Robert Jeffress - If It's Going to Be, Is It up to Me?
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress, and welcome again to "Pathway to Victory". As Christians, we often struggle to understand the balance between God's sovereignty and our responsibility. For example, since God is ultimately in control of everything, what's my responsibility in feeling the power of the Holy Spirit? Or is that God's responsibility? Well, today I'll show you what the Bible says about your role in engaging the Holy Spirit. My message is titled, "If It's Going To Be, Is It Up To Me?" On today's edition of "Pathway to Victory".
If you're a parent, you probably have been through this before, your child has difficulty with a homework assignment and says, mom or dad, can you help me out with the assignment? And out of compassion, you agree to help out, and pretty soon you find yourself being the one who's doing the homework assignment while your kid is off playing a video game. Has that ever happened to you before? Or maybe you've had this experience before, you're a supervisor at work and you give one of your employees a task to complete. Two days later, the employee comes back and says, you know, I'm really not sure how to do this. Can you help me out? And you, the supervisor, end up doing the task that you had originally given that employee to complete.
If you've ever had one of those experiences, you are a victim of what managers call upward delegation. Upward delegation occurs when a subordinate gives back to a superior an assignment the superior has first given the subordinate. You know, many times you and I are not just victims of upward delegation, we actually practice upward delegation, especially in our relationship with God. Many times, we try to give back to God a responsibility that he has given to us. For example, tired of a mediocre Christian existence, tired of being addicted to sin, you pray, oh Lord, I'm tired of living this way. Fill me with your Holy Spirit so that I can experience the new life that you have for me. And as wonderful as that prayer sounds, it's upward delegation, because in our series on the Holy Spirit we've seen that the responsibility for being filled with the Spirit is not God's responsibility, it's our responsibility.
Ephesians 5:8 says you be filled with the Spirit. You be controlled by the Spirit of God. And so today we're going to talk about what we must do in order to experience the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Now, of course, that brings up a question, is there really anything that we can do to be filled with the Holy Spirit of God? See, Christians get confused on this subject. There are a lot of Christians who think that being filled with the Spirit is God's responsibility when in fact it's our responsibility. In fact, a lot of Christians really don't understand what works of God are totally his responsibility and what works of God are our responsibility.
So this morning, I want you to turn to John 3, and I would like us to look at three works of God that really are his responsibility and some that are our responsibility. John 3, the first and perhaps the most significant work that God does in your life is what we call the work of regeneration. Write it down, regeneration. Let me give you a definition of regeneration. Regeneration is the work of the Holy Spirit by which he makes those who are spiritually dead spiritually alive, so that they can trust in Christ. That's regeneration. It means to give life to. Regeneration is the act of the Holy Spirit by which he makes those who are spiritually dead spiritually alive.
Do you realize that you and I will never trust in Jesus as our Savior on our own? Nobody who is a spiritual corpse ever wakes up one day and says, you know what? Today, I think I'd like to become spiritually alive. That is a work of the Holy Spirit of God. It is the Holy Spirit who gives us even the ability to believe in Christ. And you see that in John 3, Jesus was talking to Nicodemus about the mysterious work of the Holy Spirit. And he was talking about regeneration. "Jesus answered," look at John 3:5-6, "Jesus answered, 'truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the spirit, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God. That which has been born of the flesh is flesh, that which is born of the spirit of spirit'". And then look at verse eight, "The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from or where it is going: so is everyone who is born of the Spirit".
We have no control over when or upon whom the Holy Spirit is going to fall. And we don't know whom the Holy Spirit has selected to regenerate. That is a mysterious act of God. You and I can do nothing to regenerate ourselves. It is completely a work of God. Now there's a second work that is completely of God, and that is justification. Write it down, justification. Justification is the act by which God declares us not guilty on the basis of our faith in Christ. Justification is the act, it's a judicial term, by which God declares you not guilty on the basis of your faith in Christ. The moment you trust in Christ as your Savior, God declares you not guilty. He sees you as completely sinless based on what Christ has done for you.
Romans 5:1 says, "Therefore having been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ". Justification, being declared not guilty. The Bible says none of us has the right spiritual clothes to get into heaven. The Bible says the best we do, our goodness, our righteousness is like a filthy rag in God's sight. None of us has the right spiritual clothing to get into heaven, but God says, you know what, you're not alone in that. The Bible says every human being has fallen short of the glory of God. And so I've made this offer, I've made this provision for you, God says, if you would like, I will wrap you in the perfect righteousness of my son, Jesus Christ. His righteousness can become your righteousness. And you are welcome to come in and enjoy a relationship with me forever.
