpless to find salvation. Some of us could indulge our fleshy desires with false religion, even to the point of looking like Christians. But none of us had the slightest capability to turn to Him in our own strength.
Verse 4 breaks through our abysmal state with those glorious words. “But God.” And for the next six verses he joyously celebrates God’s work in saving ungodly sinners and raising us up to life with Him. He even takes full credit for giving us the faith that saves us.
Yes, Scripture repeatedly insists that God holds all of us morally responsible for our sin, and promises eternal damnation to those who reject His Son. Our limited human minds struggle to reconcile that reality with the truth that we can’t do anything to bring about our salvation. While I can’t demonstrate how God’s sovereignty works with human obedience in today’s blog post, I don’t want to pretend the tension doesn’t exist.
I do, however, want you to appreciate your absolute dependence on the Lord — even for your salvation. Spiritually, every one of us is as helpless as a quadriplegic. When we cast aside our pride, He shows us just how powerful and gracious He really is!