LET GO AND LET GOD?
“If any of you are making the mistake of trying to live the victorious life, you are cheating yourself out of it, for the victory you get by trying for it is a counterfeit victory. You must substitute another word; not try, but trust, and you cannot try and trust at the same time. Trying is what we do, and trusting is what we let the Lord do.” Charles Trumbull, author and teacher who coined the phrase “Let go and let God”
“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling”
Every year Men’s Health Magazine comes out with its list of the most active cities in America. Usually, Denver or Colorado Spring or Boulder shows up on this list as the most active, healthy, physically fit places to live. Living in Colorado, I see this all around me—cyclists, runners, hikers, kayakers, and mountain climbers. In contrast, Lexington, Kentucky, had the honor of being named America’s Most Sedentary City in 2011. This description was based upon how many hours a week the average person either watched cable TV or how many video games were purchased in a year. The article went on to warn readers about the dangers of inactivity and prescribed some tips for getting more active. Physicians and health experts have been warning us for years about the dangers of living a sedentary lifestyle which leads to obesity and many other serious health problems.
In similar fashion, the sloth carries the dubious reputation of being the slowest and laziest animal on the planet and even shares the name of one of the seven deadly sins. These interesting creatures live in the rain forests of Central and South America and have a very slow metabolic rate and can take up to two months to digest their food. On the ground, their maximum speed is 6.5 feet per minute. The sloth epitomizes this idea of inactivity and passivity.
While physical inactivity in humans can lead to potential dangerous health issues, how does spiritual inactivity or passivity affect Christians in their pursuit of holiness and how does it relate to the battle with indwelling sin? Should believers ever struggle with sin or should they instead experience complete victory and move into a higher plane of spirituality often called “the victorious Christian life”? Is all striving and effort in handling sin a work of the flesh and counterproductive to true spiritual transformation? Is instantaneous sanctification possible for those select few who have absolutely surrendered themselves in consecration to Christ by “letting go and letting God”? How do these questions coincide with what we have seen so far in relation to the insidious and deceptive nature of sin?
When I was a teenager, I often struggled with lust. I remember playing in a field behind our house and discovering a Playboy magazine hidden under a pile of rocks. My family did not have “pay cable” stations such as Cinemax or HBO, so I would purposely go over to my friend’s house who had every channel imaginable so we could watch objectionable shows with graphic nudity. I quickly got immersed in the world of “soft core” pornography and as a red-blooded American boy, I wanted to see more. In the bookstores in the mall, I would look at the photography sections where they would have books on how to photograph nude women. In the recesses of my heart, I knew this was displeasing to God, but I struggled deeply in this intense battle to protect my eyes from images of sin.
I grew up in a church culture, where “rededicating” one’s life to Christ every year at youth camp was common place. I was told to “absolutely surrender” my life to Jesus. I was told to come forward at the altar call in order to become fully obedient to Christ. And during those intense periods of my battle with lust, I would feel guilty and defeated. I wondered if somehow I had not fully surrendered my life to Jesus, so I would rededicate my life for the thousandth time hoping that I could achieve this state of holiness and consecration. After I gritted my teeth with all the resolve I could muster to promise God I would absolutely surrender to Him again and again, I found myself still entangled in warfare with the lusts in my heart. I began to question my salvation and wonder what was wrong with me. Why was everyone else around me “totally on fire” for Jesus and living this victorious life of obedience, while I was still in the clutches of my sinful flesh? Maybe I didn’t fully surrender my life to Christ the last time around. Maybe I was trying too hard to battle sin and I just need to rest and be passive and wait for God to zap me with instant holiness so I would never struggle again. Could I ever reach a state of absolute surrender where I would be free of this sin forever and never struggle anymore? These questions plagued me because I still struggled, and I was frustrated because the only technique I was given to wage warfare against my sin was to “let go and let God” although I didn’t truly understand what that meant. I thought I had done that numerous times and I found myself waiting for God to do something instantaneous in my life and sometimes it never happened. Confusion led to despair at times which also led to bitterness and a sense of failure. Off and on throughout my teenage years, I would have seasons of “victory” against lust, but more often than not, I found myself embroiled in the brutality of this battle.
