“But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9 ESV)
Power in the kingdom of God requires weakness in the power of the world, for power in one kingdom is weakness in the other. The crucifixion in the Roman Empire was a death sentence of humiliation, pain, and scorn; yet, the intersecting wood beams on which Jesus gave up His life became His throne. To see the King enthroned in glory, one must look at the suffering-servant nature of Jesus--a nature that is contrary to all standards of our world.
To be sure, the truth of God’s power in weakness that Jesus is the paradoxical pinnacle of is the reality that we must address if we are to see Him as Savior. God is not looking for people who can do it all on their own--He is looking for faith, which means an utter reliance upon Him. Christ died and rose again for all people, but God’s gift of salvation requires that we die to ourselves and live for Him. What does it mean to die to ourselves? It means you and I acknowledge that we aren’t enough on our own. It means we humble ourselves, and proclaim to God that we can’t walk through this life alone and that His way is better than ours. This is one and the same as repentance, which, by acknowledging our shortcomings, we are saying, “Jesus, You are God and I am not. I will trust in You and what You say.”
It is once our hands have opened in this way, and we let go of the pen of our lives, that God is able to pick it up and begin writing His story in us. To live for God means He is writing the story of Jesus in you. And if God is writing Christ’s story in you, that means you are walking in the power of God. But, what does God’s power look like? In many ways, according to the world’s standards, it looks like weakness: Jesus showed love to His enemies; Jesus forgave those who did wrong against Him; Jesus didn’t strive after money, fame, or power; Jesus was a simple carpenter before He started His ministry; Jesus held no earthly political or religious positions of authority; Jesus was a regular, unbecoming looking dude (Isaiah 53:2); Jesus spoke the truth, was honest, and made Himself vulnerable; Jesus served others.
The world’s standards of power are defined by how best an individual can serve themself. Though others can be involved in someone’s life while they are entrenched in the world, and while they can still share love with those people, a life that is of the world is ultimately centered upon the self. At the core of this world’s standard, and at the centermost part of someone who is under that standard, is the decision-making rooted in survival. To serve the self is fundamentally the same as survival because to serve only yourself means you have to place your needs above everyone else's, which is exactly what the primal instincts of survival entail.
The power of God is entirely selfless. There is not a single trace of a survival instinct in God--He doesn’t have one because He never puts His needs above others. To survive means doing whatever is necessary to stay alive. Yet, Jesus gave up His life for all. God perfectly contradicts our reality of the self and the illusion of survival. In truth, the world looks at both desirably and smiles inwardly at any motive and action that serves the two. Such is the wisdom of the world. But God laughs at the standard of the world and utterly defies it by demonstrating His perfect love toward us, that, “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8).
These are the two standards: God proclaims that selfless love is power, and the world proclaims that selfish gain is power. Both are considered weaknesses in the eyes of the other. Thus, we can see the clash between the two standards: to perfectly demonstrate selfless love, one must look at the sacrifice of Christ--a love that led Him to give up His life on a cross and bear the sins of the world; while, at the same time, the standard of the world is demonstrated, in that the world killed what was entirely selfless. If the world killed what was entirely selfless, then the reason in which we killed Him was entirely selfish. And we know this because sin is rooted in rebellion against the authority of God, and is a desire to do what one wants despite God’s will. It was to redeem us from our sin that Jesus died.
Our weakness, then, is one and the same as sin, because sin is grown in selfishness. At the root of all evil is the desire to gratify the self, and this is evil because the self is not God. When our eyes look downward to the self, they naturally have to move away from God, who is selfless. This action declares that we think God is unable to provide for our needs, and that we are better off doing it ourselves. And this is the incredibly humbling truth: we all demonstrate this weakness (to some degree), because there is only one God. God alone is entirely selfless, demonstrating perfect sacrificial and self-giving love. We, on the other hand, are all naturally prone to seek survival over sacrifice; sacrifice over mercy.
But God has not left us to our own devices--this is the Gospel message. Though in our weakness we proclaim the self, Christ died and rose again so that we can live under a new declaration. When we believe in Jesus and have received the faith He died and rose again to give us, then we are no longer bound under the declaration of sin that proclaims, “I, myself, will provide.” In Christ, we are now bound under His declaration, and His declaration shouts, “THE LORD WILL PROVIDE.”
Two Laws at Work
This is why God’s power is made perfect in us; we are infinite vessels of need and He is the infinite source of provision. Blaise Pascal’s analogy of the God-shaped hole is a profoundly powerful one, and I believe it provides the right picture as to what Paul is writing about in this verse from 2 Corinthians. If a spiritual hole is made within us because of our sin, then an opportunity to fill the spiritual hole is made evident.
