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.
I was running the other day and this song came up on my Pandora station:
Actually it was a newer version, but the link above is the Benny Hester version of “When God Ran” that I first heard back when I was in college. It was my senior year and I was in the living room of my apartment with my roommates. They had turned on the radio and found K-Love, way in its early days before it was a nationwide “thing”. The signal was not great – Christian music was hard to come by in Berkeley in those days – but it was enough to get the message. The picture of the prodigal son sheepishly returning home as his father ran to embrace him was burned in my memory. I often turned on the radio after that hoping that they would play the song again. I have only heard it a handful of times but 25 years later I still remember it.
God is not soft on sin. He doesn’t smile and shake His head with a sigh and say “Oh, well, kids today, you know” when we turn our hearts away from Him. He paid a high price to purchase our redemption.
But Romans 2:4 says that the kindness of God leads us to repentance. I can’t tell you the number of times when I have known I was guilty and needed to repent and I received an unexpected check in the mail or a message with good news … and my heart was reminded that God still loved me. His conviction brought me to a point of confession (agreeing with Him that my sin was wrong), but His kindness led me to repentance (turning away from my sin and wholeheartedly towards Him).