Last night our daughter and son-in-law went out for a few hours. Despite their vet calling him the happiest dog she has ever seen, their “nearly human” little pooch whined and pined for them the whole time. Not only does this pet depend on them for food, he also depends on them for emotional stability.
We don’t have children in the house now. Even our grandchildren are grown up, with the youngest in grade nine. For the most part, their dependence on us has changed from total to very little, if any. So when I read these verses this morning, I thought about this little dog who is so much like a little child . . .
And calling to him a child, (Jesus) put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18:2–4)
Entrance to the kingdom of God is about humility. At breakfast, I picked up a copy of “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” an old book that is still packaged as good advice. Some of Dale Carnegie’s ideas seem biblical even if the goals are suspect. The first chapter is filled with illustrations of how people refuse to think ill of themselves. Criminals blame others for crimes they call self-defense. Politicians cannot see their blunders and say they did the best they could. In this, Carnegie has seen the truth about sin. One of the first things that it does is makes us blind to its presence.
However, the gospel does what that book would say not to do. It convicts us of sin and says that without the grace of God and His life-changing power, we are lost and doomed. Of course the gospel brings good news too, but first there is bad news that must be humbly admitted.
This is true for that initial conversion to a life of faith, but it is also true for every step of the way in that life. I need God. I cannot do this myself. I am a sinner with a new life, and living that new life takes a great deal of humility, of being willing to say that I need Jesus, of being like a dependent little child.
Oswald Chambers reminds me that when I trust my wits instead of God, then I am responsible for the consequences. He also says that because I have obeyed Him once or ten times, that is no guarantee that I will do it again. The relation of my old life to my new life is one of continuous conversion, and believe me, this is one thing that I do not like. In every setting in which I find myself, the Spirit of God remains unchanged and His salvation unaltered, but we have to “put on the new man” and be filled with the Spirit. Otherwise, I am trusting myself, not God.
God holds me responsible every time I refuse to convert myself from trusting me to trusting Him. Why would I refuse doing that? Unlike Carnegie’s advice to never tell others their faults, Chambers calls it like it is; disobedience is willful obstinacy that thinks I know better than God. My pride and my idol-making heart still want to rule.
I am hindered when I refuse to let God continually “convert” my independence and obstinacy. He has given me enough light to realized there are whole tracts of my life that have not yet been brought into subjection. As Chambers pointedly says, this can only be done by continuous conversion. This is discouraging except that Chambers also adds a positive side by adding that those who humble themselves can slowly but surely claim the whole territory for the Spirit of God.