To continue the analogy, a hole provides water with a perfect opportunity to fill it, just like how a cup provides a perfect space in which it can be filled with liquid. The degree of the cup’s depth determines the amount in which it can be filled with water. Because God is holy, the cup (being each of us) and its depth is determined by the amount of water that is available (being God)--which is an infinite amount--and therefore, the cup provides a perfect opportunity for the water to fill it. The only way our cup could be filled, however, was if Jesus drank the one we were owed, “He went away a second time and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may Your will be done.’” (Matthew 26:42 NIV).
It is in Christ that God gives us the answer to our spiritual void. Because God gave His own life for us, He fulfills the standard that is Himself. He has done this, and when we believe in the name of Jesus and the power of His sacrifice, we are justified; the hole has been filled. But, just like how our minds cannot fully comprehend God’s limitlessness, or how our tents of flesh cannot yet house the full glory of God, we are carried from glory to glory in the continual revelation of God’s power, for it is written, “But we all, with unveiled faces, looking as in a mirror at the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18 NASB). Sanctification is like the peeling away of the outer skin of an onion, and with each peeling away, the new layers that are brought to the surface are purer than the ones that have passed away; “... you are to be renewed in the spirit of your minds ...” (Ephesians 4:23 NASB).
Therefore, because of the present reality of our weakness, though we are filled with the power of God and eternally paid for by the blood of Jesus, our mortal eyes can only see the present unfolding work of God’s hand, and, therefore, are still required to walk by faith. Because of the very present reality of our flesh nature--which is our weakness--, we are made utterly dependent upon the promise of the cross, which points to the truth that Jesus is alive. This is important because we endure towards a promise of new life--a life that Christ is the forerunner of; “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” (1 Corinthians 15:20 BSB). Thus, because we are pressing on towards a living hope, we, in our present weakness and sojourn through the darkness, must hold fast to the God-given promise of life. For, as we know, His name is Immanuel, “God with us.”
In this current state of existence between two opposite worlds--the promise of our resurrection and the reality of our weakness--the only possible means of traveling between the two is the cross because it reconciles both. When we are saved by Christ’s sacrifice, we are justified eternally. But in the next stage of sanctification, God continues unraveling His mercies that are new in us each morning, transforming us from glory to glory by the Holy Spirit. As John 16:13-15 states, regarding how the Holy Spirit discloses to us the treasures of Jesus:
“But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take from Mine and will disclose it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine; this is why I said that He takes from Mine and will disclose it to you.”
The Son of Man Lifted Up
Thus, the Holy Spirit will glorify Jesus. So, what must the Holy Spirit do to achieve this glorification of Christ, so as to transform us to become more like Him, in order to traverse the path between our promise and our weakness? It is written, “‘Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’ He said this to show by what kind of death He was going to die.” (John 12:31-33 ESV). Christ’s death and resurrection are what the Holy Spirit points us to. It has always been the cross, and it will always be the cross: “In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him.” (1 John 4:9 NKJV).
The cross and the resurrection reconcile both our weakness and our promise because it is the eternal payment that covers our sin, while also pointing to the life that Jesus now lives. When we first believe and are justified by faith in Christ, our inner-being undergoes repentance to God because of our weakness. But, once justified, we begin sanctification, which is the continual process of walking toward the hope of the life to come. At His feet we are humbled, and when we are humbled we receive life. The woman who washed Jesus’s feet with her tears received salvation because she loved Jesus much. Why did she love Him so much? “For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but the one who is forgiven little, loves little.” (Luke 7:47 NASB). As God continues to refine our hearts and strip away layers, we grow to love Him more, because we have revelation upon revelation of the depth of the love and grace God has shown us at the cross.
If we are not aware of a sin we have committed, then what glory can God receive from us when we do not come to the realization of that sin’s sinfulness--which, in the realization, would produce repentance, though it has already been paid for--since that realization would produce a new revelation of God’s love for us that was demonstrated through His payment in Christ? The words of Jesus then ring true, as He is the only way that one can traverse the path between two opposite worlds. For He says it Himself: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6 NKJV). Therefore, as Paul writes, “I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9 ESV).
Jesus has been lifted up, and He has made His throne on the cross. Therefore, to hallow Christ’s sacrifice, our weakness must be crucified with Him at the cross through repentance, so that God can then raise up His new life within us. Hence, we rejoice in the rending of our hearts and the submission of our wills to the cross because we gain revelation of Christ’s sacrifice, thereby building faith. “But we have this treasure in earthen containers, so that the extraordinary greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying around in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.” (2 Corinthians 4:7-10 NASB). Let God be true and every man a liar. “The Law came in so that the transgression would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 5:20-21 NASB). Amen.