When I entered college, I was still faced with this teaching. I remember a song we would often sing in our college ministry with the words: “Is my life an absolute surrender?” This echoes the title of a book by Andrew Murray who was a chief proponent of this idea that a believer can achieve complete victory over all known sin in this life. All I knew at that time was that I would never attain this spiritual state of “absolute surrender” and that “letting go and letting God” only led to more frustration and confusion. A few years later, I was introduced to a book by Jerry Bridges called “The Pursuit of Holiness” that totally changed my life in a profound way and launched me on a paradigm shift in how I viewed this struggle with sin. He writes, “God wants us to walk in obedience—not victory. Obedience is oriented toward God; victory is oriented toward self…this is not to say that God doesn’t want us to experience victory, but rather to emphasize that victory is the byproduct of obedience.” This one statement revolutionized my entire way of thinking.
Jerry Bridges introduced me to J.I. Packer who introduced me to John Owen, who in turn, plunged me into a new world of understanding Christian sanctification. They also gave a name to the teaching by which I was so heavily influenced in my past—“Keswick” sanctification. This is also sometimes called the “Higher Life” or “Victorious Life” teachings. What exactly is the Keswick view of sanctification? The town of Keswick (pronounced without the “w”) is located in the lake district of England and was the birth place in the 1870’s of numerous conferences promoting this type of approach to pursuing holiness. This movement gained steam throughout the early 20th century and now permeates many areas of evangelicalism. A Keswick convention meets for a week and focuses each day on a particular area. On the third day, attendees are challenged with the theme of “consecration” and in “light of their own failure and inability and in light of God’s full provision, to surrender unconditionally to God.” The ultimate goal of surrendering is to be filled with the Holy Spirit. This often comes through a moment of crisis, and yet without this unconditional surrender, a believer will never experience the “Spirit-filled” life of victory. This message was clearly articulated in its first publication which states, “…that in Christ there is provided for every believer victory, liberty, and rest, and that this may be obtained not by a lifelong struggle after an impossible ideal but by a surrender of the individual to God, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.” In other words, holiness does not come through progressive sanctification as a lifelong pilgrimage, but through a crisis or surrender which brings immediate victory.
The Keswick view of sanctification has many godly men and women who advocate its teachings to help in the pursuit of holiness. I do not believe that it is a heretical teaching or that it finds itself way outside the bounds of conservative evangelicalism. I do object to it as an overall satisfactory answer to this difficult issue of killing sin. The Keswick teaching has some major weaknesses that bring confusion and frustration to believers who desperately want to be free of the sin, guilt, and brokenness in their lives.
Weakness Number One: SECOND CLASS CHRISTIANS?
The proponents of the victorious life movement argue that there are two types of Christians. They claim that there are those who have achieved this higher level of sanctification through surrender and the filling of the Holy Spirit and then there are those who are your average, run-of-the-mill Christians who still struggle in a subnormal spiritual existence. In reality, the Keswick view of sanctification creates a two-tiered system of believers between the “haves” and the “have nots”. It has created a fairly new terminology among evangelicals called the “carnal Christian”. A “carnal Christian” has trusted Christ as Savior, but has not fully surrendered to Him as Lord and therefore he or she is living on a lower level of spirituality and has not experienced the victorious Spirit-filled life. In addition, this teaching makes a sharp distinction between a “disciple” and a mere “Christian”. I was taught in my younger years that a “disciple” was one who was “sold-out” and truly serious about following Jesus and who was more advanced in holiness, while a basic Christian was living a subnormal spiritual life and really did not want to grow. Does the Bible actually make this bifurcation between these two classes of believers and what are the implications of holding to this theology?
 Jerry Bridges, “The Pursuit of Holiness”, (Colorado Springs, Colorado: NavPress, 1996), 17
 For a comprehensive treatment of Keswick Theology, Andrew Naselli’s “Let Go and Let God? A Survey and Analysis of Keswick Theology” is an excellent source
 Quoted from J. Robertson McQuilkin’s chapter “The Keswick View” in the book “Five Views of Sanctification”, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1987), 155
 Five Views of Sanctification”, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1987), 154