THE INABILITY OF OUR SELF
We know that a person who does not believe in the Savior cannot be saved, regardless of how good his conduct may be. But why is this? We know many unbelievers. Their conduct is really good, and they are very kind, loving, humble, and patient. An ordinary Christian may come far behind such people in moral character. Yet, why are they not saved in spite of such good moral character? It is because their goodness issues merely out of their natural life, that is, from their own self. This is why they do not please God. God only delights in something that belongs to Himself and that issues from Himself. Therefore, brothers, if an unbeliever cannot please God by his genuinely good behavior, is it possible that you can please God by your zealously good behavior? Other than the life which God has given us, we are exactly the same as the unbelievers in our self-life; there is not the slightest difference between the two. The created life of a sinner is exactly the same as the created life of a saint. The way that God rejects all the good deeds performed by this life in an unbeliever indicates that He will also reject all the good deeds performed by the same life in the believers.
What a pity that we have forgotten so soon the lesson we have learned. When we believed in the Lord Jesus, God convicted us through the Holy Spirit so that we realized that our goodness was absolutely useless before Him and that we possessed nothing except sins. However, after we are saved, we think that our goodness and righteousness are useful and that they can please God! We should know that our salvation and regeneration have not improved our own life. Except for the new life which we have received, our old self and our old life remain the same. We should also know that the initial principle of our salvation should be sustained continually. It was not due to our independent acts that we were saved. Therefore, neither is it due to our independent acts that we can please God. God dislikes anything that comes from those who act independently of Him. Regardless of whether it is a sinner or a saint, independent acts are always rejected by God.
Brothers, let me repeat, God dislikes anything that comes as a result of acting independently of Him. Let me say again, regardless of how well you have done, unless it has been done in complete, helpless reliance on God, there is no spiritual value whatsoever to your work. You may boast of how much work you have done, how much hardship you have suffered, how much blessing you have received, or how much fruit you have produced, but in God’s eyes, these are dead. They have no true value. The reason for this is that they are all done by your self; they are not initiated by Him or accomplished by Him.
THE DANGER OF SELF-CONFIDENCE
How hard it is to be dependent! How hard it is for the wise to be dependent! And how hard it is for the brilliant ones to be dependent! Many times we are well able to act without depending on God or receiving His special strength. How hard it is for men to willingly forsake their own abilities and become helpless before God, and how hard it is to give up their trust in their abilities and depend only on God! Brothers, every time we speak or move, God wants us to forsake ourselves, drop ourselves, deny all our abilities, confess our weakness and impotence in a definite way, and acknowledge that we can say nothing and do nothing apart from His help. God wants us to trust in Him in this way. All the things keep us away from God. All of our ability, wisdom, strength, and knowledge lead us to believe in ourselves and lose a trusting heart. Unless we willingly and continually forsake these things, we surely will not depend on God. When a child is young, he needs his parents to do everything for him; he depends on his parents in everything. Once he grows up and has gained some ability and wisdom, he wants to be independent and does not want to trust in others anymore. In our relationship with Him, God wants you to be a child all the time because He wants you to depend on Him all the time. Do you think that you have some abilities? Do you think that you are already sanctified? Do you think that you are already filled with the Spirit and that you have achieved something in your work? This kind of thought will cause you to lose your trusting heart. You have to maintain your helpless position before man so that you can advance in God’s way. If you allow your self to creep in secretly and think that you possess something, you will find that you cannot trust in God anymore.
Brothers, the brother who is talking to you now does not have any assurance concerning his own future. He does not know whether or not he will still be a gospel preacher this time next year. Unless God preserves him, he may not be able to minister Christ or follow Him this time next year. He is very sad to say this, but he knows that he truly does not have any way to preserve himself. If God had not preserved him, he confesses that he would not even have been able to maintain the lowly position that he holds today. He recalls the times since he became a believer until today and confesses that a countless number of times he has tried to separate himself from Christ. But he praises the Lord, because the Lord has preserved him. My dear ones, let me tell you, except for a total dependence on God, that is, a moment by moment dependence on Him, I know of no sanctified life. Unless we depend on God, we do not know how long we will continue to be for the Lord. We should know that unless we trust in God, we can do nothing; we cannot even be Christians for yet another day.
Do we feel this way, or do we still think that we ourselves have some ability to sustain and that we can succeed in many things? Dear ones, self-confidence is the enemy of God-dependence. The amount of self-confidence we have speaks of the amount of independence we exercise towards God. God must bring us to our end before we realize that our self-confidence is altogether useless. Unless He grants grace, everything shall fail. God must bring us to the point where we fully realize our poverty and impotence and where we dare not exercise self-confidence at all. In this way, we will not have any independent actions outside of God, but will constantly, fearfully prostrate ourselves before God to seek for His grace. If we are not brought to this point, in our nature we will always think that we are capable and always delight in activities, so as to cause us to be unable to depend on God.
Today as I look back at those brothers with whom I was acquainted a few years ago, so many have fallen. I still remember that one of them said to me, "Sir, we already know all the things that you have taught us from the Bible. We have advanced, and we are not necessarily any poorer than you or your co-workers." But today these brothers have altogether disappeared. Oh, the self-confidence! I remember recently one brother said to me, "Brother, I may not know much about other things, but as far as the Bible teachings are concerned, I am not that ignorant." As soon as I heard this, I knew he was in danger. Today he is no longer in the right way. O brothers, as I recall the past, I can remember so many sad histories. But in all these failures, there is only one underlying cause—self-confidence. The cause for all the failures is always self-confidence.
Today the only thing that God wants is that we know ourselves and know that we are absolutely unreliable. God wants us to acknowledge that we are weak and altogether useless all the time. God wants us to realize something that we have never realized before—that we are helpless. If He does not preserve us, we will not stand even for a moment. If He does not strengthen us, we can do nothing. May we allow God to break us today so that we will no longer dare have an independent action or attitude outside of Him. Otherwise, vanity and failure will be the certain result.
(Collected Works of Watchman Nee, The (Set 1) Vol. 08: The Present Testimony (1), Chapter 6, by Watchman Nee)