When my children were small and wanted to help, I learned two things. One was never to say “you are too little” — to them, that sounded demeaning. The second was to let them try. If they were too little, they soon realized and often said so. After thinking about this, it seems this ability to admit that ‘I can’t’ is what Jesus was talking about in these verses . . .
At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he 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 18:1–4)
To enter the kingdom of heaven, I must realize and admit that I cannot do it; I need Jesus Christ. Salvation and conversion are the work of God, not anything that I can do . . .
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8–9)
After that initial salvation where God saved me from the penalty of sin, the process of being delivered from its power continues. However, this process is not what many Christians think it is, nor is it like the church at Galatia thought . . .
O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? (Galatians 3:1–3)
Several times I’ve said ‘I can’t’ to others and been told to ‘try harder’ or given encouragement like, ‘Sure you can; you are smart and can do anything you put your mind to.’ The diagram in yesterday’s post illustrates a truth that eludes many people, even Christians. We are saved by grace through faith, but we are also perfected or made mature by grace through faith . . .
Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. (Colossians 2:6–7)
Growing in grace is the same as being saved by grace. It is also the opposite of taking the bull by the horns and trying to conquer sin by bringing that old nature into subjection. This can only be done by the same process by which I received Christ. In my conversion, He came to me, He spoke to me, He changed my life. My part was to confess my sin and need, trusting Him to do the rest. I soon realized that even the faith to believe is a gift from God, not my own doing.
I’ve often claimed that 1 John 1:9 is the most important verse in the Bible for Christian growth and life. It says: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)
Jesus might have said the same thing this way: “Whoever humbles himself like a child, confessing ‘I cannot do it’ will be the one who can do it, who can overcome sin — because that person is trusting Me to do it for them!”