Dedicated to the devotional, exegetical and philosophical study of theological paradox in Conservative, Thoroughly Biblical, Historically Orthodox, Essentially Reformed theology . . . to the glory of God alone!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Through Him Who Strengthens Me

This is part of a letter I recently wrote to a friend concerning the paradox of human inability and divine enablement . . .

We're looking at two verses:

John 15:5 - "Apart from Me you can do nothing."
Php 4:13 - "I can do all things through Him Who strengthens me."

You are pointing to the "I can." I am pointing to the "through Him." It is not negative, but quite the opposite. It is supremely positive, but it places ALL the positivity IN CHRIST, not in self. One who knows he can do nothing in himself calls upon Christ for help and relies on His grace and power. He gives God the credit for everything good, and none to himself.

Many will say it is only a matter of semantics, but I believe it is more significant than that. It is a matter of emphasis in which one intentionally gives God all the glory. Soli Deo Gloria - to God alone be glory.

The very fabric of our culture with its ubiquitous self-esteem dogma is to focus on the "I can" part. But the "I can" in Scripture is completely dependent on the "through Christ". All of our good work is dependent on His work, and it is done in response to His work. It is not original or meritorious or done by our own intrinsic ability. No ability can exist apart from Him.

One who has seen God's greatness and his own comparative insignificance tends to speak this way. Like Isaiah, "Woe is me! I am undone!" Or like the apostle John, who fell down "as a dead man" - it was only Christ's touch that raised him and enabled him to be like a living man again.

God is the SOURCE and the FULFILLMENT of all our good works, and He receives all the glory
Now, to touch briefly on the context of John 15, doesn't Jesus say in verse 8, "My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit"? Could it be that the "nothing" in "apart from Me you can do nothing" means "nothing that bears the fruit that glorifies My Father"? Here again we have the glory of God as a focal point, do we not?

Finally, take a look at Paul's statement in Php 4:20 - "Now to our God and Father be the glory forever and ever. Amen." Whatever "I can do . . . through Him" is subject to this, and the way I speak of my works will reveal WHO it is I am glorifying.

May you be enriched by His grace, and glorify Him in every good work.


  1. Derek,

    Good post. I think some people are afraid of going so far in attributing everything to God that the valid Biblical doctrine of human responsibility will be lost.

    I know that you're not speaking about responsibility, but about glory. We are always responsible, but only God gets the glory when we manage to follow properly because, to the extent that we do, He is in us to do it. Humbling, isn't it!

    It's not either/or, but both in one set of actions. Like Augustine we pray, "O Lord, command what You will and grant what You command."

    "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." (Gal 2:20) It's not really a paradox because it makes sense when you are surrendered.


  2. I agree, it's not really a paradox. Paradox only exists because our ability to understand is limited. In God's mind, all of His Word makes perfect sense and there is no contradiction at all, not even an apparent one. For us, faith represents a higher level of thinking that allows us to accept the paradoxes without understanding them. But once we have believed our eyes are opened and everything makes more sense.


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