The Law of the Spirit or the Law of Self-effort

Follow-up to ‘On Earth As It Is In Heaven’

By Fred Pruitt

I truly do love the Bible. Sometimes I just like to hold it. I didn’t always treasure it so much, but from the moment the Lord revealed Himself in my life, He has spoken directly in me through the Book, as He lovingly does each of us. It is very dear and precious to me. These days after years it brings inner tears of joy and a greater certitude of faith every time I open it and read even a little bit. In fact, I can hardly read more than a little bit sometimes, because I am so overwhelmed of the Spirit I cannot take it and have to put it down. But prior to the Lord’s revelation, it was all mysterious, something to debate its meaning with others. The blind debating the blind.

But those first days of new life were filled with nuggets coming out of scripture into my infant understanding. I would see something wonderful in the Spirit and joy would just fill me up and bowl me over. Some passage would finally make sense in the new light of God’s Spirit within me, and I would be astounded at the wisdom and love of God! We were not in a strong church environment at the time, so I never heard a sermon on how I “should” read the Bible every day. No one had to tell me to do it. I LOVED reading it and basked in it constantly in those early times!

But then, as things went on, and we became involved in a “strong” church, the Bible became something I HAD to read. I still loved it, still heard wonderful things of God in it by the Spirit, but the little taint of law that entered then – living by self-effort and not by the Spirit – made it less glorious than before, when it seemed God had been just speaking to me directly out of it, with no plan, no rhyme or reason. Just little bits of Christ-gold here and there, every day. (In later days I realized those, “here and there bits of Christ-gold,” had formed the Spirit’s building of Christ in me, though I could not conceive of that then.)

However, as this, “I’ve got to read the Bible to get closer to God and be a spiritual person and have the POWER of the Spirit,” attitude took over, it became more about how much I could read in such and such a time frame. That was when I came up with my personal reading plans. The one that lasted the longest had me reading a good number of chapters in the Old Testament, New Testament, Psalms and Proverbs, every day. And I did that fairly successfully for quite a while. (That didn’t count “prayer time.” Had a plan for that, too!) It was all about “doing your best for Christ.”

Also, as the Bible was taught to us initially, I came under the belief that it is a “life manual.” Now, it truly IS the “Life Manual,” but not primarily or necessarily a manual for a “successful” life according to this world’s goods and outer appearances, as many people think of it. It is a Spirit book, first and foremost, and its issues are the issues of the Spirit. The “treasures” it speaks of are primarily the treasures of Christ, rather than the treasures of this world. In fact, if there is a message in the book about the treasures of this world, it says, “Let not your treasure be upon the earth …”(Matthew 6:19-21). This is not speaking of waiting until we cross over to get the treasure. It just means that we live by daily partaking of the most glorious treasure in the universe, the “Divine Treasure” that lives in us, seen in the world as our “earthen vessel.”

Back to this “life manual” subject, let me explain what I mean, and hopefully, give something of a contrast between living by the Spirit or living by the law of self-effort, or, the “mind set on the flesh.”

First of all, I want to mention our understanding of “legalism” as it is in our time. Paul faced what we might call “literal” legalism, in the sense that those who harassed Paul and his churches, were not simply wanting them to follow rules, but the specific “rules” of the “Law of Moses.” They wanted the men circumcised, which was a lot worse than adult baptism, as well as full adherence to Moses and the customs and traditions of the fathers, as would any religious Jew of the time. They wanted to make the Greeks etc., into Jews!

Though there are a few splinter groups here and there who still advocate Christian adherence to aspects of the true “Law of Moses,” there are a very small number of Christian denominations or sects that would ever admit to such a thing, no matter how “legalistic” others might perceive them. Their “legalism” is not the “literal” legalism Paul encountered, but it IS the same spirit! However, there is one caveat to that. The caveat is that the legalism spirit has made itself part of the accepted “mixture,” pretty much in the whole Christian church.

