“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.” (John 14:16-17)
Jesus promised the disciples a “helper.” In fact, He promises the Helper—”the Spirit of Truth”—who would be with them “forever” (John 14:16-17). He knew they were not going to be able to do it alone. Not by their own reason. Not by their own strength. They would need a helper.
This is how life starts for every one of us.
You were born into this world absolutely helpless. No strength to move around. No ability to feed yourself. No way to rationally communicate. No reason. No understanding. All you could do was coo, cry, and make a dirty diaper. You were totally dependent on your parents for life.
Not by your own reason or strength could you survive.
It is the same in our spiritual lives.
We are completely dependent on the Lord for spiritual birth and spiritual life. Like the disciples, you cannot do it on your own. You have to be reborn, but not by your choice. Not by your own will. Not by your own reason or strength. You are reborn by the Helper—”the Spirit of Truth.”
For this reason, the explanation of the Third Article in the Small Catechism states very clearly that faith is the work of the Holy Spirit:
“I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, and sanctified and kept me in the true faith.”
“I cannot by my own reason or strength . . .“ That phrase follows us around throughout all of our lives. It begins at birth and keeps on going.
A baby has no reason and has little strength. My toddler (Titus) and my four-year-old (Soteria) remind me, as did their four older siblings, that children do grow in strength and do develop reason, but that reason is very often irrational and lost in tantrums. Yet, if we are being honest, such tantrums and irrationality are not limited to the children in our homes. Whether adult or child, our fallen and sinful natures make each one of us prone to sin by tantrums and irrationality.
“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience . . .” (Ephesians 2:1-2)
“I cannot by my own reason or strength . . .“ Yes, that phrase follows us throughout all of life. In fact, Scripture declares that you were dead in your trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1). When you are dead, you are dead! You can’t bring yourself back to life. And when you are a lost and condemned sinner, you are a lost and condemned sinner! You can’t change that on your own, certainly not by your own reason or strength.
But this is why you are called by the Gospel.
For where the Gospel is, there the Holy Spirit is at work. He goes into your ear holes and into your heart. God’s Word is the living voice of the Gospel, not a dead word of some old, dusty book.
In fact, through the Gospel, the Holy Spirit goes into water to wash you clean. The Scriptures say that when you are baptized, you are washed (Titus 3:5). They say that when you are baptized, your sins are forgiven (Acts 22:16). They say that when you are baptized, you are given the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38) who works saving faith in you (1 Corinthians 12:3).
Not by your own reason or strength can you believe.
Baptism is God’s gift of grace.
It’s His gift of the Holy Spirit. You don’t earn it, win it, achieve it, or give it to yourself. And it’s certainly not a work you do. Baptism is a divine gift of God’s grace that wraps you in His love and leads you forward in faith. In fact, so profound is this gift that it moved the Apostle Peter to declare, “Baptism now saves you!” (1 Peter 3:21).
“Baptism now saves you!” (1 Peter 3:21)
Not by your own reason or strength can you have your sins taken away. Not by your own reason or strength can you be saved. And not by your own reason or strength can you raise your dead body back to life. The Helper—the Spirit of Truth—gives you Jesus, who by divine reason and strength died and rose for you.
Jesus, who by divine love and compassion makes you His redeemed disciples.
Jesus, who by his powerful Word tells you of the Father’s love and gives you hope to live in and hope to share with others.
Therefore, rest not on your own reason or strength, but upon Christ who gives you strength (Philippians 4:13).
“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)
This article also appears in the June / July 2019 Lutheran Witness insert for the Minnesota South District. View the full insert with this article and additional news and encouragement here.