“…until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:13)
I was interviewing Jim, a counselor in a large church, as a prospective teacher. “A counselor friend tells me,” I said, “that some people can’t respond to God in obedience and faith because their chooser is broken. They can’t choose God’s way till a therapist helps restore their ability to make choices. What do you think of that idea?” (I didn’t tell him that my friend’s judgment is that perhaps five percent of Christians are in that situation). Jim agreed enthusiastically. So I asked him, “About what percent of the members of your church are in that category?” “Oh,” he said, “perhaps 80-90 percent.”
When I asked Drew, head of a large counseling staff in a megachurch, the same question, he replied: “We operate on the basis that everyone has the ability to make choices, unless a person has mental problems of an organic nature. The Bible assumes that people can, with divine assistance, respond to God’s commands and are responsible to do so. We build our therapy on that biblical assumption.” With whom do you agree?
The church is full of hurting people, some battered more than others. Most of us could use help toward healing, some by a skilled counselor. When a person is blind to his own sinful behavior, or her “chooser” is so damaged it can’t function, or his “truster” is so violated he can’t get through to God, a counselor may be able to help him see himself, others, and God in clearer perspective. Then that person can begin to trust God and choose God’s alternative. However, when we begin to use human brokenness as an excuse to disobey God and remain in our patterns of sin, we do ourselves and others a severe disservice.
Jim and Drew have widely different expectations of the Christian life. A lowered expectation of what the Holy Spirit can do may come from treating people as victims like Jim did, rather than as responsible individuals as Drew did. We can easily see where lowered expectations of Holy Spirit-generated possibilities come from. Americans in general believe less and less in sin and guilt, more and more in a battered psyche that needs healing. We believe we are no longer guilty sinners needing salvation, but victims of someone else’s hurtful behavior and need restoration of a healthy self-image.
If we buy into the pattern of viewing ourselves and others as victims, we may block ourselves and others from God. The view of self as a hurting person, damaged by wrongs inflicted by others, may lead persons away from taking responsibility for their feelings or actions. Gradually we descend into denial about our own guilt and personal responsibility to choose right. Lock-down in a black box of other’s making. And no exits!
In contrast, Scripture bases its promise of salvation and power-filled Christian living on the assumption that we can respond to God in faith. We can choose His way. Some of us may need more help from the outside than others, and the mission or church should provide that help. But let us never underestimate the power of the Holy Spirit to give us the will and the way so that we can indeed “work out our own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12).
The failure syndrome and the victim syndrome are two major paths to expecting less of the Christian life. If I choose to believe that I cannot become an overcomer, that I cannot experience miracle intervention by the Spirit of God, surely my belief will prove self-fulfilling. Don’t settle for too low an expectation of what your Christian life can be. Listen to Paul’s great proclamation of victory: Sin shall not have dominion over you! (Rom. 6:14). He exults in the assurance that “we are more than conquerors” (Rom. 8:37). Incredibly, he promises a life filled by the Spirit to “all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:19). In another passage he describes the Christian life as “attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13)!
These are not isolated proof texts. They reflect the mood of the entire New Testament. Are you keeping a journal of your encounters with God? If so, why not write out your own prayer to him concerning any below-the-line expectations you have. Be very honest. If your expectations are quite low, tell Him so. But don’t leave it there; ask for wisdom to understand what Scripture really teaches about what you ought to expect. Pray for the gift of faith to believe His promises. If you are excited about the possibilities, tell Him so. He’s delighted to see His children liberated and fulfilled!