My own testimony is that I found, or was found of, Christ, purely by and through grace. It happened as a culmination of a “search.” It sounds a bit trite, but in my own mind I had a real drive to find “truth.” At the time I did not know that I did not originate the search, God did. Still, once the grace of God overwhelmed me in the beginning, I could barely conceive anything else! Five seconds of His joys exceeded all the pleasures of this world for all time!

Later, when I began my “self-effort” phase (which I discuss below), I was still walking in the Lord by faith, walking in the light I knew at the time, and received in the Lord above my knowledge or understanding through grace, yet still under the delusion of having to “work” to get God’s blessings. God was not double in me, yet in my understanding, knowledge and consciousness, I was still “double.” And as James says:

If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord. A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.”(James 1:5-8).

In James’ terms, a “double minded man” is the same as the man who bounces between flesh and spirit, Paul’s Romans 7 man, who (he perceives) lives one day according to the spirit, another according to the flesh, in a constant “battle” where there is at best a draw. He is a man who believes he has a “sin nature” or a wicked heart or something just like it, as part and parcel of himself, not recognizing that the scripture says the old is dead and we owe it no allegiance anymore. For some, this “sin nature” concept becomes an excuse to continue in sin, since, after all, one cannot help it. Why fight it? God will forgive us and include it all “under grace.” We just “do the best we can,” and God knows we’re trying and that’s good enough for Him.

Frankly, that mind is presumptuous! As well as double minded, and eventually it will not stand.

The “legalism” that comes to us in our time, is for the most part not coming from people who are consciously promoting legalism as the way to approach and live in God, but more from misinformed brethren walking in faith and the zeal of the Lord, who have not yet found their deliverance from self-effort, which is the both the parent and child of legalism. In my days under that delusion, I promoted our law/grace mixture to the uttermost. It made the most sense, that grace must be “balanced” with a healthy dose of law, right? How else do we keep the people from running amok? We were Bible people to the core, but somehow missed it in scripture where it is made plain that is an impossibility. There is no mixture – only one or the other. Sweet and bitter water cannot flow out of the same fountain. (James 3:11).

So while we no longer live by the actual Law of Moses, in our time it is replaced in the same spirit by the “law of self-effort.” A large portion of the church unknowingly adheres to this law, simply because it is how we have always lived – by self-effort. It is the way of the entire human race.

The law of self-effort poses our lives in Christ something like this. Under this law, the scriptures are there to provide specific road-maps and behaviors expected, attitudes expected, with specific results expected for adherence. What this law then says further to us, is that to mature and get closer to God, one has to find out what all these “principles” for living this life are, such as theological principles, marriage principles, financial principles, family principles, child-rearing principles, men’s ministry principles, women’s ministry principles, head of household principles, prayer principles, evangelism principles and so on. One learns these principles, line upon line, precept upon precept, and orders one’s life around them. The more successfully one can learn and apply these principles to his daily living, the more one becomes closer to being acceptable to God.

Under the perception of this law, God is almost always just a bit displeased with us, and is always hoping we will do better and try harder. He comforts here and there and we know His love, but still His “fullness” seems always out of reach. We are disappointed in ourselves, and we believe God must be also. We just cannot seem to ever get all the way there.

Even the “acceptance” of God as we perceive it is a mixture. On the one hand, we will hear sermons and teachings of how God loves us unconditionally, accepts us, etc., while at the same time, often in the same forum, God is also being presented with a carrot just out of reach, if only we could do this or that better – THEN we would know the full acceptance and approval of God for our lives! After a while it simply becomes madness – schizophrenia! How could the “Life more abundantly” Jesus promised, that I experienced in the beginning, have become this never-get-there-keep-trying-self-condemning life I am living? Is there nothing better than this? WHO shall deliver me?

Still, we press on, and the reason we press on regardless of this insane schizophrenic mixture, is that we are hoping that the end result under this law will be that we have built a life ordered on God’s principles, with “God’s help,” which then may be presented to Him for His approval, which we hope will result in His “blessings on us,” manifested in the things and issues of this life. (And that can only be interpreted as “good” things, respectable things, that are clear to myself as well as to others.) It is my “outer works” I am most concerned about, because I believe that if I obey all God’s principles perfectly, then all those aspects in my life that feel broken, will all begin to work in perfect harmony. Money will flow. Our possessions will increase. Our emotions are controlled. We will be healed of any infirmities anytime we pray, and so will anyone else. Our offspring will not disappoint us, but will always be obedient, never get in trouble, and will go to Bible College or a Christian university, and then marry and have another generation of the same. (If I do it all up to snuff!)

