Hope for the Battle with Intractable Weakness
We all have sin-infected weaknesses that are intractable. They are deeply woven into the fabric of who we are and are frequently exacerbated by our sinful responses to them.
Inherent weaknesses are different from indwelling sin. Indwelling sin is evil that is waging war against God in our very members (Romans 7:21–23). Inherent weaknesses are our bodily experience of God’s curse of futility that is affecting all of creation (Romans 8:20). Sin is moral corruption resulting in real guilt. Weakness is a constitutional corruption — a disease or disorder or disability — resulting in sometimes anguishing struggle.
When we’re young, we tend to underestimate our weaknesses. We think they’ll change when our situation changes. Or we believe they will simply fade away as we get older. Or we assume our future mature selves will muster the discipline to conquer them. Or surely the Spirit will come with healing power and give us victory.
We battle our weaknesses every day for years. And years. And at some point, often in middle age, we find ourselves bewildered. Our old enemy is not vanquished. We thought sanctification was supposed to be progressive. Where’s the progress? Will this never end?
To all of us who find ourselves weary, let this precious and very great promise (2 Peter 1:4) wash over us today and revive our hope:
I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:6)
A Good Work
This thing that you are wrestling with, this protracted struggle that can be so frustrating and painful, is being used by God to accomplish a good work. It is building faith by making you desperate to mine the promises of God for hope. Thus it is building hope in a reality that you do not yet see (Romans 8:24–25). And it is building love for the Lord’s appearing (2 Timothy 4:8), for when that day comes “we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).
On the cross, when our justification was accomplished, Jesus declared, “It is finished” (John 19:30). Someday he will say the same thing about our sanctification. His single offering “perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (Hebrews 10:14). Jesus will bring it to completion. Yes, there will be an end.
At the Day of Christ Jesus
God is merciful to us in Philippians 1:6. He tells when to expect the process to be completed: “at the day of Christ Jesus.” We must not have an over-realized eschatology when it comes to our sanctification. Now we groan inwardly (Romans 8:23). We are supposed to. That’s part of the plan. Our struggle is meant to point us to the day of Christ Jesus when we will experience “the redemption of our bodies.”
Redemption is coming. Your weakness and “the fiery trial [that has come] upon you to test you” (1 Peter 4:12) is not intended to shame or condemn you. It is there to teach you faith, hope, love and anticipation. God will provide for all of your needs now (Philippians 4:19), and you will find “at the day of Christ Jesus” that every anguishing faith battle prepared for you “a weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17).
For more on sanctification, see Desiring God’s newly available Acting the Miracle: God’s Work and Ours in the Mystery of Sanctification, which includes contributions from John Piper, Kevin DeYoung, Ed Welch, David Mathis, Jarvis Williams, and Russell Moore. The full PDF is now available.