Can we count on God to give us the ability to do anything we “believe him for”?
The Apostle Paul wrote that he had learned how to do all things through Christ who strengthened him (Philip 4:13).
But why then, on another occasion did he write, “For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do (Rom 7:15).
Some have tried to say that the Romans text describes Paul’s experience before coming to Christ. But that would imply that after coming to Christ we no longer have issues with fallen, self-defeating inclinations.
In another letter the Apostle wrote about his unnamed “thorn in the flesh” that he asked God repeatedly to remove, only to get a “no” answer. Yet Paul made it clear that such problems had not broken him, but that he had even learned to say, “Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong (2Cor 12:7-10).
So what does it mean to discover that “when I am weak, then I am strong”? Does it mean that first we learn what we can’t do. Then we discover that by trusting Christ we can do what we couldn’t do without relying on him?
The latter doesn’t seem to be the experience of anyone I know, nor of the people of the Bible.
The context of “I can do all things through Christ” includes Paul’s story that he had learned to experience the presence of Christ in both plenty and poverty. Or, in other words, he had learned to experience the grace of God in all kinds of circumstances.
So what are we to conclude? Seems to me that we say with confidence, “I can do anything that Christ wants and enables me to do— where, how, and only when he wants me to do it. I can say anything he wants and enables me to say. I can go anywhere he wants me to go. No adversarial government, institution, or group of people can stop me from doing what God enables me to do.
But with that confidence it seems just as important to conclude that what Paul doesn’t mean is that we can do anything we want to do, casually, or desperately,– by “believing” or “trusting” God for the ability to do it.
Where I land is in thinking that if we are going to use the phrase “believe God for” the ability to do something– then we need to be relying not on a “feeling” of what God is saying, but what he has actually said and promised.
In any case, am guessing that we all have thought quite a bit about the God given tension between whether we can or cannot do “all things” through Christ who is our strength. Let’s compare notes.