Week of the Sunday from July 3 to July 9
Grant us, O Lord, we pray, the spirit to think and do always those things that are right, that we, who can do no good thing apart from you, may by you be enabled to live according to your will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
The core of this prayer is a request that God would enable us to live holy lives, righteous lives, as God’s people. This comes first with a qualifying statement that we can do no good thing apart from God. It comes secondly with a purpose statement. We are asking God to give us the spirit to live rightly for the purpose of being enabled to live according to God’s will. Read backwards, this prayer starts with the goal, states the problem, then gives the solution. We will examine this prayer in that order.
Also wrapped up in this prayer are several doctrines of the church that must be kept in order if we are to understand how we could ever please God with our lives and walk in his will. Those doctrines are set forth in Articles 9-13 from the 39 Articles of Religion regarding human sin and good works. As we unpack this prayer, I will reference those articles that are relevant to it.
So that we may by you be enabled to live according to your will.
It is our ultimate goal to obey the will of God. As creator and providential Father of the universe, he knows best how we ought to live in this world he has given us. Ultimately, it is the will of God that we, as Christians, would be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ, and that we would experience intimate friendship and communion with our Triune God by the indwelling Spirit. Ultimately, God will being this about perfectly in the consummation of all things. In the present, we experience it in part, and are called to imitate our Father today as we journey towards our promised end.
We can do no good thing apart from you.
This qualifying statement is a very concise admission of two doctrines of the Christian Church. First, the doctrine of original sin is the doctrine that all humans are born under the dominion of sin, and are guilty of sin and rebellion against God. We are not sinners because we sin. We sin because we are sinners (Article 9). G.K. Chesterton comments that it is only with original sin that we can “at once pity the beggar and distrust the king.” The Christian doctrine of original sin is the ultimate equalizer and is a full respecter of persons. No one is given a pass, all persons are told the truth about who they are apart from God.
So, what does that mean? The second doctrine is called depravity. Apart from God we do not have the ability to choose what is good, or please God with our lives. Apart from the grace of God in Christ, given to us in the Holy Spirit, we cannot act out of faith towards righteousness (Article 10). Works done before the grace of grace and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit are not pleasant to God (Article 13).
The implication of these doctrines is that our original purpose statement is not attainable by us alone. God’s good and perfect will cannot be followed by creatures who can “do no good thing” apart from God. It is important to emphasize that this is still true of believing Christians. No good thing comes from a Christian apart from God. This is why we pray the last phrase.
Grant us the spirit to think and do always those things that are right.
The brilliance of this solution resides in its simplicity. We ask that God would grant us the spirit to live rightly. This is all that is required for us to live according to His will, he must give us the spirit to do so. This is not specifically a reference to the Holy Spirit, but it is of course only by the enabling and enlivening work of the Spirit that a human may desire to please God, and this after the justifying work of God by the grace of Christ (Article 12).
For the Christian, good works flow out of a relationship with and dependance upon Jesus Christ working in us. Walking in the will of God is synonymous with walking in the Spirit, enabled by his power to discern what is right, and to live it. When our days are taken up with this way of life, we will be experiencing the fullness of life promised and purchased by Jesus, which we will see in perfection when we see him face to face.
David C. Smith is married to his lifelong friend Kendalyn Smith. He is a deacon in the Anglican Church of North America, currently serving as Curate for Family Ministries at Church of the Resurrection in Flower Mound, Texas. He recently graduated with a Master of Theology degree from Dallas Theological Seminary.