It is so hard for our sinful and prideful hearts to accept the truth that God justifies by faith, not works. What should be the best news in the world to us, becomes a problem in our work-driven hearts. It is hard to believe that we can possess something as great as salvation without having to do anything to earn it. It almost feels unfair to receive such a great gift without doing something great to earn it. The biggest problem with the human heart is pride. We naturally want to brag on ourselves. The gospel puts an end to selfish bragging, and gives rise to Godward bragging. But we naturally look for any way to work for salvation to earn a reward rather than receive a gift.
One of the hardest things to do in life is admit a need for something. I watched a movie recently where one of the characters immigrated to the United States from Africa. She came from nothing, but quickly realized she came to nothing because she has no place to live. After visiting a church, one of the pastors sets her up with a roommate. In her first night at the new apartment, her roommate gives her some money, which she refuses in embarrassment. The roommate urges her to take the money and says, “Need is not weakness. Need is need.”
We are all afraid of weakness. As a freshman on the varsity basketball team, I dreaded weight lifting days because it was a constant reminder of my weakness compared to my older teammates. We want to feel strong and look strong. We actually only care if people think we are strong, even if we are weak. What the roommate in the movie gets wrong is that need is weakness. But the secret of strength is found in weakness. The only way to be truly strong is to admit you are weak.
In Romans 4:13-17, Paul argues that Abraham and his offspring did not receive the promise of blessing because he obeyed the law. The blessing of promise was given to Abraham and his descendants on the basis of his faith. And faith is always a dependence on God. It is the willingness to admit weakness. If God promised to bless Abraham and his offspring on the basis of works of the law, he would be blessing them on the basis of their own strength. This would be horrible news because of Romans 1-3, which clearly teaches no Jew or Gentile can keep the law. But the promise comes through faith, so God freely extends his blessing to Abraham and all who believe like him.
Jesus says those who are last will be first and the meek will inherit the earth, because being last and meek is possessing the child-like faith of Abraham who simply believed the promise of the Lord. Saving faith is receiving Jesus for who he is and taking God at his word. Faith is not a blind plunge into deep waters, but a form of weakness that sees need and supply. Children are unafraid of weakness. When they are in need, they look frantically for the source of supply. As a father of a 17-month-old boy and a 3-day-old boy, I can assure you little boys recognize their need and they know the source of satisfaction–her name is Momma. If they need food, they run to Momma. If they need comfort, they run to Momma. If they aren’t sure what they need, but know they need something, they run to Momma. And no one is more pleased and honored by this constant running than Momma.
You are not a failure or an embarrassment when you recognize your own weakness. Instead, you are finally on the path to find satisfaction and supply for your need. The worst thing a person can do is live in a self-imposed reality of superhuman strength and self-supply. A world in which you have no need or weakness is a fantastical self-created world out of a fear of social displacement. But the fear of weakness boils down to a basic human problem–pride. Admitting weakness, let alone embracing weakness, sends shivers down our spines. We cringe at the thought of our friends and neighbors seeing our weakness. We work our fingers to the bone, drain our bank accounts, and pile up a mountain of credit card debt in order to appear strong, stable, and successful. And the appearance is all we really care about. As long as we look strong, our inner soul-deterioration can be forgotten.
Don’t fear weakness. Embrace weakness. A downward spiral into sin begins with an unwillingness to admit weakness. Hypocrisy, self-righteousness, pride, and judgmentalism have at their root a fear of weakness. The solution is not to work harder, but to look and run to the only source of supply. Like my sons, unashamedly cry out to the one who can and will satisfy the desires of your heart.
Strength–meaning, identity, purpose, righteousness, value, love, joy, life–is found only through weakness–faith, hope, dependence, repentance, and humility.
Admitting your need for God to do for you what you can’t do for yourself is the first step in receiving God’s gift of salvation—the source of ultimate strength. “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly” (Rom. 5:6).
Run to Christ, the only source of supply that can satisfy your deepest needs.
Mathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is the author of Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God (Westbow Press, 2016). He is an M.Div student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mathew is married to his high school sweetheart, Erica. Mathew and Erica live in Tupelo with their son, Jude. You can follow him on Twitter @mat_gilbert.