One of my spiritual and theological mentors was Russ McKnight. Not many will have heard of that name, but Russ’s influence on me and numerous others, including a dozen or more men now in full time ministry, was monumental. Russ was a layman who served as an Elder at Metropolitan Baptist Church in Oklahoma City. I first met Russ in 1969 on the campus of the University of Oklahoma. Russ was teaching a Bible study on Romans every Saturday morning in the Student Union building.
Russ was the first man who taught me about the doctrines of sovereign grace, or what is more commonly known as Calvinism. I was a thoroughly convinced Arminian at the time, and Russ’s love, patience, and remarkable gift at unpacking the truths of the Bible eventually led to my embracing the doctrines of grace.
Russ sold his business in the late 1970’s and moved to Dallas where he studied for his master’s degree in theology at Dallas Theological Seminary. He later moved back to Oklahoma City where he became the founding pastor of Faith Bible Church. Russ died of stomach cancer in 1991, and I was honored to have preached his memorial service.
Among the many things I learned from Russ, chief among them were three foundational principles that govern the Christian life. Russ never claimed to have thought up these truths on his own. If he learned them from someone else, he would always give credit where credit was due. These truths are simple and yet profound. Although I’ve heard many use similar language, I heard them for the first time from Russ. And they’ve stuck with me. Here they are.
(1) THOSE WHOM GOD CHOOSES, HE CHANGES. This is the remedy for passivity. Holiness is not optional, God commands it.
The point here is that when God saves us, he does not give us a blank sheet of paper and release us to live however we please. He has written his ethical and behavioral guidelines for his redeemed children in the documents of the New Covenant. The Christian life is not one of passive acquiescence, but of active obedience, not one of letting go and letting God but of getting going and trusting God.
(2) WHATEVER GOD REQUIRES, HE PROVIDES. This is the remedy for powerlessness. Holiness is not impossible, God creates it.
The great glory of the New Covenant, as compared to the Old, is that with every commandment he gives us God also promises to supply the necessary power, through the Holy Spirit, to obey. As challenging as the Christian life assuredly is, God does not leave us to ourselves or without the internal energizing presence of the Spirit to enable us to act on what he commands. On this, see especially Philippians 2:12-13 and Hebrews 13:20-21. Perhaps you’ve heard the famous saying,
“To run and work the law commands,
Yet gives me neither feet nor hands.
But better news the gospel brings,
It bids me fly and gives me wings!”
(3) WHATEVER GOD STARTS, HE FINISHES. This is the remedy for pessimism. Holiness is not fleeting, God completes it.
This is the antidote to fear and anxiety. We often live in doubt if we will truly persevere and endure to the end. What assurance do we have that our faith will not fail? What confidence might we experience that God will persevere in preserving us in our faith and obedience. I’m reminded here of Paul’s powerful declaration in Philippians 1:6 – “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Of this, Paul is “sure” and certain. This isn’t guesswork or hope. It is a rock-solid promise!