But How? (Part 1)

“To will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not” (Romans 7:18).

This is the cry from the heart of many a disappointment, defeated, disheartened, and troubled Christian. The beginning of the Christian pathway was so bright. He [or she] looks back to the time when he received the Lord Jesus Christ as Saviour. He rejoiced in the joy of knowing that his sins were forgiven; a great burden was lifted from his heart; he was filled with love for his newly-found Saviour. It seemed then that he would never want to sin again, that nothing could be simpler than to live always in the power of this new joy. But this did not last. Gradually the first exuberant joy died down; the old temptations came back as strong, even stronger than before; the desires to pray and read the Bible grew less; there came bad falls and failures such as he had thought had been left behind forever. And now, after months, or it may be years, of Christian experience, there has come to him a settled sense of failure, a state of continual self-reproach; a deep impression that his Lord looks on him as a failure, too.

Eagle nest by Daryl HunterThere have been bright patches in his pathway, times of blessing at conference meetings and the like, when he seemed to get a new grip on things, and felt that he had entered a new phase in his Christian life. But the influence of such times had not lasted; there has been the coming down from the mountain of temporary joy and victory into the valley of further defeat and failure, and the valleys have been longer of late, and he is beginning to distrust the mountain top experiences because they make the valleys so much darker by contrast. And whether it is concerning his private Christian life which seems so full of defeat and failure, or whether it is concerning his attempts at Christian work, which have been feeble and fruitless, the cry of his heart is expressed in exactly these words, ” HOW TO PERFORM THAT WHICH IS GOOD I FIND NOT.”

Does that describe your experience of the Christian life? Then it is especially for you that this is written in an effort to show clearly God’s way of deliverance for those who are troubled as you are. For God has a way of deliverance, do not doubt that for a moment. You may enter into that way today and walk joyfully in it all the days to come.

Get it clear, first, that deliverance by laying hold of and acting upon certain great truths revealed in God’s Word. But before we set down these great truths as simply as possible, and see how we may lay hold of and act upon them, will you seek to realize these two facts?

  • Only God by His Holy Spirit, is able to lead you into His way of deliverance.
  • He desires far, far more than you do, that you should find that way.

So take a moment now, in His presence, to tell Him (in the light of the first of these facts) that you are entirely depending on His Spirit to lead you into His truth. Then tell Him (in the light of the second of these facts) that you are confident that He has brought you to this time and place to bless you, and that you are expecting Him to teach you as you read.

NOW THE FIRST GREAT TRUTH IS THIS;

1) YOU, WITH YOUR SINFUL NATURE [flesh], ARE INCAPABLE OF PRODUCING ANY GOOD THING.

The sinful nature [flesh] with which you were born remained unchanged when you were born again. It is just as incapable of doing good now as it was when you became a Christian. You “cannot please God” (Rom. 8:8) by effort you make, any more than an unsaved man can. You are as unable to produce one good thing, thought, word, or deed, as you were unable to blot out the record of your past sins. “In me,” said Paul, “dwelleth no good thing” (Rom. 7:18 ). That is what God says about you with your sinful nature [flesh]: in you dwells no good thing. No good thing. Take a moment and let that sink in. Ask the Holy Spirit to drive it home and enable you to accept God’s estimate of you. Don’t shrink from believing it utterly; accept the truth of it without reservation, even though at the moment you cannot begin to see all that it implies. It seems to be a truth that should lead you to despair. No, the acceptance of it is the beginning of the pathway that leads to deliverance.

For has not all your experience been teaching you the truth of it? You have tried to do good; tried to love, and please, and serve God; tried to produce in your life and service the goodness and the fruitfulness that you know should be there. And you have failed. Of course you have. Do you see what you have been doing?[1]

You have been trying to prove in your life the very opposite of what God says is the truth. God says: in you dwells no good thing; you have been trying to produce some “good thing.” And now you are downcast and disheartened because you are beginning to find that there is “no good thing” there to produce. You have been struggling against the admission of that truth, because you felt that in admitting it, you must admit once and for all the downfall of your Christian life. In reality the admission and acceptance of that truth will be the place where deliverance will begin for you. There will be no deliverance until, in utter despair of yourself, you admit that you cannot do the first thing toward pleasing and serving God.[2]

And notice this, and try to grasp the significance of it in relation to your past unhappy experience. God’s dealings with you are all directed to this end, to bring you to that place of utter despair of and distrust in yourself. He will let you fail. He will allow defeat and disappointment in your life, He will spare you no necessary suffering, in order to bring you to that place. For you must learn by experience, and bitter experience it often is, that in you dwells “no good thing.”

You did not realize that, did you? You thought that your failure was proving that God could not make use of you. In reality He is bringing you to the place where He can begin to use you. You thought He was looking on you reproachfully, because you cannot do the things that please Him. In reality, He knew all along that you cannot, and He is watching over you in unchanging love, waiting until you learn the lesson which He sees is necessary for you to learn.[3]

It has been well said that the secret of the Christian life can be summed up in the words, “Let go, and let God.” The first thing is to “let go.” You have been clinging desperately to your hope of “making good” as a Christian; you have been clutching, like a drowning man at a straw at the last remnants of good which you imagine you possess; you have felt that, if you let them go, your whole Christian life must go. Now you are beginning to see your mistake. God is telling you to “let go,” to do the very thing that you have felt would be your downfall. Will you do it? Let go of your last remaining hopes of being able to live the Christian life by any effort you can make, and admit once and for all the truth of God’s verdict that in you dwells “no good thing.” Let go just as you did when you first came to Him for forgiveness; you brought with you then no lingering remnant of the “filthy rags” [Isaiah. 64:6] of your own righteousness; you could find no reason in your own heart why He should accept and bless. It was:

“Just as O am, without one plea,
But that Thy blood was shed for me.”

“Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to Thy Cross I cling.”

Come as you came then. Cling to nothing else. Let go every other hope of ever being what God wants you to be. “Let go,” and then “let God.”


Part 1 of 3. This booklet was first published through South Africa General Mission, Brooklyn, N.Y.; later by Moody Press, Chicago. Terms in brackets are inserted by J.B.W., using the literal, biblical vocabulary.

[1] “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified? This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?” (Gal. 3:1-3).

[2] “Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord … For we are the circumcision [covenant people of God], who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh” (Phil. 3:1,3).

[3] Another term for this process of coming to the end of your natural resources is “brokenness.” To hear a message on this by Dr. Phil Jones, visit the GFI semon.net channel http://sermon.net/gfiworld/sermonid/119909539 For an ebook on this theme check out Watchman Nee, The Release of the Spirit.

Regarding “Sinful nature” as a translation of the Greek sarx (flesh) see such terms in the glossary at https://gracenotebook.com/definitions/ and the article Does the Believer Have Two Natures? at https://gracenotebook.com/does-the-believer-have-two-natures/.

Eagle’s nest photography by Daryl Hunter: daryl-hunter.net

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