As sinners, we are masters of self-delusion. And one of our favorite illusions is the idea that we have within ourselves the power and ability to overcome our deepest problems.
Why do we flatter ourselves this way?
I suppose one reason is our impressive record of achievement as members of the human race. We’ve learned to fly, we’ve walked on the moon, we’ve overcome plagues and diseases, we’ve peered into the far reaches of the universe – what isn’t within our reach to conquer and overcome?
And most of us, I believe, find all the proof we need of our innate strength and ability when we look back on our lives and remember the problems we’ve faced and the challenges we’ve overcome. I succeeded in that sport, I passed that class, I learned that skill. Surely I can do even greater things than that.
So we look to our achievements and convince ourselves that if I think and try hard enough, I can overcome just about anything. Besides that, simply by default we live and think as though we are the ones in control of our lives. There’s nothing more frightening than the feeling of helplessness, like when your car starts to slide off the road or an earthquake begins to move the earth beneath your feet. Like lightening strikes that light up the darkened earth, these moments of helplessness light up our darkened understanding, giving us a clear glimpse of how little control we really have over our lives. But as soon as the danger passes, we go back to living as though we are the masters of our destiny. And naturally, we think, we have the ability to overcome life’s problems.
But when it comes to our deepest problem, our sin and all its terrible consequences, this is a delusion, and a fatal one at that. No matter how capable you may be, by your own strength, you are utterly helpless and powerless to overcome the power of sin. You may, by the sheer force of your will, change your habits and mend your ways. You may be able to turn over a new leaf; many people have. But sin is far too strong for you to overcome – you simply don’t have the power and ability to solve this problem. Jesus said, “… everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin” (John 8:34). Apart from God’s grace, sin is your master, it reigns over you, and in the end will destroy you. And there is nothing you can do to overcome it. Nothing.
For proof of this, look into the manger in Bethlehem. See the infant Jesus, the eternal Son of God become man. The baby betrays our weakness. If, by our moral and spiritual strength, we could overcome sin, there would have been no need for the incarnation. We would be able to achieve righteousness by our good actions and lives; we could earn God’s favor and entrance into heaven. But the Son of God became man to do for us what we could not do: live a righteous life, and offer himself to God as a sacrifice to take away our sins. Take one look into the manger and see what becomes of your ability and strength. The illusion is shattered, the dream is dispelled. We convinced ourselves we can do right and please God, but how foolish we were! God had to become man to save us; in Christ, God has done for us what we could never do.
Look again into the manger and see there the power and might of God. That’s right – God’s power on full display in the person of a tiny, helpless, weak creature. This same Jesus would go on to suffer and die on the cross. And it was by his death, his death as a man and for man, that God has conquered sin and death forever. Defeating evil at the cross was God’s mightiest work ever, but he did it through the (outward) weakness of the suffering and dying Christ.
And he did this for weak and powerless sinners: “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 4:6).
In the face of the ruthless power of sin, there is only one thing you can “do”: trust in Christ as your Savior from sin. And he will do the impossible for you – take away your sin and give you his perfect righteousness. As you look to Christ and admit your powerlessness, he will by his power give you the one thing that is otherwise out of your reach, eternal life. Like the wise men, don’t be too proud to bow down to the baby Jesus. Even as an infant, he was infinitely stronger than you!
The LORD is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation. Psalm 118:14