The Christian life involves encountering certain paradoxes that challenge our thinking. A prime example is Jesus’ comment that “the last shall be first and the first, last” (Matt. 20:16). Hard sayings like this may seem illogical and confusing until we remember that we’ve been called out of this world into a new way of living.
Self-effort, which is standard operating procedure for the natural man, must be abandoned by the Spirit-filled believer. That is why the Lord sometimes allows us to experience failure in our pursuit of holiness. He wants to show us how totally dependent we are on Him. When seen in that light, our human failures can actually be viewed as friends to instruct us rather than enemies to be resisted.
This perspective is not easily obtained. From earliest childhood, we are urged to work hard, strive for excellence, and do our very best. We are told to set goals and then pursue them with diligence and determination. While these virtues are useful when conscientiously employed, they can actually betray us by suggesting that our salvation lies in them. They whisper to the human ego, “You have all that it takes to be successful.” Gradually, if we pay attention to these voices, our confidence begins to shift from trusting in the Spirit to relying upon the flesh.
God will not accept our dependence upon anything or anyone besides Him. If necessary, He will engineer circumstances in order to defeat our best efforts and humble us until we fully learn to live by faith—in total reliance upon Him.