The Devilishness of ‘Let Go and Let God’ Theology
Article by Jared C. Wilson
Maybe you’ve said it. Maybe someone has said it to you. It’s one of those religious cliches, a vapid form of Christianese doled out whenever someone is struggling. “Let go and let God.”
It means well. In its best sense, it means “don’t worry and trust God.” But even that exhortation needs some packing. And “let go and let God” is often implied as some kind of key to spiritual breakthrough. It has its roots in the “higher life” principles of the (old version) of Keswick theology.
“Let go and let God” as a problem-solver is a way of suggesting that faith is a force field against trouble. When we say “let go and let God” to those who struggle, we must be careful we aren’t suggesting to them that if they were stronger Christians they wouldn’t deal with such things. “Let go and let God” can inadvertently promote the idea that there are Christians, and then there are Christians.
There is no Christianity 2.0. Every believer in Jesus—whether new or old, immature of experienced, weak or strong—has received every spiritual blessing in Christ (Eph. 1:3). Every believer is totally and inextricably united to Christ for all eternity. There is no partway in. Every Christian is justified totally, freely, forever. In this regard, no one is higher or more advanced than any other. Christianity is not Scientology. It’s not a pyramid scheme.
Like those within the Lordship controversy who (wrongly) argued that one could receive Christ as Savior but not as Lord, “victorious Christian life” kinds of Christians don’t just distinguish justification from sanctification but, in a sense, make them entirely dichotomous, as if you can have the former without the latter.
The Devil Loves the Hollow Theology of ‘Let Go and Let God’
If Satan cannot keep you from salvation, he will do his best to undermine and obscure the gospel that saved you by making you either overconfident in yourself or under confident in God. Both dispositions make the gospel look small and consequently may prevent more people from believing.
“Let go and let God” as advice to struggling people imagines there is some next-level Christian experience just waiting for us to crack the faith code. Like Luke Skywalker staring at the swamp trying to use his feelings to raise the X-Wing, we aren’t quite sure how to accomplish something so big by doing so little. Do we think about it hard? Or not at all? Do we concentrate? Or do we empty our mind?
Our enemy would love to get us off the comfort we could have in knowing that no matter what our difficulties, we are already close to God through union with his Son by faith, and he would love to get us on the insecurity that comes from constantly worrying if our faith is strong enough. The best way to rattle your assurance is to keep measuring it. And the best way to undermine your confidence in your justification is to begin holding your sanctification up to the imaginary light of the Super Christian.
It doesn’t take long for those who’ve been trying to “let go and let God” to let go of the process entirely, finding it futile and anxiety-inducing. “Let go and let God” is a lie that will ironically make you feel further from God, not closer.
But there’s another reason the Devil is fond of this fortune-cookie faith, and it has to do with the view of God it promotes.
You Don’t ‘Let’ God Do Anything
An early proponent of Keswick theology once wrote, “Christians need not sin, and if they allow the Holy Spirit to ‘operate invariably’ they will not sin.” There are numerous problems in this one sentence, not least of which is that it represents, again, a fundamental misunderstanding about how sanctification works in a Christian’s life. Another issue is the idea that Christians can reach a point of sinlessness (or near-sinlessness). But a big problem hiding behind the others is one that is repeated in countless Christian sermons, books, social media thoughts, and even songs. It is the notion of “letting God.”
We must “allow the Holy Spirit” to operate, W. H. Thomas says.
I don’t know if you noticed, but this sounds a lot like the Holy Spirit is our servant, a cosmic butler of sorts, rather than—oh, I don’t know—the third Person of the Trinity and thus our God. I get the heebie-jeebies when I come across language like this, which is a lot more often than I would like. Christians who ought to know better routinely begin statements with phrases like “God can’t” or “God needs.” We are told that we need to “let God” do all manner of things before he can guide us, bless us, reward us, and so on.
To all of this we ought to say that any God who needs us to activate him is not much of a god at all. God says, “Look, I am the LORD, the God over every creature. Is anything too difficult for me?” (Jer. 32:27). He doesn’t need our help. And he doesn’t need our permission.
One reason the serpent wished Adam and Eve to elevate their conceptions of themselves to god-like status is because he wishes by implication to demote the one true God to man-like status. Satan loves “let God” language because he loves the idea of a deficient God. He will support any doctrine of God that is weak and unbiblical.
The true God is sovereign over all. If he does not do something, it is because ultimately he has willed not to do it. The blessings we receive in response to our honoring God are themselves foreordained. Even the faith we exercise to receive his salvation, which was until then withheld, is itself a gift from him (Eph. 2:8). And contrary to higher life teaching, the power we need to pursue holiness, choose obedience, and participate in our sanctification is granted entirely by God’s grace.
“I labor for this,” Paul writes in Colossians 1:29, “striving with his strength that works powerfully in me.” And when he tells us in Philippians 2:12 to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,” he adds: “For it is God who is working in you both to will and to work according to his good purpose” (2:13).
Still, the language of “letting God” persists. A simple Google search of incomplete phrases like “you have to let God . . .” and “God can’t bless you unless . . .” returns an abundance of distressing results, including from high-profile evangelical leaders and otherwise reliable Christian resources.
It sounds true. But why? It sounds true, because we have smuggled a cause-and-effect kind of spirituality into our Christian thinking, which is more akin to the idea of karma and grossly misunderstands that God declares the end from the beginning and does whatever he pleases (Is. 46:10).
The gospel according to Satan seeks to dethrone the true Sovereign and enthrone the subjects. And the full counsel of the true gospel is the right antidote to “let go and let God” thinking, because only the gospel reminds us that God is sovereign over us and our circumstances—including our good works (Eph. 2:10)—while at the same time empowering us for these good works.
Jared C. Wilson is the director of content strategy for Midwestern Seminary, managing editor of For The Church, and author of more than ten books, including Gospel Wakefulness, The Pastor’s Justification, and The Prodigal Church. Jared has a new book coming out, The Gospel According to Satan (Thomas Nelson). It is now officially available for pre-order.