That's what Paul meant when he said in Philippians 3:9, "My prayer is that I might be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the law, but that righteousness which comes on the basis of faith in Christ". The most important decision any of us makes is whether we're going to try to enter into heaven on our own righteousness and be turned away, or try to enter heaven with his righteousness and be guaranteed an eternity with Christ. That's justification.
Now, listen to this, just as there was a point in time when you were born physically, the Bible says there was a time when you were born again into the Kingdom of God. At that moment, you were justified, you were declared not guilty forever. Now, who's responsible for justification? Again, that is a work of God alone. You and I can't do anything to be justified. That's what he does for us. Now there's one third work of God, one final work I want us to look at this morning, called sanctification. Sanctification. One of the most popular series I ever preached anywhere at any time is how to know God's will for your life. Everybody's interested in that topic. How can I know God's will for my life? How many of you would like to know what God's will for your life is? Okay, how many of you are interested?
Boy, you are so lucky you came today, because today I'm going to reveal to you God's will for your life. It's found in Romans 8:28-29. Will you turn there? Romans Romans 8:28-29 here is God's will for your life. "And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to his purpose". Now, you don't go to hell for writing in your Bible, okay? So I want you to do something in your Bible. I want you to circle the word purpose, and then I want you to circle the word good in verse 28, and I want you to draw a line between purpose and good. These words relate to one another.
What Paul is saying is, everything that happens to you, the good, the bad, the ugly, God is using all of it to accomplish his purpose in your life. And what is that purpose? This is going to surprise some of you. God's purpose for your life is not that you have satisfying marriage. God's purpose in your life is not that you have a successful career. God's purpose in your life is not that you have a full bank account. God's purpose in your life is not that you be healed from every physical disease. No, his purpose for your life is verse 29, "For whom God foreknew, he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his son, that his son might be the firstborn among many brethren".
You see, God so loved Jesus he was so enraptured by his son Jesus, by his perfect obedience, by the love he had for his father, by the way that he lived his life, Jesus, God was so taken by his son Jesus Christ that he said, you know what? I don't want to just have one son. I'd love to have many children, many men and women that resemble the son I love in the things they love, the way they act, the thoughts that they have. And so God's plan from the beginning was to redeem from fallen humanity a group of men and women that would be just like his son Jesus Christ. Isn't that what the text says? That we might be conformed to the image of his son so that his son might be the firstborn, not the only born but the firstborn, among many brethren. And so God's plan for you was not just to save you, to rescue your soul from hell, but to transform you, to chisel in you, if you will, the perfect image of his son.
And what Paul is saying is, everything in your life is working together for that one purpose, to make you just like Jesus, to love the things that Jesus loved, to do the things that Jesus did, to act the way that Jesus acted in every situation. And that means that every success, as well as every sadness, every triumph, as well as every tragedy is working together for that one purpose. And I found in my own life it's not the easy things that tend to make me more like Jesus. It's those hard things, those sad things, those things that defy our human understanding that God uses to chisel away anything in our life that is not like Jesus Christ. That's what sanctification is. Sanctification, if you want to write it down, is the process by which God conforms us to the image of Jesus Christ. And notice it's a process. Justification happens in an instant when we trust in Christ.
Somebody said justification is the work of a moment, but sanctification is the work of a lifetime. You see, your relationship with God doesn't end when you're saved. God saved you to begin a process in you. Think of it this way. Let's say there's a mom who's just given birth to her newborn child, and she's in the hospital and the nurse brings the baby to its mom for the very first time. And the mom cradles it for a few moments and oohs and ahs, and then gives the child back to the nurse and says, "Well, that was nice. Tell my child to have a good life. See you later". I mean, what mom will do that? I mean, the reason a mom gives birth to a child is not to abandon the child. That birth represents not the end but the beginning of a lifelong relationship between that mother and child. And so it is in God's relationship with us. When we're born again, it's not an end unto itself, it's the beginning of a relationship with God.
Paul said it this way in Philippians 1:6, "Knowing this very thing, that he who began the good work in you will complete it until the day of Christ Jesus". The Bible says the moment you were saved God begins that chiseling process to make you like Christ, and it will continue until the day you see Jesus one day. That is sanctification. Now here's the $64.000 question. Is sanctification, my becoming like Jesus, is it God's responsibility or is it my responsibility? We just saw that regeneration and justification are God's responsibility, what about sanctification? Who's responsible for my becoming like Jesus Christ?
Well, there've been two views of that throughout Christianity. There are some people who have what I call the let go and let God view of sanctification. You've probably heard it taught in churches before. The people will say, well, just like you can't become a Christian through human effort, you cannot live as a Christian through human effort. So quit struggling, quit trying, quit trying to do anything. Just let go and let God and let the Holy Spirit flow through you, and you can become like Christ without any effort on your part. Have you ever heard that before? That is a prescription for spiritual disaster in your life.
