Commanding the Impossible
Be careful for nothing.
Think about these statements a little deeper. Are they in any way possible?
Be careful for nothing means don't be anxious. Don't worry. It's Philippians 4:6. But who can do that? I can do it sometimes. But in the end pressure gets the best of me repeatedly.
Be perfect. This is a command to be mature. It's a demand that we have integrity. That's Mathew 5:48. But who can put this honestly on their own résumé?
Pray always. Need I explain that? This is the admonition of Ephesians 6:18.
And these are all New Testament passages! If it were Old Testament then we could write it off as the noble and righteous law, but really as something that ultimately is only intended to bring us humbly to our knees in a desperate realization of our need for a Savior.
But these (and other obligations) are New Covenant requirements.
There is a school of thought that assumes (falsely, I say) that when God commands us to do something, that we can actually do it. But the list of His failing followers is long. That's not His fault, of course. But it is reality.
I think of the apostles who were authorized and empowered to cast out demons. But who, when faced with the challenge of Mark 9, fell miserably short.
There is the pitiful example of the Apostle Peter in Matthew 26:41. There Jesus said, "Watch and pray, that you enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak." And that is precisely the problem. The flesh is weak to do good. And "weak" is an incredibly generous word for that condition.
I like Paul's wording for it. "In my flesh dwells no good thing." I like Jesus' description elsewhere, "With men it is impossible."
Then why command men at all? So we can aim often and hit periodically? That seems unlikely. God's righteousness if full and secure. We can add nothing to it. We can detract nothing from it.
It seems that the law of love serves from the inside much like the law of Moses did from the outside. It is God's way of directing us to a humble place of dependance upon Him.
Not that the commands are insincere or that there are no repercussions for failure.
Anxiety is a detriment.
Immaturity is destructive.
Prayerlessness is displeasing to God.
Yet again, I can't settle for the idea that God has just set a high standard in order to get something somewhat less out of us. While that may be the outward result, God's work is always a heart work.
I don't claim to have mastered this concept, so your input is welcome. But I tend to believe that these impossible admonitions are given to remind us of the nature of our justification and position in Christ: it is an unmerited gift. They are also meant to remind us of our current dependance on the Spirit in every moment of sanctification and holiness: this spiritual growth is equally an unmerited product of God's grace. And thirdly, the impossibly high standards point to an ultimate reality; glorification: which again will be the exclusive work of God in me. I will have contributed nothing to it.
I have repeatedly experienced the propensities of my own heart. My capacity for failure is measureless. My potential for success is disappearingly minuscule. No, that's too generous. My potential for good is infinitesimally minute; vanishingly finite.
Ok, never mind. I have none.
I compare myself to my past self and vacillate between hope and despair. I compare myself to others and find the same uncertain conclusions. But when I compare myself to Christ and to the demands of His Word, even as a believer, I throw up my hands in exasperation. I wrap my useless arms around the trunk of His cross and beg for mercy. I don't just need instruction, or an example, of even an infusion of inspiration - I need to be conquered by the divine. It is my only hope.
With God ALL THINGS are possible.
As David: "Not unto us, O LORD, not unto us, but unto Your name give glory, for Your mercy, and for Your truth's sake." (Psalm 115:1)
As Daniel: "O Lord, righteousness belongs unto You, but unto us confusion of faces, as at this day... unto all that are near, and that are far off, because of our trespass that we have trespassed against You. O Lord, to us belongs confusion of face... because we have sinned against You. To the Lord our God belongs mercies and forgivenesses, though we have rebelled against Him." (Daniel 9:7-9)
He alone is worthy of any credit whatsoever.
Attaining is not difficult. It is impossible, unless God just gives it to me.
And, He will.