The Sort of People God Uses

Just who is used for God’s purposes?

Let me cut to the chase here. What are the kind of people that God uses for his purposes? There is only one kind: sinners. People like you and me in other words. Sure, he wants all saved sinners to grow in grace, to become more Christlike, to be less self-centred, and so on. But the only material he has to work with in this fallen world is sinners who have been redeemed – but still struggle with sin.

That is the long and the short of the Christian life in fact. Sinners who are saved by grace are given a new nature, but the old nature has not disappeared. So there is a constant struggle – a lifelong warfare – between the two. Growth in grace hopefully means we over time get more of the former and less of the latter.

But we are all, as the apostle Paul put it, cracked, earthen vessels. Thus it is clear who should get all the credit and all the glory for any good things that we do: “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Corinthians 4:7).

The other day I wrote a few articles about a guy who really was quite a dodgy jar of clay – Samson. No one reading the four chapters devoted to him in the book of judges can come away thinking what a devout, godly and spiritual man he was. He was as carnal, impetuous and fleshly as they come. And yet – amazingly – God could still use him for his purposes.

Just how do we account for this fact? Indeed, how do we account for the fact that a perfect, holy and pure God can use any one of us? The short answer is this: it is pure grace. We are not doing great things for God because we are such perfect little spiritual dynamos who have it all together. We are doing things for a great God who chooses to use even cracked pots (and sometimes crackpots) like you and me.

That has gotta be good news. But let me say a little bit more about Samson. And it is relevant for all believers. In my previous articles I quoted a number of authors – pastors, teachers, commentators, etc. Here I want to quote from just one fellow: Tim Keller.

If you do not know much about the New York pastor who went to be with the Lord a year ago, see this piece:

Image of Judges for You (God's Word for You)
Judges for You (God's Word for You) by Keller, Timothy (Author) Amazon logo

Here I want to offer a few large quotes from his 2013 volume, Judges For You (The Good Book Company). I find what he says to be quite helpful. Given the greatly flawed character of Samson, we wonder why God would even bother working with him. Writes Keller:

But how can God use such flawed people – people like Samson – to get his work done? Shouldn’t he only work with people who are good, godly men and women? Shouldn’t he only use the people who have the right beliefs, and the right behavior?


The problem with this is that it puts God in a box. It would mean he is limited by humans, and is only allowed to work when people are being good and making godly choices. It would mean that God does not work by grace, taking the initiative to save; but that he works in response to good works, waiting for people to help him to save.


David Jackman describes how Judges “shoots holes through all of that:”


“It is above all a book about grace, undeserved mercy, as is the whole Bible … That is not to play down theological accuracy or to pretend it doesn’t matter how we behave … [We will still suffer from our sins]. But we can rejoice that he is also in the business of using our failures as the foundations for his success. Let us never imagine that we have God taped, or that we know how he will work, or when. As soon as we start to say, ‘God cannot or will not… until…’ we are wrong-footed.”


The amazing truth is that God works through sinners, and through sinful situations. He keeps his promises to bless his people in the dark and disastrous periods of our lives, as well as through the times when things are going “right.” Not even our own sin will stop him saving us, or using us. Mysteriously, often unseen, and usually far beyond our comprehension, God works through the free (and very often flawed) choices people make: “In all things, God works for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8:28). pp. 145-146

And what he goes on to say about the difference between “gift-giving and fruit-growing” I personally found to be quite revealing. I often think I am an OK teacher and the like, but I wonder how much fruit of the Spirit I have. Just thinking about the first three fruit in the list in Galatians 5 – love, joy, peace – I often think I am not so loving or peaceful or joyful! So I for one need to take his words to heart. He writes:

Again, Samson is gifted by the Spirit in a remarkable way—killing a thousand armed men with a jaw bone is no mean feat! But if Samson has God’s Spirit, shouldn’t we see him growing in holiness? How can he be so empowered by the Spirit, and yet show no patience, humility or self-control?


But the Bible has always made a distinction that most believers are unaware of. It is possible to have the gifts of the Spirit, yet lack the fruit of the Spirit. In 1 Corinthians 12 and 14, Paul tells us that “gifts” of the Spirit are skills for doing—abilities for serving and helping people, though they can be used for other ends, too. But in Galatians 5:22-23, Paul tells us that the “fruit” of the Spirit is character traits of being—qualities such as peace, patience, gentleness, self-control. Then in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3, Paul tells us that it is possible to have skills (or gifts) of teaching and speaking and leadership—and yet lack the fruit of love, without which gifts are worth “nothing.”


So we will at times in Scripture come across men and women—like Samson—who have great gifts, but seem very shallow in holiness and character. And 1 Corinthians 13 means that we should beware this in ourselves, too. The gifts of the Holy Spirit can operate in us, even mightily, and we can be helping people and leading movements—yet our inner personal lives can still be a complete wreck. In fact, this pattern is so common that there may regularly be a link between an impressive outer life and a broken inner life. Some people who are the most vigorous and effective in teaching, counseling, and leadership are, in their private lives, giving in to temptation, discouragement, anger, and fear.


What can we do about it? First, we can recognize the biblical distinction between gifts and fruit. Many people look at their gifts as self-justifying “proof” that they are fine spiritually: ‘Look at the people I serve, and who tell me how much I mean to them! Surely God is pleased with me.’ But we must not mistake the operation of gifts for the growth of fruit. The fruit is the “proof” of spiritual growth.


Second, our prayer life, rather than our religious activities, is the best indicator of spiritual health. Is prayer warm, enjoyable, consistent? Are you not only talking but listening and learning? Or like Samson, do you only pray as a last resort, and only for yourself and your own desires?


Third, we must avoid “Lone Ranger” Christianity. Intimate fellowship is the best way to ensure the integrity of our inner and outer lives. Samson is notable for his aloneness. Not only does he not take any advice, but he never works with others, or builds teams. He is a one-man wrecking crew. That is a prescription for focusing on outward impressiveness while suffering from internal disintegration, since no one is close enough to see our spiritual lives, or to encourage and challenge us about it. pp. 147-148

Good words indeed – words that I certainly need to hear. Maybe you do too.

[1394 words]

3 Replies to “The Sort of People God Uses”

  1. Hi Bill,

    Your readers must feel greatly reassured by your recent commentaries (above and on March 20 and 21) on how God can use even deeply flawed individuals such as Samson for His purposes.

    Like you, I’m often tormented by the realisation that I fall far short of the glory of God.

    What a comfort it is to be reminded, especially today on Good Friday, that Jesus was prepared to make the supreme sacrifice on our behalf while we were yet sinners.

    The knowledge of God’s love and grace towards us should stop us in our tracks.

    I am also particularly taken by that quote (above) from the late Timothy Keller:

    “The gifts of the Holy Spirit can operate in us, even mightily, and we can be helping people and leading movements — yet our inner personal lives can still be a complete wreck.”

    That is a very important warning for all Christian believers to reflect upon.

    Thank you, Bill, for providing your readers with valuable godly counsel.

    I know for certain that I will be re-reading your Samson commentaries again in the future.

  2. Thanks Bill for discussing the difference between ‘gifts of the spirit’ and ‘fruits of the spirit’. I agree Samson was operating in the ‘gifts of the spirit’, enormous strength, that God had miraculously given him to rescue Israel from the Philistines.

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