CHRISTIAN ADVANTAGE 
These “Christian Advantage” pieces are supposed to address the question of Christian empowerment. Let me see if I can make myself clear about what I’m working with.
The NT expressly says that the Spirit of God that indwells Christians strengthens them [see]. This is not to be denied.
The pieces I’m working with are not aimed at denying that truth or robbing Christians of the power given to them by the indwelling Spirit. Presuming that my present understanding of the Scriptures in this matter is correct [limited as it is] I just want to contribute to the Christian’s empowerment. I’d like to remove some worry that gnaws at the hearts of many sensitive Christians, give them peace and free them to rejoice in some of what the Holy Spirit does in, through and for them.
I want to help them not to be at all disappointed in God or overly disappointed in themselves. I’d like them to shift their gaze to God’s purpose in them rather than a constant checking of their spiritual/moral pulse and temperature.
My own experience [if I can judge by a huge number of people I’ve known down the years and the many letters I get] is the experience of a vast number of Christians. And what is that?
For more than one reason their experience of the biblical promises of empowerment fall short of their personal moral experience—the promises are not fulfilled and there’s always some fine print that explains why.
“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” Paul says in Philippians 4:13 and Christians who find themselves defeated by Sin and sins—not just now and then but year after year after—wonder why they haven’t morally matured and experienced that blessing despite the truth of Philippians 4.
One of the worst fruits of this sense of defeat is this—they begin to doubt the truth of Philippians 4:13. Another is this— they begin to wonder if they truly belong to the Lord Jesus because, if they did, they would surely have the strength to become the devoted and morally mature Christians they long to be and aren’t. But I would suppose that the most commonly experienced bad fruit is that they think there is some fine print they aren’t seeing.
“Fine print” like, “One day but not in this lifetime you will be able to do ‘all things’ through Christ who strengthens you.” [It’s true that the passage doesn’t read like that but maybe that’s the unstated “fine print”.]
“Fine print” like, “Of course the strength of the Lord is offered to you but you have to have the strength to grasp and use it.” [That sounds plausible because the Lord doesn’t turns us into puppets, we must accept what he offers. Still, we wonder what good the offer of the Lord’s strength is if we have to have our own strength to get it. What if we don’t have the strength to get his strength?]
The trouble with these “explanations” as to why we don’t have Christ’s strength to do all these lovely things [like defeat recurring sins, grow in the lovely ways we long for and such]—the trouble with these “explanations” is that they confirm that we lack the strength the passage speaks of.
Two things make matters entirely worse. There are smug and self-righteous Christians who insist we should have already become as morally mature and lovely as they are. [Smugness is a fourth bad fruit that develops in this area.] And if the self-righteous ones are subtle about their “accusation” and confident about their own success the very sensitive tend to believe them—“We should be successful like them.”
The second thing is the realization that countless people who have made no commitment to Jesus as Lord live moral lives at least as morally upright and fine as these disappointed-in-themselves Christians. Setting aside the question: where do these non-Christians get the power? the disappointed follower of Christ wonders why his/her moral life with Christ doesn’t compare favorably with the moral life of those without Christ.
All this and more leads to other bad fruit. “Spiritual depression” and dismay deepen in the defeated and so does impatience in the mature and untroubled believers who can’t understand why no marked growth is seen in the “weaklings”. From pulpits, lecterns and bulletins verses are directed at the weaklings. Passages from the book of Hebrews, for example, which were written to people in danger of apostasy, are used to rebuke people who have no desire whatever to leave the Lord. In truth they hunger for the opposite—they want to please him more, they want his strength to help them to please him.
The concerns of the weak aren’t dealt with. Passages such as Philippians 4 or Ephesians 3 or James 4:7 are quoted as though they were self-explanatory and as though the speakers knew by experience what these passages were talking about. If the preachers, teachers and writers have already “arrived” at great moral power everyone else should have or soon should. If others are not devoted, not truly involved or not morally mature it can only be that they don’t want to be. After all, there’s Philippians 4:13 and Ephesians 1:13, 19 and 3:16.
When believers who cannot and do not want to turn from the Lord Jesus come to believe that the promises are in some definite way beyond their grasp they’re tempted to settle for less. The leaders who see this end up offering the banal and the status quo as teaching/preaching because they have tried constant rebuke or cajoling and it didn't work. It's either that or turf the "weaklings" out.
That’s what these pieces are about.
For clarity’s sake let me just spell out some points and if you choose to pursue me on them DO write me, please.
1. God is at work and always has been at work in the hearts and lives of humans down the centuries. It doesn’t matter who or what they are or where they live. God’s truth though it has been suppressed by the human family as a family has had lovely effects on countless souls though they are all sinners.
2. The Spirit of God did not begin his moral work on Christians only when they became Christians. He was already at work in them long before they came to Christ. Cornelius is a perfect illustration of that truth.
