SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT
I attended a Bible study class where a man asked, “Where is the line between letting God do all or do I just dig in, resist, and fight temptation on my own?” Nobody in the class had a solid answer and to be honest I had been wondering through the same thing myself.
In studying through the story of Abraham I have found an illustration that satisfies my search for an answer to the man’s question.
Today we are going to start out with a simple story; a story that illustrates Abraham offering his son Isaac as a sacrifice and the power of God who showed up with the true sacrifice.
Back in the late ‘70’s the movie “Smokey and the Bandit” made the Pontiac Trans Am a must have cool car. A couple of my cousins, who were brothers, each bought a black Trans Am with the t-top roof.
I had another cousin who told me the following story. He and these two brothers were hanging out in North Dakota, the vast flat land my relatives as part of the Germans from Russia movement came to and settled as farmers. These young men, with time to waste on their hands, decided to take the Trans Am’s out for some fun.
In order to correctly imagine the following illustration you should know that all of the roads in North Dakota are straight. It seems you could drive on forever and never make a turn and if you make a turn onto another road you will continue on in another direction going as straight as if you had never turned.
My cousins drove the cars out onto the freeway and basically let go of the reins. They ran the cars down the highway neck and neck at 150 mph. My cousin, who told me the story, said the car was shaking as they raced down the road. The word “shaking” probably doesn’t describe the situation accurately. As he told me the story I got the impression the shaking and the noise of the tires on the pavement along with the sound of the engine were not something for the faint of heart to experience. Probably 50 some years later as he shared the experience he seemed glad he had lived through it and could now sit in a peaceful quiet setting and tell the story.
Basically my cousins watched the movie and bought into the idea they needed a Trans Am with the t-top.
We have the opportunity to look at God and buy into the idea we need Him.
Next they each bought the Trans Am and now they physically had the car and a set of keys. But imagine if they got in the car and rather than putting the key in the ignition and turning it they sit there in the drivers seat and make rumbly vroom vroom driving noises.
In order for my cousins to race on down the freeway at 150 mph they had to access the power of the car and they had nothing to do with that power except to realize they needed it if they wanted to drive 150 mph down the freeway and look cool while doing it.
We only access the power of the engine when we quit trying to go somewhere under the horse power of our own rumbly vroom vroom driving noises and put the key into the ignition and turn it.
God gives us free choice. The free choice to live out the words of God, and when we live out the words of God they become the works of God. It’s like putting the key into the ignition and turning it. Our free choice to access the power of God doing all for us. My cousins did one simple thing; put the key in the ignition and turned it. They had nothing to do with designing the engine or building it. But when it rumbled to life, they experienced it’s power.
God gives us free choice to accept His salvation or not. The power of choice God gives us is what makes love real.
Now back to the original question, “When I’m tempted to sin where is the line between letting God do all or do I just dig in and resist?”
The story of Abraham offering Isaac as a sacrifice is a classic illustration of God offering His Son Jesus as a sacrifice for our sins. When I took a closer look at this story I realized the answer to the man’s question was not a simple either/or and why no one seemed to have an answer to it.
No one had an answer because it can’t be taken apart. The story has all the components of salvation and like making bread from scratch once you mix the flour, water, sugar, salt and yeast together and bake it there is no separating it.
And yet as humans we tend to take one side or the other whatever the situation may be. And in the age old grace vs works discussion we either say that God does all and I do nothing, or we do good works and hope it’s good enough and that God does His part.
We don’t have to choose! When we accept salvation it all comes to us mixed together like a loaf of bread.
We can not take out any part of the story of Abraham offering Isaac or we lose the full meaning of the story. We can not have the ram caught in the thicket without the sacrifice before it and we can not have the actions of the sacrifice before it without the ram being caught in the thicket to interrupt it.
So basically when I live out the words of God, like Abraham did, I HAVE the power of God providing all that I need.
We think we need to choose and that it is ‘either or’ but thats not how God does the math. It turns out we can actually have it all.
In the story of Abraham offering his son Isaac as a sacrifice to God, its all there, Abraham living out the words of God by faith and God providing all. It is ALL a part of salvation because God is big enough to do that.
Back to the bread illustration. I take the flour, water, salt, sugar, and the yeast and it all gets mixed together and I have bread. Now there is no more separating it. Once I accept the gift of salvation, I have accepted it all, the free gift of grace, the gift of free choice, and since faith is also a gift to us from God I also receive the gift of works done by faith. I can not have one without the other and still have salvation because salvation has all of it and it can not be separated.
From personal experience during the day; when I’m tempted I may step into the living out the words of God a bit grudgingly sometimes, but there is no mistaking the power of God that shows up when I live out the words of God rather than doing what my grumpy self feels like doing at the moment. The power is always there like turning the key in the car and it starts up.
I always have the gift of free choice to turn the key and put to use the power of God that is part of the gift of salvation. It transforms me from being a weakling who does not have the power to push the car to my destination and so I sit in the car making rumbling engine noises pretending I’m actually going somewhere, to turning the key of free choice and having the power of God rumble to life and take me where God wants me to go.
Sometimes we worry about the place God wants us to go. The story of Abraham offering Isaac as a sacrifice covers that too doesn’t it? Abraham no doubt agonized over his future without Isaac. And yet, when he takes his keys of free choice and puts them into the ignition and turns it, essentially when he does what God has asked him to do, the automatic response is the engine starts. The power of God shows up.
And we don’t have to worry that God will expect us to go from foot pedaling our little red Little Tykes car to driving a Trans Am 150 mph down the freeway on our third birthday. Just like we move from the Little Tykes car to a tricycle and then a bicycle and onto a car with mom or dad sitting in the passengers seat, to being allowed to drive the back roads to school; so too God has a plan for the journey of our life.
While we probably shouldn’t race our car down the freeway at 150 mph it is a good idea to access ALL of the power God has for us which can often look to us like God asking Abraham to offer his son, whom he loves, as a sacrifice to Him.
That is a picture not just of faith, but of salvation at 150 mph.
I have posted below some Bible passages to support my thoughts if you would like to read them and decide for yourself. I have bolded the supporting texts but have provided the passage for context. I have shared Hebrews 11 because it illustrates what faith is in this context; a living out of Gods words. For example Hebrews 11:7, “By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that is in keeping with faith.
Ephesians 2:1-10 NIV
2 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. 4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
James 2:14-26 NIV
14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. 19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.
20 You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless[a]? 21 Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23 And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,”[b] and he was called God’s friend. 24 You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.
25 In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? 26 As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead
Hebrews 11 NIV
11 Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. 2 This is what the ancients were commended for.
3 By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.
4 By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead.
5 By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death: “He could not be found, because God had taken him away.”[a] For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God. 6 And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.
7 By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that is in keeping with faith.
8 By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. 9 By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 11 And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she[b] considered him faithful who had made the promise. 12 And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.
13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. 14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. 15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.
17 By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, 18 even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.”[c] 19 Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.
20 By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau in regard to their future.
21 By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of Joseph’s sons, and worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff.
22 By faith Joseph, when his end was near, spoke about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and gave instructions concerning the burial of his bones.
23 By faith Moses’ parents hid him for three months after he was born, because they saw he was no ordinary child, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict.
24 By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. 25 He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. 26 He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward. 27 By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible. 28 By faith he kept the Passover and the application of blood, so that the destroyer of the firstborn would not touch the firstborn of Israel.
29 By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land; but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned.
30 By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the army had marched around them for seven days.
31 By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.[d]
32 And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. 35 Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. 36 Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were put to death by stoning;[e] they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— 38 the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.
39 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, 40 since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.