It should be the desire for every Christian to want to be used by God to accomplish great things. It is in this pursuit that I have found myself wrestling with an idea. The idea is this, “If I can only become more holy or godly, then God will use me to do greater things.” Then with the same breath, I will teach the idea of “progressive sanctification,” — as I pursue Christ, I will become more and more like Him. When you combine these two thoughts, one can be overwhelmed by this idea, ” God cannot use me greatly until I have ‘progressed’ further in my walk with Him.” The problem with the idea of God using us by means of our holiness is this- because of our sin natures, we feel as if we have never really progressed far enough for God to use us greatly. So when we look at the stories in the Old Testament, when God used men to do great things, we inevitably begin to make a spiritual comparison. This comparison often leads us to believe that the people that God used must have been godlier than we, so we stop expecting God to use us in mighty ways. Although our desire is to be used greatly, like God has used other men and women, we are resigned to except mediocrity as a the “normal” Christian experience.
I have read through the book of Acts many times, but for some reason this passage never jumped out at me like it did until now.
The scene is this: Peter and John were outside the temple near the gate called “beautiful.” There lying next to the gate was a man who had been disabled since birth. The power of God displayed through Peter and John healed the lame man. Immediately, people who saw were amazed and a crowd began to form. Now read what Peter says to the crowd.
Acts 3:12 (HCSB)
12 When Peter saw this, he addressed the people: “Men of Israel, why are you amazed at this? Or why do you stare at us, as though we had made him walk by our own power or godliness?
It was obvious to me that it was not Peter and John’s power that had healed the man, but what I had never noticed before was the word “godliness.” It was not because of their godliness that God chose to use them. This sent my mind reeling in every direction. I have lived alot of my life believing that God will only use me to the degree that I am holy, but I find in myself no such sense of holiness. I am always mindful of my own frailty as I seek to live victoriously over sin. Then I remembered that Paul declared himself to be wretched, a man that is constantly wrestling with sin. Yet no one can argue that God did not use him greatly. This thread of thought, once again, led me back to Old Testament accounts. It was there that I begin to see that God used wretched men greatly not “holy” men. Moses: struggled with faith and had trouble controlling his temper. David: a liar, murderer, and adulterer. Sampson: pursued ungodly relationships. The list goes on and on. Then I fast forwarded to the New Testament. No change there. God used liars, thieves, hot-heads, and murderers.
Now earlier we had mentioned the idea of progressive sanctification. The idea that all those who are in Christ are on the road of change, changing into His image. If we believe this to be true, then we are all at different places on that journey. Is God’s power then limited by the speed in which we change? Man’s focus is often on ability and in the church circles it is no different. We often judge people by their ability to say,” no” to temptation and from man’s point of view, this makes sense. In a job we get promotions based on our ability to perform, but in God’s kingdom it is not about ability (as if any of us really has any ability anyhow). So if it’s not about our ability to be holy, then what is it all about? When I look in the Scriptures, it wasn’t the holiest of men that God used. It was those who lived a life of submission. Am I arguing that Christians are not to worry about holiness? Of course not! If you’re looking for an excuse to avoid the obligations of a holy lifestyle, then you are not a true believer or Christ follower. Holiness without submission to the everyday workings of Christ is useless and is ultimately about your own self-righteousness (= filthy rags). God does not use us based upon our track record or our progress. He uses us greatly when we submit our will to His. God used people to do great things when they submitted to His will. You will always struggle with sin. You will always struggle with submission. You will have times of great victory and you will have times of great defeat, but don’t let that lead you to believe that God cannot use you until you get your act together. When in humility we submit our will to His, the defeat you suffered yesterday, today, or maybe even a few minutes ago does not bind the hands of God. If you are in Christ, you are forgiven, justified, redeemed, and loved by an Almighty God who will continue to use you to do great things when you submit your will to His leading. Be encouraged and don’t become bound by the spirit of performance.