Walter Marshall writes, “Men show themselves strangely forgetful or hypocritical in professing original sin in their prayers, catechisms, and confessions of faith; and yet urging upon themselves and others the practice of the law, without the consideration of any strengthening, enlivening means; as if there were no want of ability, but only activity.”
What a great quote! Marshall reminds us of our original sin and total depravity. As children of Adam, we have been corrupted from the beginning, and our devilish corruption has become increasingly evident. Our depraved nature preceded our depraved nurture, and both have contributed towards our debauchery. Yes, our unrighteousness flows from Satan, flows from Adam, flows from our hearts, and shows itself in our words and deeds. All of us are wholly unholy, and of ourselves we cannot be any other. Broken we are; we have no ability to be good.
And yet, foolishly, many of us disregard God’s existence, his good law, his divine expectations, and God’s promised judicial consequences. We suppress God’s divine revelation about reality and replace it with some sort of man-devised substitution.
- Some of us deny the Creator and promote accidental evolution.
- Some of us deny God’s Law and see it only as traditional preference.
- Some of us deny God’s holy wrath and deem him to be totally tolerant.
- Some of us deny his promise of eternal condemnation and proclaim all make it safely to the “other side” — whatever that is.
Vainly, we imagine we have no righteousness problem or relational dilemma, and with a deceitful peace we march forward towards our date with divine damnation.
But more folly abounds.
Foolishly, many of us fill our lives by recognizing the Creator and Judge, receiving his Law, understanding his strict expectations, agreeing with his judicial declaration, and then seeking to earn-back the status and relationship we have lost. Many of us, think we have the ability to help our situation. Consequently, we devote ourselves to religious activities:
- We attend worship more frequently.
- We practice worship more diligently and strictly.
- We mourn over sin with greater fervency; Again and again we swear we will get it right.
- We read more.
- We pray more.
- We give more.
- We evaluate more.
- We judge more.
- Like Rocky Balboa, we are determined to will ourselves to victory.
- Like Rudy, we get up again and again and refuse to give up.
- Like the Little Engine, we exclaim, “I think I can; I think I can; I know I can!”
- We say “no” to pleasure.
- We say “no” to popluarity.
- We say “no” to prosperity.
- We say “yes” to sacrifice and missions.
- We separate themselves from sinners.
- We separate from “compromising” saints.
- We set up fences to keep ourselves from outwardly doing what we inwardly desire.
- Law-keeping becomes our mantra.
- Harder and harder we try.
- Louder and louder we cry.
- We think we have the ability to engage in activity that brings us into favor with God.
Listen to the Apostle Paul. It matters not how divine the activity. Without the ability, all is nothing, and we have no such ability.
1 Corinthians 13:1–3 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
Listen again to Mr. Marshall:
Men show themselves strangely forgetful or hypocritical in professing original sin in their prayers, catechisms, and confessions of faith; and yet urging upon themselves and others the practice of the law, without the consideration of any strengthening, enlivening means; as if there were no want of ability, but only activity.
As religious individuals might “somewhat” or “partially” obey some small part of God’s law. We might do some with some of our heart, soul, mind, and strength. At any given moment, the common grace of God might shine forth and we might have some inclination to do some good in some ways. Sure, our today-testimony might look better than yesterday’s. Sure, our words and walk might look better than our neighbors. However, our past conduct is not the standard and neither is our neighbor. God’s Law is the standard, and perfection is the requirement.
We are to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, and mind, and then we are to show that love in all our words and works, and we are to do only this all the time.
And because we are recipients of original sin who are totally deprave, we are only corrupt image-bearers of God who, despite our religiosity, break his holy will and blaspheme his holy name. Because we lack ability, our activity is of no help.
But thanks be to God; there is sweet news ahead.
The Father went to work before us. He saw our first father and mother. He saw our original sin and total depravity. He saw our persistent rebellion, and he chose not to leave us in our depraved and damned state. He made promises to save us. He wrote our names in the Lamb’s Book of Life and gave a copy to his Son. Yes, before the foundation of the world, great was the Father’s activity in loving us rebels.
Additionally, the Son went to work for us. He came to earth and lived a lawful life. Then, in accordance with the promised justice of God, he died a hellish death. This he did for his own. For his children, Jesus earned it all and then paid it all. Great was the Son’s activity for us who are wanton, depraved, hell-deserving, and helpless.
And today, the Spirit still works for us. Within all who are united with Christ by faith, the Spirit labors. Powerfully he calls the elect of God. Radiantly, he fills and indwells us. Fantastically, he fruits us with Christ-honoring affections, thoughts, words, and deeds. Supernaturally, he gifts us for us in his ministry, and then he regularly empowers us to use the gifts he has granted. Great is the work-ethic of the Father and Son. Thrilling is the activity of the Spirit. This is God’s doing. He has the ability. He does the activity. All of this flows from his gracious ambition.
Therefore, we enjoy God’s shalom. Not for a moment do we contribute towards our own calling, union, atonement, regeneration, justification, adoption, and positional sanctification. As it was in the initial days of Creation, the Father and Son have done their work and now they rest with their image-bearers. We can stop the insanity. We can leave behind our vain imaginations and vain religious ambitions. All has been done that needs to be done. Take a breath. Take your work shoes off. Take a holiday with God. He is perfectly satisfied with you, as he was yesterday and will be tomorrow. His affections waiver not from day to day. You are eternally secure, eternally beloved, and always perfectly saintly in his sight. This is not of your own doing; all this is the work of God. It is the result of his ability, activity, and ambition.
And now, enjoy the fact that his ability, activity, and ambition have given you a new ability and ambition. Identified with Christ, clothed in his righteousness, and filled with his Spirit, we get to:
- Shine his light.
- Do good works that others see.
- Produce the Spirit’s fruit.
- Live as sanctified saints.
- Labor as those who love our work.
- Run the race put before us.
- Seek the kingdom of God and his righteousness.
- Wage war with the devil.
- Put to death the deeds of the flesh.
- Pursue the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.
- Love him from our hearts and souls.
- Love him with our minds.
- Love him with our strength.
- Labor for the harvest and bear much fruit.
- Present our bodies as a living sacrifice.
And then we get to enjoy:
- Worshiping more frequently.
- Worshiping more diligently and strictly.
- Mourning over sin with greater fervency.
- Reading more.
- Praying more.
- Giving more.
- Saying “no” to some pleasures.
- Saying “no” to some popularity.
- Saying “no” to some prosperity.
- Saying “yes” to sacrifice and missions.
- Setting up fences to keep ourselves from outwardly sinning.
- Law-keeping becomes our ambitious delight.
- Harder and harder we try.
- Louder and louder we cry.
- We now we have the ability to engage in activity that is favorable with God.
Gospel-resting brothers and sisters, we are holy … it’s who we are, and we can be nothing else.
Gospel-resting brothers and sisters, his ambition and ability led to his glorious activity, and it leads to our renewed ability and ambition. So, let’s enjoy our Sabbath-rest and get to work. It is not a vain thing to trust in Christ, love his law, and enjoy the ongoing work of the Spirit as we move from grace to grace.
Let’s have some sabbath ambition. Let’s rest, and then let’s hit the road again.