As I was giving a tennis lesson last week, I noticed the tank top that Ryan was wearing said, “I CAN DO ALL THINGS.” The shirt was not from a “Witness Wear” Tee Shirt company, but by Under Armor. I commented on the statement to Ryan and asked if he realized that the statement was actually from the Bible. He knew the verse from Phil. 4:13 where the Apostle Paul says: “I can do all things through Him (Christ) who strengthens me.” The essential part of the claim is in the phrase “through Him (Christ).” So often in our culture today we hear people who have succeeded in sports or music, or entertainment, or business, etc. say: “You can be anything you want to be, do anything you want to do. Just believe and dedicate yourself to it.” Nike has a similar catch phrase to that of Under Armor. Theirs is “Just Do It!”
While we do need to dedicate ourselves to what we want to achieve and to become, it is definitely not true that “we can do all things” or become anything we put our mind and efforts to or to “Just do it.” Obviously our physical makeup, intellectual abilities, financial resources and doors of opportunity hinder us from being and doing anything we choose to do or be. For example, think of how many little boys dream of one day playing major league baseball, professional basketball or football. The percentage of those who get there is very small, though many try very hard to achieve that goal.
I get it that it helps to have a positive mental attitude toward achieving our goals and being successful, but there is a huge factor that needs to be included which our secular culture leaves out—God and His will and His working on our behalf. In the epistle of James we read about some Jews who had great plans to succeed in business, but failed to include God. James writes: “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow, we shall go to such and such a city and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.’ Yet you don’t know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we shall live and also do this or that’” (James 4:13-15).
In the first place, we need to acknowledge that God makes us each unique with varying physical abilities, natural talents and also—as believers—with special giftedness to serve the Body of Christ, the Church. The Psalmist wrote: “Know that the LORD Himself is God; it is He who Has made us, and not we ourselves. We are His people and the sheep of His pasture” (Psa. 100:3). Then we need to acknowledge our dependence upon Him, the One who gives us each breath and our daily bread. He gives us life and sustains us. At any moment, He could take that away, if that were His plan for us. Each morning that we wake up we can say, “Thank you God for giving me one more day to live for You. Help me depend upon You today and allow you to accomplish Your purpose in and through me.” Jesus talked about His being the vine and we the branches. He said, “He who abides in Me, and I in him, he bears much fruit; for apart from Me you can do nothing” (Jn. 15:5). The Apostle Paul understood that. As Saul of Tarsus, he had been a very talented, powerful person in Judaism, from a prestigious Jewish tribe and family, having had excellent training and had progressed up the ladder of success in Judaism. But then he had an encounter with the risen, ascended Christ (Acts 9) and his life completely changed: from being a persecutor of Jesus’ followers; now he was one. He began spreading the good news of Christ’s death and resurrection for sin. God chose him to be the apostle to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15). Although Paul had great success as a missionary spreading the Gospel, he always acknowledged, that it was not him, but Christ in him, that made the difference and produced the fruit (brought the success). He said, “By the grace of God I am what I am…” (I Cor. 15:10). He said, “I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me” (Gal. 2:20).
Obviously if we are going to be successful in any venture in life, it requires effort and dedication and discipline on our part. We don’t just sit around and watch ourselves achieve our goals. Although Paul acknowledged his complete dependence on Christ, he also put in a lot of effort and faced a lot of adversity. He traveled many thousands of miles both by foot and by ship, was shipwrecked, arrested, beaten, and was imprisoned on several occasions (cf II Cor. 11:16-28). Paul worked hard at his calling as a missionary to the Gentiles, but as he did so, he was dependent upon the power of the indwelling Christ. He wrote: “And for this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me” (Col. 1:29). Paul spoke of that balance also in his letter to the believers at Philippi where his challenge to them was: “…work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phi. 2:12,13). We don’t, and can’t work for our salvation, but we are to work it out, that is to actively be sharing with others what Christ is doing in us. Paul set the example for the believers at Philippi and for us. After talking about how he had learned to be content in any circumstance in which he found himself (Phil. 4:11,12), he wrote: “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (v. 13).
Don’t leave God out of the equation. We can do all things—which God has purposed for our lives—only through Him. I can be anything God wants me to be, I can do anything God wants me to do, as long as I am trusting in and depending upon Him.