In short, under the law of self-effort, which is also “the mind set on the flesh,” (ourselves), I try to live a life that is pleasing to God according to my own understanding and preconceived notions of His principles and precepts, so that He might reward me with all those “things” mentioned above, as the sure and certain sign of His blessing. “See, Lord, here, receive this that I have done for You as my offering to Your glory!”

In other words, like Cain.

Cain presented his works before God, things he had accomplished with his own hands, with his own effort, and was really surprised when God had respect to Abel’s offering, and not to his. He had done his best! And it angered him to rage, which was the proof for why his offering was not accepted! It did not come from contriteness of heart, like Abel’s offering, but from pride in himself. This God can and will never accept. It isn’t that God is finicky or a prude or rejects people because they have done this or that. God could not accept Cain’s offering because it did not reach unto God, because Cain at that point was not “of” God. His offering was the works of the flesh. It really was not that God could not dwell with Cain, but that Cain could not dwell with God, because of the darkness in his heart. The Apostle John said Cain “was of that wicked one, and slew his brother. And wherefore slew he him? Because his own works were evil, and his brother’s righteous.” (1 John 3:12).

(This is an important thing to understand. God does not reject us. He is ever open to us at all times only in His Love, because that is all He is. Forgiveness is already provided by the Blood of the Lamb slain in the midst of the Throne from eternity. Forgiveness or the lack thereof is not the problem that separates us from God. God only dwells in Himself, and perceptibly in that which is one spirit with Him. What comes from another will, a separate will, a “self” that declares its own separation from Him, cannot dwell with Him. That self dwells in itself, and becomes increasingly contained in itself, and it, by its own insistence on its separated existence and separate will, goes out from God, rather than God goes out from it, even though God still is “in” it and it is still “in” God. However, dwelling only in itself, the self-will has no perception of God whatsoever, even though He is All and in all.

God is everywhere the same, and those that “hear” Him somehow are brought by the Spirit to seek and find oneness with God through Jesus Christ the Son of God and Son of Man. This is what salvation actually is. Forgiveness is just clearing the deck, from our side of things, because God’s forgiveness is settled.

But being forgiven does not make us part of God’s kingdom. Being forgiven does not make us born again. Only that which dwells in His Spirit is in His kingdom. When we are “saved” or know that we are born again, it is the entrance of God’s Spirit in our lives, kicking out the old spirit-occupant who hid in us, running our lives in self-for-me from the beginning, that constitutes what we call “salvation.” It is not a legal contract sort of thing, where I sign a paper that says I believe, and Jesus puts a check mark in the Lamb’s Book of Life indicating that I have complied with the requirements. Salvation is God’s Spirit entering into us in our deepest center, totally reorienting our inner life, from self-for-self to self-for-others. As Paul also said, “Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.” (Rom 8:9b). But if the Spirit in us is Christ, Paul says, “But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you.” (Rom 8:9a).

It is actually a great simplicity. If the Spirit of God lives in you, you are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit. God’s Spirit. If you do not have the Spirit of Christ living in you, you do not belong to Christ. There is no other salvation nor is it acquired any other way. I will say that this is primarily an inner transaction in people’s hearts, and because of that, I put no restrictions on how the Spirit, who knows all hearts, brings people to Himself, and the fullness of God. It does not depend on man’s outer knowledge but only the truth in his heart, and that God sees and judges righteously.

But I am not primarily speaking of those not yet in the kingdom, but rather of those who already know they are in Christ and He is in them.

A new person has to arise, because the old person cannot contain Him. The new is not patterned after the old or even its descendent. The only ancestor of the new man is Christ. That is why we must recognize the death of the old. We almost have to hold it a funeral, because it is that much of a cut off, a separation, a finality to it, when we see we “died” with Him.

