Friday, January 25, 2008

Jerry Bridges on Four Ways to Love

A new friend and fellow laborer, Kurt Gebhard, sent me a copy of Jerry Bridges' The Crisis of Caring: Recovering the Meaning of True Fellowship. I've enjoyed working through this Christ-centered, pastorally helpful resource. I was struck particularly by a little section called "Union with God." Bridges outlines four possible ways a Christian can approach the Christian life."There are basically four ways to live the Christian life. The first way is to attempt to do it entirely on our own, by our own effort and willpower. This way is doomed to failure. Jesus stated very plainly, "Apart from me you do nothing" (John 15:5). If we attempt such a solo effort, some meager expressions of the life of Christ will remain in us, for, after all, we are still in union with Him. But in our daily spiritual life we will experience mostly failure, frustration, and, very likely, unsatisfactory relationships with other people. The fruit of the Spirit--love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, etc.--will hardly be visible. Instead of growing vigorously in our lives, those gracious qualities will be stunted and withered. We may have lots of Christian activity and even apparent Christian success, but we will possess little genuine Spirit-produced fruit. Most of us have probably tried this solo approach to the Christian life and found it wanting.

"The second way to live the Christian life is frequently a reaction to the first. Having experienced the futility of the self-effort way, we go to the other extreme, deciding to do nothing at all. We just 'turn it all over to the Lord' and allow Him to live His life through us. We decide, perhaps because we have heard or read it some place, that any effort on our part to live the Christian life is 'of the flesh.' We conclude that we should not work at living the Christian life, but simply trust God, who does the work for us. Many of us have tried this approach and, if we are honest with ourselves, have discovered that this, too, is not God's way.

"A third way is the 'Lord, help me' approach. The chief characteristic of this way is a partial dependence on the Lord: the unconscious but nevertheless real attitude that I can of my own self live the Christian life up to a point but that I need the Lord's help after that point. It is the assumption--unconscious, perhaps, but very real--that there is a certain reservoir of goodness, wisdom, and spiritual strength within my own character that I should draw on for the ordinary duties of life, but that beyond that, I need the Lord's help. This may be the attitude of some people who like to quote the saying, 'Lord, help me remember that nothing is going to happen to me today that You and I together can't handle.' Sadly enough, this is probably the most common approach among sincere Christians today. It is the approach used by thousands of Christians who pray a prayer for God's help at the beginning of the day, but who proceed from that point onward as if it all depended on them--unless they meet a crisis situation. It is the attitude most of us fall into at various times if we are not watchful.

"But as the great Puritan scholar John Owen wrote, 'We do not have the ability in ourselves to accomplish the least of God's tasks. This is a law of grace. When we recognize it is impossible for us to perform a duty in our own strength, we will discover the secret of its accomplishment. But alas, this is a secret we often fail to discover.'

"The fourth approach to the Christian life is the abiding-in-Christ way. the believer who practices this approach knows that the self-effort approach and the 'let go and let God' approach are both futile. He has also learned that he needs God's help not just beyond a certain point but in every aspect of life. He doesn't pray for hep just during crises or stressful times. Rather, his prayer is, 'Lord, enable me all day long, for without You I can do nothing.' To illustrate, let's imagine that God has asked him to lift a heavy log (perhaps the log symbolizes a difficult circumstance he must go through, or just the day-to-day demands of the Christian life). This believer doesn't say, 'Lord, I've got a log that's too heavy for me to lift. If You will take one end, I will take the other end and together we will lift this log.' Instead he says, 'Lord, You must enable me to lift this log if I am to do it. To all appearances it will seem as if I am lifting this log, and I truly am, but I am doing so only because You have given me all the strength to do it.' This is what Paul was saying in Philippians 4:13: 'I can do everything through him who gives me strength.' The log in that instance was the challenge of contentment in the midst of changing circumstances. Paul was able to meet that challenge, not with God's help (God and Paul sharing the load) but with God's total enabling.

"John Owen again expressed this attitude of total reliance on Christ when he paraphrased Galatians 2:20: 'The spiritual life which I have is not my own. I did not induce it, and I cannot maintain it. It is only and solely the work of Christ. It is not I who live, but Christ lives in me. My whole life is His alone.'

"So the difference between 'Lord, help me' and 'Lord, enable me' is a matter of partial trust in our self-effort versus total reliance on Christ."

Personally, I was found out on the third approach. How easy it is to slide into a 50-50 approach to living the Christian life, to confuse imperative with indicative, or look to the imperative while losing sight of the indicative. It is no longer I who lives, but Christ living in me. What wonderful truth that is!


Anonymous said...

Well said. In all fairness, I think some who say we should "Turn it all over to God" or "Let go and let God" (Approach #2) actually mean something closer to Approach #4, and their lives would even exemplify that. Still, I think you - or Jerry Bridges - have stated the real situation much more accurately.

Anonymous said...

I think the real struggle for a Pastor is that we can be thrust into #3. By the nature of expectations in the Church, well meaning believers are apt to want to see a strategy for evangelism/discipleship. Unfortunately, it causes a local Shepherd to begin to think within his own abilities. It is only by the grace of God that we can walk humbly with God and shepherd effectively (even when putting together a strategy)!

Gordon Cheng said...

the fourth way is the best way1 thank you for highlighting some useful distinctions.

pastor justin said...

I am beginning to love the writings of Jerry Bridges. I pray God continues to give him strength to write and preach.

Anonymous said...

thats good.