Human Effort

I’ve always known that being paralyzed is a horrible thing, but seeing my mother-in-law’s health deteriorate with ALS from 2013 to 2019 gave me a totally new appreciation for the challenges of a paralytic. I’m longing for the day when Jesus will put an end to all of this pain and suffering. Though we don’t understand why this tragic situation afflicted Melissa's family, we trust that God’s love will keep them until the day when they are able to understand. 

In the book of John, we read about a man who was paralyzed for thirty-eight years. “When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he already had been in that condition a long time, He said to him, ‘Do you want to be made well?’” (John 5:6). The Savior went on to miraculously heal this person. Like the resurrection of Lazarus, this act of mercy gives us a glimpse of what God will do for my mother-in-law and everyone else who trusts in God. 

This incident also illustrates an amazing principle found throughout the Bible—human effort, without Divine power, is worthless. No matter how hard he may have tried, there was nothing this paralyzed man could do to change his situation. And what could Andrew have done with five loaves and two fishes to feed the multitude? Or what could Naaman have done to heal himself of leprosy without God’s intervention? What could Moses have done to cross the Red Sea? In certain situations, humans are absolutely powerless without God’s act.

“Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your bed and walk.” And immediately the man was made well, took up his bed, and walked” (John 5:8, 9). Had Jesus not acted on behalf of this man, he would have remained a paralytic, slowly and miserably rotting away by the pool of Bethesda. Paul knew that the same power that was available to raise this man from his paralysis, is available to every believer who may be struggling with sin and addiction. He wrote to the Ephesians: “And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1). 

Though physical healing is not always guaranteed to us this side of eternity (as seems to be the case with my mother-in-law), spiritual healing is available now. There is no temptation too strong for which God cannot provide the power to overcome (1 Cor. 10:13). So why do we sometimes fail to experience victory? Why do we sometimes fail to see God’s miraculous spiritual healing power to set us free from certain addictions or besetting sins? 

Would the multitude have been fed if the young lad had not provided his loaves and fishes? Would Naman had been healed had he not gone to the Jordan? Would the Israelites have  miraculously crossed the Red Sea had they not began walking? Would the paralytic have been healed if he had not done his part? All of these human contributions avail nothing if God is not present, but here is what is often overlooked: God’s power is always available, but often is not experienced because humans fail to do what is within their ability. Naaman almost failed to experience it, but his servants persuaded him that he had nothing to lose to at least try. 

For those struggling with addiction, Jesus gave a graphic illustration of the need for human effort: “If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you” (Matt. 5:29, 30). What could this painful and drastic act mean in the case of a young person dealing with something like pornography, marijuana or alcohol? Cutting the right hand and plucking the right eye entails cutting off the means by which we gain access to the vices that we are praying for victory over. It’s not enough to ask God for him to take these cravings away. We need to (and this is only by His grace) cut off the avenues by which these destructive things are made available. In the case of pornography, this may mean abstaining from the internet, or getting rid of a smart device. With alcohol or drugs, it could mean turning over credit cards or a check book to a parent or spouse. It could also entail walking away from a friendship. 

Sounds difficult? Taking these steps seems incredibly painful. But God’s power will only be fully experienced if we do what is within our limited ability. Here is how Ellen White summarizes this thought: 

"There is to be co-operation between God and the repentant sinner… Man is to make earnest efforts to overcome that which hinders him from attaining to perfection. But he is wholly dependent upon God for success. Human effort of itself is not sufficient. Without the aid of divine power it avails nothing. God works and man works. Resistance of temptation must come from man, who must draw his power from God. On the one side there is infinite wisdom, compassion, and power; on the other, weakness, sinfulness, absolute helplessness."—Acts of the Apostles, p. 482

Related Information