The surprising truth about living in the strength of weakness
What do you think makes someone a winner in life? Is it wealth, education, prominence, or fame? This world’s standards are quite different from the Lord’s: our culture esteems the self-made man, but God’s scale for success measures by dependence, not strength. Instead of looking for strong, independent people, He seeks those who know they’re weak and inadequate.
The apostle Paul was a man who knew how to live victoriously. As he neared death, he summed up his life with these words: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Tim. 4:7-8). He expressed no hint of disappointment or regret but, rather, bold confidence that he had fulfilled God’s purpose.
That’s how the Lord wants all of us to live. No Christian wants to come to the end of life and feel remorse over wasted opportunities to live for Christ. Today is the day to evaluate whether you’re following the apostle’s example.
• Paul fought the good fight. When you trusted Christ as your Savior, you entered a battleground. Satan lost your soul, but he’s not about to give up. He’ll do anything to make you useless for the kingdom of God. The bad news is that you are no match for the Devil—it’s impossible for you to win this fight in your own strength. But Christ has given you His armor and the sword of His Word so you can stand firm (Eph. 6:10-17).
• He finished the course. Paul likened the Christian life to a marathon. God has designed a specific path for each of us and has bestowed gifts and abilities to enable us to fulfill His purposes and finish the course. This race is long and filled with distracting obstacles, but Christ hasn’t left us to struggle on our own. His Holy Spirit guides and strengthens us along the way.
• And he kept the faith. After revealing Himself to Paul on the road to Damascus, Jesus entrusted him with a priceless treasure: the gospel. The word keep means “to guard,” and that’s what Paul did as he preached and defended the faith—whether to Gentile skeptics or religious Jews.
When we compare our life to Paul’s, we may feel discouraged and defeated. After all, who could possibly live up to his example? Although we tend to think of the apostle as a “super Christian,” he would be the last one to claim the glory for a well-lived life. He had learned the secret: “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13).
The principle of dependence
Man is inadequate to fulfill God’s purposes, but Jesus provides everything we need. In his letters, Paul used the term “in Christ” to describe this dependent relationship. To live “in Christ” means we are walking around in human bodies that are overflowing with the very life of Jesus. He dwells within us through the Holy Spirit, making us capable of achieving whatever He directs us to do.
Jesus used the analogy of a vine and branches to describe this relationship. The only way a branch can bear fruit is by abiding in the vine so the sap can flow through it. In the same way, a Christian must maintain a connection with Jesus in order to become and do what He desires. In fact, Jesus said, “Apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
Do you really believe this? Before you respond, think back over the last week. What kinds of situations did you face on the job, at home, or in church? Did you depend on Christ for wisdom, courage, and strength, or did you rely on yourself?
The problem of pride
One of the greatest obstacles to a dependent life is our own foolish pride. We forget that God is our Creator and Sustainer, and we are all totally dependent upon Him, even if we don’t realize it. Without the Lord, we couldn’t take our next breath or have any hope of eternal life. We’re totally unable to save ourselves; no one can come to Jesus unless the Father draws him (John 6:44). Those who live in pride have simply closed their eyes to the reality of their condition.
The potential of a dependent life
Although many people can boast of impressive accomplishments, anything they’ve achieved in their own strength will have zero eternal value. The only way to realize our full potential is to be rightly related to God through His Son, living in submission and reliance upon Him. With the almighty presence of the Holy Spirit within us, we tap into supernatural strength to accomplish what we can’t humanly do.
Yet despite God’s abundant power, many Christians are still living in defeat. When asked to serve the Lord in a challenging way, they claim, “Oh, I couldn’t possibly do that!” The real problem is unbelief. They aren’t seeing the situation from God’s perspective. He’s promised to strengthen us to do all things within the parameters of His will, but we’re afraid of failure. Fear draws a line around our life and limits God’s work in and through us. Self-made boundaries always hinder us from becoming the people He wants us to be. If we automatically say no to a God-given challenge, we are not living in our full potential. The Lord wants to do so much more in us than we generally let Him.
But our potential in Christ doesn’t just refer to accomplishments and service. It also applies to our attitudes. Paul talked about learning to be content in every circumstance, whether in need and hardship or comfort and abundance (Phil. 4:11-13). We see this same attitude demonstrated in his life when he suffered from “a thorn in the flesh” (2 Cor. 12:7-10). Christ told him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Paul’s response shows that he had truly learned the value of a dependent life: “Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.” If you and I could learn this lesson, we would be more like Paul because we’d recognize that Christ in us is sufficient for every heartache, burden, and sorrow we experience.
The practice of dependence
Now, the big question is, How do you move into a life of total dependence upon Christ? The first step is to acknowledge that you are completely inadequate to be and do what God desires. Your only hope of living a victorious life is to develop the mindset of Galatians 2:20: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.” If you’ll begin each morning with this attitude and let it shape your decisions throughout the day, you’ll begin to glimpse what He is able to do in and through you. The more you surrender to His plans and obey by relying on His strength, the more you’ll live in your full potential.