Don’t Overestimate Your Spiritual Ability
Have you ever confronted a difficult problem and failed? Have you failed to overcome your addiction to porn to help your friends fix their marriage, and to help your church reach the college students in your town? Have you seen your greatest, best, and kindest intentions end only in hurt feelings, broken relationships and despair? So what went wrong?
We made too much of ourselves and we made to little of Jesus. We trusted in our own ability, our own insights, and our own wisdom instead of trusting in the power of Christ.
Now some Christians may deny such a statement outright. They think the following:
“I’m saved; I have trusted in Jesus to redeem me from my sins. How can you say I’m trusting in something other than God? I am not.”
And I do not mean, your salvation is void. I fully believe that all who repent of their sins and trust in Christ are saved. Jesus pays for all of our sin. Justification is a one time thing. The minute we believe, we are justified. But we are not fully sanctified. We are not as holy as we will be when Christ returns. Thus, the Bible commands us to work out our faith by trusting in the power of Christ. Because we are still sinners, we daily have to purify our souls (I John 3:3). We have to work out our faith with fear and trembling by trusting in Christ (Phil 2:12).
And when we don’t trust in Christ, we fail. We fail to find victory over our sin. And we fail not because we lack access to the power of Christ. We fail because we think ourselves sufficient.
This is exactly what happens in Mark 9:14-29. While Jesus is up on the mountain revealing his glory to Peter, James, and John, the remaining 9 disciples are hanging out down below when a man with a demon-possessed son comes to them. The disciples naturally agree to the man’s request and attempt to cast out the demon. But, the disciples fail.
In verse 17a-18 we read, “Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute. And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and he grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able.”
Instead of providing this man with relief and instead of pointing the world to the power and glory of the Messiah, the disciples are caught in a petty argument. Now, they aimed very high and with good reason. Back in Mark 6:7-13, Jesus had commissioned the disciples to preach and cast out demons. And they did just that. They preached repentance, healed the sick, and “cast out many demons” (Mark 6:12). They already done what the father now asked. And yet, they failed, leaving both the disciples and the modern reader puzzled.
But as the reader continues to investigate the passage, Jesus makes all things very clear. In verse 19 we read these words from Jesus, “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me.” Jesus explains all. He reveals that the disciples failed because they were faithless. When they had gone out back in Mark 6, the disciples had acted on faith. And now, they were acting in their own power, and they failed.
And when we act in our own power, we too will fail. We too will be overcome by sin and by the power of the evil one.
How can we know when we are acting from a lack of faith? The passage offers us a few insight. First, we can tell that we have trusted in ourselves when we think we are as sufficient as Jesus. Back in verse 17, we read that the man brought his son to Jesus. “Teacher I brought my son to you.” But instead of taking the boy to Jesus, the disciples stepped up and said, “we can handle it.” Anytime we direct people away from the Bible to our own wisdom, we have made the same error. When our friend seeks help with his marriage and we reference the latest blog, television show, or magazine instead of the Bible, we have trusted too much in ourselves. When our teenager tells us he is struggling with porn, and we talk about how we burned our porn stash in college instead of running to the word, we have done what the disciples did. When we steal from our employer and promise never to do it again and refuse to see what the Bible says about repentance, we have made the disciple’s mistake. We have trusted ourselves more than Christ. We have bumped up against a personal, family, or work crisis and have offered our own thoughts and opinions without a second thought about what the Bible says. Do not lead people away from Jesus because you think too highly of yourself.
Second, we can tell that we have trusted in ourselves instead of God when our efforts lead to confusion and fighting. Notice that when Jesus arrives on the scene, the disciples are in a fight with the scribes. The text does not tell us exactly what is being said. The content of the conversation is not important because you have two self-sufficient groups, the scribes who think demons can be cast out by the washing of hands and by the eating of right foods, and the disciples who are trying to cast out the demon via their faithless Christianity. Both are powerless solutions arising from a lack of faith in the one true God. Again, the content is not as important as the fact that an argument arose. Look at James 3:14-16:
“But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice”
Do not miss this. Earthly, self-sufficient wisdom leads to “disorder and to every vile practice.” When we hand out our own thoughts as if they are God’s thoughts, we spawn fights, gossip, and disorder instead of peace. If our friend follows our wisdom, he will go home and fight with his wife. When we boast about our success with porn to our kids, we will leave them discouraged and hopeless, causing them to repeat the sin again. And when we refuse to repent of our theft, we become angry when our wife says, “I can’t believe you forgot the pizza, after you promised to get dinner.” We blow up. Instead of bringing healing, our words lead to destruction.
And they may cause people to doubt the very goodness of God. They may look at us in our moment of faithlessness and wonder, “is this all God does?” The outside world may wonder, like the boy’s father, can Jesus do anything? “But, if you can do anything have compassion on us and help us.”
Oh he can! And he does. In verse 25, Jesus casts out the demon. They boy is healed; God is glorified. The power was always there, but the disciples failed to tap into it because they thought that they were fully sufficient. Do not make their mistake. Realize that all our power to overcome sin and the devil comes from Jesus. Do not overestimate your ability. Trust Jesus!