Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation. When his breath departs, he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish. Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob… (Psalm 146:3-5 ESV)

Today’s world tends to emphasize our strengths and what we can do. There are many things we can do, but the greater things in the universe belong to God. We should know our limitations, that not even princes, or world leaders, can offer eternal salvation, not even the most powerful among people can change our mortal life spans, not even the wisest among us knows the future. We all must depend on God.

Consider these limitations.

Our Spiritual Limitations

Christ said, “Without me you can do nothing” (John 15:5), and our lives are empty without His Spirit living in us and working through us and even working around us. Paul, as great a man as he was, knew his own limitations when he wrote:

I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor.  (1 Cor. 3:6-8)

All that we do of significance depends highly upon God, so much that we are seen as merely day workers who planted seeds but did not abide long enough to even water them, let alone cut back the weeds, or fend off the scavengers, or harvest them. Nor did we prepare the field in which they were planted, clearing the trees and thorns and rocks.

Our service is not meaningless – that is not God’s point at all, for we play an essential part of God’s process – but we do not play it alone. We bring neither conviction nor conversion to the hearts of sinners – that is the Spirit’s work. And neither do we sustain the work through enlisting other workers beyond us. But God is faithful and His faithfulness makes our work rewarding. Paul said, “I can do all things through Him who gives me strength” (Phil. 4:13).

Our Limitations in Changing Outcomes of Past Actions

A law that God has put into the universe is the connection between actions and results of those actions. To the farming economy of the Bible days the biblical writers said that what we plant we harvest, or what we sow we reap. God’s grace forgives our sin and in that forgiveness often we see incredible acts of God’s mercy in this life, where we do not receive what we ought to receive. God’s grace is greater than our sin: “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Rom. 5:20).

But let us never imagine that God has entirely suspended this law. Even the most spiritual among us must learn many lessons the hard way of reaping what we have sown. This is not meanness on God’s part – it is utter and complete fairness. He has woven this law into the universe: actions bring results.  It is for our good that He lets us experience even the pain of our foolishness. The Bible says:

Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. (Matt. 7:1-2)

Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. (Gal. 6:7-8)

But notice that this is not limited to only rebellious and foolish planting. God makes the same promise to the one who “sows to the Spirit” that he will “from the Spirit reap eternal life.” Goodness will be repaid in goodness, faithfulness in blessings, prayer in peace, and service in repayment. The Bible says:

Blessed is the one who considers the poor! In the day of trouble the LORD delivers him. (Psalm 41:1)

Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will repay him for his deed. (Prov. 19:17)

Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. (Luke 6:38)

Consider this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. (2 Cor. 9:6)

God is not unjust. He will not forget your work and the love you have shown for His name as you have ministered to the saints and continue to do so. (Heb. 6:10)

Who can forget Dr Martin Luther King’s famous quotation: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

The Limitations of our Life Spans

Christ asked, “And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life” (Matt. 6:27). With healthy choices we may live longer than we would otherwise, but even this is only a little bit. The hour of our death was written in heaven from even before our birth. The psalmist wrote:

Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them. (Psalm 139:16)

We are taught by Christ to “walk while you have the light” (John 12:36). Isaiah said, “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near” (Isaiah 55:6). James said, “Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (James 4:14).

The hour of death waits for us all and only the return of Christ will prevent us from walking through that doorway that separates us from eternity. If, however, we can say like Paul, “For to me to live is Christ,” then we can confidently say also, “and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21).

The Limitations of God’s Plan for Our Lives

God also has a plan for us in this physical life. John the Baptist said, “A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven” (John 3:27). God has a specific way that He wishes to use us, and a million other ways in which He wishes not to use us. God’s path for us is not unbendingly narrow all the time. In His dealing with us we see that He allows considerable freedom. We are taught, “Commit your way to the LORD, Trust also in Him, and He will do it” (Prov. 16:3). We are free in many ways to dream and experiment. Ecclesiastes encourages us:

Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth. Walk in the ways of your heart and the sight of your eyes. But know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment. (Eccl. 11:9)

Yet the freedom we enjoy is limited. Not only should we not do evil but even all the good that we may think of may lie outside of God’s plan for us to accomplish.

Sometimes even what appears to be good plans God blocks, as He did with Paul and his companions. “When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to” (Acts 16:7). There was nothing inherently wrong with wishing to evangelize the Bithynians, but God stopped them because He had another plan for them. Sometimes it is our sin that limits what we may do for God, as with Moses who was forbidden from entering the Holy  Land (Num. 20:12). At other times, it is just because of the roles that God has for us each to play. David, for example, was forbidden from building the temple because he was a man of war and had shed much blood (1 Chronicles 22:8), but Solomon expresses this not as a bad thing for David, but the fact that the wars had been pressed upon him (1 Kings 5:3).

Whatever else we may say about our limitations in what we can do for God, there are times that we, like David, have absorbed so many responsibilities or fought so many different battles that, whether we are innocent or guilty or perhaps a combination of both, we are simply not the person God needs to do something else.

Our Inability to Avoid Judgment

The greatest limitation we have, I believe, is in this area. None of us can find a way or a means to exempt ourselves from judgment. The lost person cannot find a way to save himself from the eternal judgment of God. God’s Word says:

All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law… This will take place on the day when God judges people’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares. (Rom. 2:12-16)

The lost person needs Jesus Christ as a covering for his sins. In Christ we find full forgiveness and this is the miracle of the second birth. “There is now, therefore, no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1).

Yet the Christian believer also must stand before Christ in judgment.

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. (2 Cor. 5:10)

The Judgment Seat of Christ is a judgment not to determine where we spend eternity, but to determine our rewards. Our faith and its out workings will be examined. How we lived our lives for Christ, what our motives were, how we dealt with temptation, how we used our opportunities and our spiritual gifts, how true our worship was, and how shared Christ with this lost world will be examined. The Scripture says:

For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. (1 Cor. 3:11-15)

Some who were genuinely saved but bore little fruit for Christ will seem like they escaped a burning building – “though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.” We are not saved by our works but by the grace of God that we have receive through our faith. But our faithfulness will be rewarded, as well as our unfaithfulness will be revealed.

Yet for all of the good in us we will cast our crowns before the Lord, taking none of the credit for ourselves, and say:

Worthy are you, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they existed and were created. (Rev. 4:11)

Surely our limitations are many in life, but with God all things are possible. So we should rejoice constantly in Him and trust Him in all situations in life. When we do not know the way we can trust in Him. He is the way.

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