The way we are often caused to understand our simultaneous death with Him in the Cross, is to “experience it” in our own inner selves. There is no formula for it, except to receive from the Lord just as we receive anything of the Lord, through faith. Romans 6 says, “Reckon yourselves dead,” and that seems to be what gets the ball rolling.

Why do I say that? Because in Romans 6, Paul said we are no more indebted to sin, that we were free from it through our death and subsequent resurrection in Christ. He presented a life where our humanity (our “members”) became the instruments of God’s righteousness. Where to begin? “Reckon yourself dead.” … Seems easy enough.

Until we get to the next chapter, when he is both caught out in a sinful covetousness, and very much NOT dead. It is not unusual at all to be given a new light from the Spirit, and to enter into it in faith, only to have the next day every negative thing thinkable come into the picture to provide proof we have seen wrongly.

That happened to me for years. I would see something wonderful in the Spirit, but would experience fearfulness for it or buyer’s remorse the next day, which would rob me of some of the glory I had seen, so I would back off. And it was pretty much for the same reason that caused Paul’s struggles which we have been discussing. My fear was myself. I could trust God – abstractly. But it was too immediate that I could trust Him, in me, because to me I was such a non-starter, no-accomplisher, ne’er do-well, and how could I trust that image? Well, the image had to die, or, I had to see that it had died. That is how it becomes personal in us. It is not just abstract “doctrine,” that we can regurgitate that we believe. It is important to witness the death and to mark its passing. We do not need to know the day or the time, only to know that it has happened and it is final. We probably do not even know “what” has died. It does not matter. Everything is revealed in due time.

The Spirit causes us to “know” this death, because this death is the resurrection unto life on the other side, and it is also training for the rest of our lives. Everything accomplished in God happens through death and resurrection. This world is a living parable of this. This world lives every day by death for some to bring life to others. The natural “food chain” plainly shows it. One species consumes another. The consumed dies, and gives life through its death to the consumer. And then one day the consumer meets a bigger consumer and the first one joins the ranks of the consumed. And so on. Always death for one brings life for another, all throughout nature. It is the same throughout the natural world and what we know of the outer spaces beyond our planet. It is even a high and deeply respected ideal for all societies and especially for the military, who understand sometimes the willing self-sacrifice of a few, saves countless others from destruction or enslavement.

So this is not a morbid death! We do suffer loss. There is always loss in death. But the loss is nothing compared to the gain. Like the law of self-effort. A lot of people cannot let go of the law because it is their security blanket. They are afraid of themselves (I speak from personal experience), and thus have the law to guard them, to keep them on their toes and on the right track. It becomes an uncomfortable fit after a while, despite the supposed “security” it brings. It keeps us humble so that we do not think much of ourselves, but we long to break out, but even that, we believe, might be from the devil. So it creates a life of fear and self-examination, seeking to find the faults first and fix them before God points them out, which we would desperately like to avoid.

That is why it is not a morbid death! We have finally had enough of it and we cannot go on another step. All we can do is sit here and die! It feels like despair, because this kind of death is a total negation of ourselves, we’d be rid of ourselves if we could, but since we cannot, we’ll just die. All seems lost. (To go into death is cessation – reduced to zero. Shut off.)

But out of that death, the Spirit begins to consciously inform us into that oneness of spirit (1 Cor 6:17), which occurs in the resurrection. In realizing our death, we rise no longer in separation from God in our consciousness, but instead we are brought by the Spirit into union and oneness inwardly with Him. Then we find at the same time no separate will in ourselves in heart, because the heart established in oneness and union finds as a result, a union of “wills,” the human will and the Divine will, so that it becomes in function one single will. (Do not take that from me and believe it. Do not believe your will is one will with God because I just said it. Find it yourself in God in yourself. YOU must know it for yourself and that only comes from the Spirit.)

