I’ve often heard people explain the concept of “abiding in Christ” using the illustration of a television plugged into an outlet. On its own, the TV has no source of power; no amount of self-effort will make it function. In order for it to work, the TV has to be plugged in. But as soon as the plug reaches the outlet, power is readily available. The TV instantly has what it needs to perform the function for which it was designed.
There is a lot of truth in that picture when we think about living the Christian life. When we try to fulfill the purposes for which we were created by relying on our own strength, we never succeed. We need to be “plugged in” to Christ, allowing Him to be our source of power.
But there’s a related phenomenon that I’ve often observed. When I had an old analog TV and I would turn it on, it took a little while to warm up. I remember seeing a horizontal flash of light and watching the dark gray screen as it got a little brighter, a little brighter, and then display a blurry picture. Eventually as I continued to watch the picture came into clearer focus. (A similar thing happens with digital TVs as well, but instead of a blurry picture we might get a black screen for awhile, or even a signal check that runs through all the channels trying to find which ones can be used.)
What would happen if, while the television was warming up, I unplugged it? I’d get the dark screen again. And if I then plugged it back in? It would start the process of warming up over again. And if I kept unplugging the set during the warm up time and plugging it back in after, I would get to a point where I would never actually see the picture, but just see the dark screen and maybe an occasional flash of light. The television is connected to the power source but doesn’t appear to be working because it takes some time for it to respond and bring the picture into focus.
Have you ever experienced a cycle like that? Sin – repent – sin – repent – plug in – unplug – plug in – unplug… and the struggle continues and the picture never seems to come into focus? It can be easy to think, “I kept turning to God every time I fell … but it didn’t work,” assuming that because we haven’t yet changed, His help must not be available. But the reality is that the power is there. When Jesus paid the price for our sins, it worked. Sometimes it just takes us awhile to respond to the power that is available to us.