How many times in a sermon, podcast, radio show, or small group have you heard a Christian say that we must ‘let go and let God’? I have often been the recipient of such advice, and often thought to myself ‘that doesn’t seem quite right,’ without being able to put my finger on why. J. I. Packer, in his introduction to John Owen’s The Mortification of Sin says it beautifully.
There is a secret, I was told, of rising from carnality to spirituality, a secret mirrored in the maxim: Let go, and let God. I vividly recall a radiant clergyman in an Oxford pulpit enforcing this. The secret had to with being Spirit-filled. The Spirit-filled person, it was said, is taken out of the second half of Romans 7, understood (misunderstood, I would now maintain) as an analysis of constant moral defeat through self-reliance, into Romans 8, where he walks confidently in the Spirit is not so defeated. The way to be Spirit-filled, so I gathered, was as follows.
First, one must deny self. Did not Jesus require self-denial from his disciples (Luke 9:23)? Yes, but clearly what he meant was the negating of the carnal self – that is to say self-will, self assertion, self-centeredness and self-worship, the Adamic syndrome in human nature, the egocentric behaviour pattern, rooted in anti-God aspirations and attitudes, for which the common name is original sin. What I seemed to be hearing, however, was a call to deny personal self, so that I could be taken over by Jesus Christ in such a way that my present experience of thinking and willing would become something different, and experience of Christ himself living in me, animating me, and doing the thinking and willing for me. Put like that, it sounds more like a formula of demon-possession than the ministry of the indwelling Christ according to the New Testament. But in those days I knew nothing about demon-possession, and what I have just put into words seemed to be the plain meaning of “I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me” (Gal. 2:20, KJV) as expounded by the approved speakers.
— J. I. Packer
Note the above phrase in bold. It is not our very being that we are to let go of; God made us in his image, and surely that is something to be marveled at and clung to! No, we are not to empty ourselves of all personality, opinion, or independent thought. Rather, it is, as Packer puts it, that carnal self, that self which arises out of sinful human passions, which we ought to let go of.
Let go and let God?
By all means. Let go of all sinful desire, and of the thought that we can actually do anything to be saved. Let God be our strength, our song, and our hope. God has made us each unique, with many strengths and weaknesses. Glorify God in your strengths, and call on Christ in your weakness; but do not attempt to let go of all that he has made you to be.