by Ron Block
Self-effort comes from a particular mindset — the thinking of fallen man, which really springs from the lie of Eden. “I am a self, by myself, for myself. I must take care of myself; I must do good and avoid evil; I must strive for self-improvement and self-actualization.”
This mindset infected Adam and Eve; we are born with it, and it is carried over into our Christian lives, even after Christ has come into our hearts and regenerated us into what the Bible calls “new creatures in Christ.” So we think, “I am a self, separate from God, with a little bit of Christ inside me to help me take care of myself, do good, and avoid evil. I must strive for self-improvement and self-actualization.”
We just add Christ into the mix of that satanic mindset.
In reality we are new creatures in Christ, complete in Christ, holy, accepted in the Beloved. We are in Christ and he is in us. “I am crucified (the old “I”) with Christ; I no longer live (the old “I”) but Christ lives in me, and the life I now live (the new “I”) I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Galatians 2:20. Really, the new creation in Christ is a complete, whole person, not needing some sort of inner self-improvement or having to climb to the top of the mountain of spirituality. We are one Spirit with the Lord, and ‘in Christ we have everything we need for life and godliness.” So we have everything within us in Christ; we do not need to get more of God in our lives, or strive in effort to achieve mastery. That is a foundational fact.
But we have to go through the ‘I must improve’ mindset because it teaches us how utterly helpless we are in our own effort. We find “the good things I want to do, I’m not doing; the bad things I don’t want to do, I keep doing.” Self-effort drives this paradigm of helplessness. “The power of sin is the law.” 1Co 15:56. Our response to rules, ought-tos, and ought-nots, until we learn better, is always “I will do it.” And so we set out to be ‘like Christ’ by our effort. This ultimately crashes and burns the human machine, which cannot run on the fuel of itself. Jesus himself said, “I can do nothing of myself; the Father in me does the works.” And also, “Why do you call me good? There is none good but God.” Jesus was God in the flesh, but he set aside his omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence, laid it all aside to become a servant; he operated totally and completely on the Father’s indwelling orders and operating power. And yet we step out in presumption assuming we can improve ourselves, rather than resting in his indwelling life and stepping out in faith knowing he’s going to come through us.
When we finally figure out that we are essentially helpless, unable to do good in and of our human selves, a paradigm shift occurs. We begin to see Christ within as our indwelling fuel. We start seeing him in the mirror. It is then that we are learning to ‘put on Christ,’ because we put him on not by exerting self-effort, but by inner reliance on the inner Person to live through us to others. That’s when I really began to see serious life change, a change in my attitudes and desires. Really, I began to see into the heart of my real desires in Christ – the desire to love God and love others no matter what the cost.
So an explosion happens. In the wilderness God appeared to Moses as a burning bush. This bush didn’t burn up or burn out. It’s a perfect picture of God (“our God is a consuming fire”) indwelling the human (wood in Scripture is a type or symbol of humanity). Moses, once he stopped arguing with God about his own limitations, accepted that God would be his inner life and would put words in his mouth to say and deeds in his heart to do. We become the burning bush, on fire with God’s love for others but not burning up or burning out.