Is “Let Go and Let God” actually bad for the Christian?
You may have heard the rather pithy sounding phrase “Let Go and Let God” from inspirational calendars or as an off the cuff comment in a sermon, but do you know what it implies or where it comes from?
The phrase was coined as a catchcry for what is known as Keswick Theology which was formulated in the late 1800s in an attempt to spur the church onwards toward what they called a higher life. In reality it is a brand of “second-blessing” theology which assumes that the Christian is first blessed when he or she is saved, and blessed again when he/she decides to get serious about God. In this system, the change is a dramatic one and there is a marked difference between what is referred to as the “Defeated life” and the “Victorious life”. The former is a lower life which is shallow and fruitless and what would be termed carnal; a life that just has Jesus as saviour and nothing more. The Victorious life is said to be deeper and producing abundant fruit and no longer carnal but spiritual. This second life is distinct because Jesus is now Master of the believer’s life. This second blessing is to be experienced by fully surrendering to God in complete faith, which is summed up in the phrase “Let Go, Let God”
This Keswick theology can be found in the teaching of many preachers, devotionals and amongst many believers to the point where people believe much of it without realising its source or its consequences. Much of its popularity comes from Christians being quite aware of their struggle with sin, and desiring to be victorious over that sin right now. It is essentially the desire for a quick fix, a shortcut to victory and holiness, which draws so many to the Keswick way of thinking.
The real problem with Keswick theology is not its pervasiveness, but that it is not the picture that the bible paints of the believer’s life:
- Disjunction: It creates two categories of Christians. This is the fundamental, linchpin issue.
- Perfectionism: It portrays a shallow and incomplete view of sin in the Christian life.
- Quietism: It tends to emphasize passivity, not activity.
- Pelagianism: It tends to portray the Christian as being able to autonomously start and stop their own sanctification, exercising their own free will.
- Methodology: It tends to use superficial formulas for instantaneous sanctification (just add water).
- Impossibility: It tends to result in disillusionment and frustration for the “have-nots.”
- Spin: It tends to misinterpret personal experiences.
The easiest way to pick up on the influence of Keswick theology on the Christians around you is when they give their testimony and it goes like this: “When I was 5 years old I was saved, and after some years I finally surrendered my life to Christ at the age of 17.”
Now, just because certain terms are used, does not guarantee they mean the same thing for every Christian. To a Keswick theology follower, the word saved simply means that Jesus has become their saviour from a lost eternity in hell and that they are now a Christian. The term surrendered to them means that they have given up complete control of their life to Jesus as their Lord and Master and willingly do whatever He tells them by means of an act of dedication involving surrender and faith. This two level view of the Christian life is what is meant by “Let Go, Let God” theology.
A lot has been written about sanctification (JI Packer, BB Warfield as well as a host of puritans such as Owen, Baxter, Bunyan and others have been very useful to me in understanding this biblically). It is important to remember however that we shouldn’t determine our view of sanctification by counting up who we perceive to be the most holy Christians and seeing which view has the most. We must look to the bible alone for our understanding and view of sanctification and not be concerned about what one person or another believes.
The idea that a christian can be perfect has grown from its Methodist roots and has been expanded by denominations such as the Church of the Nazarene, the Church of God, the International Pentecostal Holiness Church, and the United Holy Church and the Wesleyan Church. It is collectively called the holiness movement. Those who adhere to this theology believe that entire sanctification is the second in a series of three distinct blessings that Christians experience. The first blessing is conversion (the new birth) and the third blessing is the baptism in the Holy Spirit (which is marked by speaking in tongues). It’s interesting to note that despite being help by a sizable percentage of its congregation, this is not mainstream Assemblies of God teaching and they outright reject such theology publicly.
Pretty much any denomination that calls itself protestant is against this view, and believe that the only way we will be perfect is when we are in heaven with Christ with our new body like that of Jesus.
“For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.
So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.”
This passage in Romans is just one example of the biblical idea of the continuous struggle between sin and our new nature in Christ. (I encourage you to read this section in the context of the other chapters so you can see the train of thought that Paul has with regards to the whole matter).
"Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you." (Philippians 3:8-15)
Philippians 3 is also an excellent place to see the continual battle or race which we as Christians are in, especially v13 where Paul the apostle says that he is not perfect but is striving for the perfection he will receive when he is resurrected with Christ.
Have Iniquity, Still Perfect Though
One objection that is often raise to this idea comes in the form of what word is used. Some believe that it is possible to be without sin, but still have iniquity in ones life, as if there is a distinction between the two. The bible makes no distinction between sin, transgression or iniquity; all are synonymous terms and keep us separated from God according to Isaiah 59:
"For our transgressions are multiplied before you,
and our sins testify against us;
for our transgressions are with us,
and we know our iniquities:
transgressing, and denying the Lord,
and turning back from following our God,
speaking oppression and revolt,
conceiving and uttering from the heart lying words." (Isaiah 59:12-13)
Reading further in the chapter shows that all of those synonymous terms are the reason that justice and judgement of sin is required, but instead a redeemer is prophesied to come to those who repent (Isaiah 59:20)
Be Perfect, No Pressure
Often when challenged with these passages, those who espouse holiness theology or christian perfectionism will cite Matthew 5:48, where Jesus literally says “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” However the actual Greek word telios (τέλειος, α, ον ) translated “perfect” in many English translations of the bible, actually means mature or completed… we are made complete as a person in Christ. It can even be found in Hebrews 5:18 to mean “mature in age” . We find ourselves complete in Christ according to the passage and its context, and can act in a mature way, able to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.
It is also important to remember that God promises to complete the work He has begun in us: “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6) This passage is even specific enough to say exactly when He will complete His work; the day of Jesus Christ’s return. Obviously, we don’t sit back and do nothing.
“But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.” (2 Peter 3:18)
“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, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:12-13)