Now, there are some people who actually believe that, because of scripture verses. They'll quote verses like Galatians 3:3, in which Paul says, "Are you so foolish? Having begun by the spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh"? That is, if it's the Holy Spirit who saved you, why are you depending upon human effort to make you more like Christ? Or John 15:4-5, listen to Jesus' words. "Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, and you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he bears much fruit, so apart from me, you can do nothing".
Think about a vine and branches. In order to produce fruit, do the branches have to struggle and strain and say, oh, I need to produce fruit, oh, I hope I can get my energy up today to produce fruit? Does it work that way? No, it's effortless. As long as the sap is flowing through that vine and through the branches, the fruit comes. And so it seems to be that Jesus is saying, so it is with us. If we allow the power of the Holy Spirit to flow through us, then we don't have to exert any effort at all. But that belief is wrong on two counts. First of all, the let go and let God approach denies the reality of my sin nature. That's the problem with the let go and let God approach, it denies the reality of my sin nature. Yes, if you're a Christian, you have the power of the Holy Spirit inside of you. You have that new nature and that new ability to please God, but you also have that old nature, that old set of desires, that even though it has no power over you, it is still there and can influence you.
Remember in Galatians 5:17, Paul said, "For the spirit sets its desires against the flesh, and the flesh against the spirit". If you're a believer, you have a civil war going on in your life right now. Am I going to please God or am I going to please myself? And that's why to say living the Christian life requires no effort is that prescription for spiritual disaster. A struggle we're going to have with our flesh is inevitable, but don't forget it is winnable. We don't ever have to obey our old nature. But secondly, this let go and let God view of the Christian life differs responsibility to God that he has given to us. Remember upward delegation, giving back to God responsibility that he's given us? We don't have time this morning to look at all of these scriptures, but just jot these down and look at them later.
Galatians 5:16, Paul said, "But I say, you walk by the spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh". You do it, you walk by the spirit. Or Ephesians 4:22-24, we read these verses a moment ago, "That, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and you put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth". Or one more, Colossians 3:8, "But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, abusive speech from your mouth".
Do you get the idea here what Paul is saying? He's saying you are the ones who are to lay aside your old nature. You're the one who is to lay aside anger, malice, wrath. You are the one who is responsible for walking in the spirit. You are the one who is responsible for putting on the new self. In other words, quit telling God to do these things for you. It is your responsibility to do those things. A second extreme, though, that people go to in living the Christian life is what I call the if it's going to be, it's up to me approach. It's the idea that I alone am responsible for living the Christian life. If I'll just pull up my bootstraps and if I'll just grit my teeth and read that Bible, even though I don't want to read it and pray and do these things, if I'll just operate in my strength, I can eventually become like Jesus Christ. And we've seen that is impossible too. "Apart from me," Jesus said, "You can do nothing".
Now here's the point I want you to go away with today. Sanctification, becoming like Jesus Christ, is a cooperative effort between God and you. It is a joint project. It is God who supplies the power, and God's power through the Holy Spirit energizing our efforts is what makes us like Jesus Christ. It's not all of God and it's not all of us. It is a joint project. Let me leave you with two principles this morning I want you to write down. First of all, the purpose of God's power is transformation, not exhilaration. A lot of people think the reason the Holy Spirit exists is to give me, you know, spiritual warm fuzzies, to give me spiritual goosebumps, so I can get into a worship service and say, ooh, I feel that, ooh, that feels so good, ooh, I just feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
Many people think that's the whole purpose of the Holy Spirit, to make us feel good. That's not the purpose of the power of the Holy Spirit. The reason the Holy Spirit's power exists is not so we can have exhilarating worship or miraculous answers to our prayers or anything else, the reason God has given us the power of the Holy Spirit is to accomplish his purpose in our life, to make us like Jesus Christ. Remember, the purpose of God's power is transformation, not exhilaration. And that leads to a second truth, the process by which we experience God's power is cooperation, not delegation. The process by which we experienced God's power is cooperation, not delegation. We don't say, God, you fill me with your Holy Spirit. No, we already have the spiritual generator, the Holy Spirit, living within us. It's our responsibility to access that power.
I like the way J.I. Packer, a great Christian writer said it. He said, "Being filled with the spirit really means removing the boulders in our life that prevent the flow of the Holy Spirit in our lives". Again, using the generator idea, you already had the spiritual generator in your life if you're a Christian, the Holy Spirit. But for the Holy Spirit's power to flow into your everyday life, you have to understand that there are some conduits, some channels through which the Holy Spirit's power flows through our life. And in the weeks ahead, we're going to look at four specific conduits, four specific channel, through which we can experience the transforming power of the Holy Spirit of God.