3. The same is true about talents and giftedness [in Christians and non-Christians]—they are gifts from God that develop variously in us in light of our nature and nurture. The idea that the Spirit’s gifts are newly created as if by magic when we become Christians is simply not true. People don’t become Christians and all of a sudden have administrative ability, medical brilliance, patience and other various virtues.
4. The same is true about the baggage we bring with us when we become Christians. Unhealthy fears, ingrained evil habits, ugly attitudes, cruel tendencies and such, these don’t appear by magic—nature and nurture, played on by the “world-spirit” result in our sinfulness and our choosing to sin. These are aspects of who we are when we come to the Lord Jesus for salvation, rescue and the privilege of being his companions [see].
5. The level and nature of our “bentness” differs depending on so many things that there’s no getting to the bottom of an individual profile. We have much in common as humans, of course, but no one’s life runs on the same tracks and while some of the more obvious things about us are predictable [concerning our evil or our moral decency] it’s almost humorous to listen to the gurus who know everything about everyone.
6. The same thing that happens to me and to you is not the same thing that happens to you and me. Part of “the event” is the person to whom it happens. Your father dies and my father dies—same thing! No, not the same thing! I am fragile and you are strong. My marriage falls apart and your marriage falls apart—same thing. No, not the same thing! I have a strong support network and you have no one. The “burden” is never the same because the ones bearing the burden are not the same.
7. What is true about sadness and tragedy is true about blessing and joy. Last year I was capable of "seeing" well; this year [due to trouble] I lack that good vision. It’s true about moral strength and weakness. Children raised in lovely homes with warmth, healthy authority, acceptance and such, have an advantage over children raised in homes of abuse, hyper-criticism and apathy. This is true whether the warm authoritative parents are Christians, Muslims, Jews or Hindus or agnostics.
8. People aren’t shaped by magic, not even divine magic. You want magic? Go to the movies! People are shaped by the Spirit of God but not by his working magic. People are also shaped by an invisible [but real] power of evil that the Scriptures would call satanic or demonic, but not by demonic magic.
9. All this, and more, means that when people come to the Lord Jesus they are people who enter the new creation with different weaknesses or strengths, out of different environments, with different personality traits and different support networks [or none], with different susceptibilities to different forms of sin and different sensitivity to different virtues. All these strengths and weaknesses they bring and they lay them, as part of their very selves, at Jesus’ feet.
10. Since God won’t work magic we shouldn’t expect everyone to be healed in the same way, at the same speed and to the same degree. We shouldn’t even expect to know how to judge such matters. We don’t know enough nor are we pure enough to make such judgments. We certainly know what the obvious evils are but we don’t know the strength of the currents against which people are swimming. You aren’t me! I’m not you! Judge the deed with care and truth but don’t overestimate what you know and don’t overestimate your ability to know!
11. So what’s the difference between the Christian and the non-Christian if the non-Christian is as morally upright as the Christian? So what advantage does the Christian have if God’s Spirit is at work at the moral level in the lives of both non-Christians and Christians?
12. Paul severely critiques the Jewish nation in Romans 2:17-29 and uses circumcision and the Torah to rebuke the nation. This leads to the question [3:1], “What advantage then has the Jew?” Some scholars think the answer should have been, “None at all!” But Paul says [3:2], “Much in everyway! Chiefly because to them were committed the oracles of God.”
13. But how was that an “advantage” if the nation as a nation proved itself faithless to God? The scriptures, the promises were “entrusted” to the Jews but it’s patently obvious from Israel’s history as a nation that the scriptures and promises didn’t transform them into paragons of moral uprightness or faithfulness.
14. The modern scholars I’ve read [I’ve read quite a few] tell us that Israel didn’t have the Holy Spirit so they couldn’t be faithful. Their story is that Christians now have the Holy Spirit so that they can do what Israel could not do because, as they say, Israel didn’t have the Holy Spirit to empower them to keep the law. I think this is nonsense but it’s a discussion for another time [see this and also note the list of faithful heroes in Hebrews 11 whose faith Christians are called to emulate].
15. Passing that by for now, Paul says that the Jews had all kinds of advantage and in particular they had been entrusted with God’s scriptures. Yes, but again, how was that an advantage if i they didn’t morally transform them into devoted followers of God? Well, since Paul said they were advantaged and since it's true that the advantages didn’t morally transform them we need to take a close look at advantage. Since it is true that Christians have been entrusted with God’s scriptures and they haven’t been transformed into moral exemplars and are no better or worse than the decent and upright non-Christian people what advantage do they have, what is the power the Spirit gives?
16. What power do Christians have that non-Christians don’t have? Since OT Israel did have the Holy Spirit’s help what is it that NT believers have that they didn’t? What does the Holy Spirit do for Christians that he doesn’t do for non-Christians?
God enabling I’d like to take that up in part 8.
If you choose, please pursue me on what I’ve said already.