In the Fall our “will” went out from God and became a separate thing. Initially when we come back into the kingdom we are still under the delusion of this separate will. So we wrongly think we have to find out “what” God’s will is, and then somehow do it or apply it or believe it, with “our” will. But that is not our actuality. And it is also the issue of this Romans chapter I keep talking about. It was in the spiritual meat-grinder of Romans 7, that this issue of a separate will was settled for Paul. When we see that He and I are “one,” our will IS His will, the human spirit-will has been brought into oneness with the Divine will, so that in this world it serves as the servant of the hidden Divine will. This is our “union life.” As Jesus said when they said his mother and brethren were waiting for Him, “And he answered them, saying, Who is my mother, or my brethren? And he looked round about on them which sat about him, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother, and my sister, and mother.”)

So we see this “law of self-effort” is a serious thing. It is Cain’s offering! Understand, the “mind set on the flesh,” is not first of all a desire to do evil. We are used to thinking that is what it is, so that we must continually be in combat against any perceived evil inclination in ourselves. But the real heart meaning of the “mind set on the flesh,” is simply the setting of one’s faith-focus upon oneself, rather than God, the Spirit, as the knower, chooser and doer. We want to be good – “ourselves!” And though it exists with a divine wink, because of the ignorance of men, it is the pure essence of Sin.

So what, then, of the believing brethren who live by this law of self-effort? Are they also “of that wicked one?”

No, they are not. We are not Cain. We are actually Abel, once in Christ, but all our lives we have lived by Cain’s law. It is the law of the world. Though we started out spiritual people, inner people, the Fall’s result is that we have all become “outer” people. Appearances are everything – we accept them as reality, even when we know they are not reality, but only an appearance!

We live in a totally skewed world, where the appearance of reality is the point and glorified, no matter what is its underlying truth! It is maddening, and the source of all the foment of strife and sometimes total inanity, that is this outer world.

This is a world where nothing is considered “true,” unless it can be observed and quantified. And even this self that we have been deceived that we are, independent, self-motivating, self-relying, etc., is part of this outer appearance world. It is all we know, but because of God’s mercy and grace, He penetrates through the walls of this prison of self in which we are trapped, and like Radio Free Europe during the Cold War days, His broadcast permeates even our prison. He comes to where we are, since He knows there is no way we can come to where He is, though He be not a breath’s moment away. “While we were yet enemies … Christ died for us.”

What else is God to do? Because of His Eternal Love, He must come to us, seemingly through that outer world of appearances in which He appears “separate” from us, up in Heaven, to begin to draw us into Himself within us. We think He is coming to us from above, or without, from somewhere else, but it is always from within us, even though we do not realize it.

God is forever only the “inner unseen” God, because He is universal and has no form or “place” as we can comprehend it. That means, that He is the “inner,” everywhere the same! It means that the complete fullness of God resides right here in this spot, as well as some spot 25 million miles away, and at every spot in-between. That is why we cannot ever fully “see” God. If one would “see” God, he would have to comprehend everything – think of it, EVERYTHING, from the vastness of “space” and galaxies billions of light-years away, to the most miniscule, the sub-atomic world, that science and physics is finding is just as vast and seemingly endless inwardly, as is the cosmos which outwardly envelops us. This “God” has not only the awareness that it is there, but intimacy with every detail of the infinite varieties of creatures and creations!

Imagine one amoeba. Even this simple one-celled creature is wondrous beyond imagination. Even in such a small thing, there are myriads of micro-processes running, chemical, electrical, sub-atomic, almost an infinity within one single amoeba. But then it gives birth out of itself to another amoeba, identical to itself, and then there are two. How intimately is God “involved” with this?

Jesus said God knows when a sparrow falls, and how many hairs there are on our heads. He said this to show how intimately “with” us God is. We just think of selves and creatures somewhat two-dimensionally. We see the form, a person, but nothing underneath that is making the person work. We don’t see the mental processes, the past and present of the person which makes him or her what they are now, nor do we see the blood flow, the chemical reactions, the electrical signals, that go on ad infinitum in each one of us. We are not privy to it in ourselves nor are we privy to that in others. But God is. Not only is He “aware” of it, but He created each wondrous infinity of detail and function. Just multiply one amoeba by the number of cells in the universe, as if we could (there are trillions in one human body alone), and we can begin to see the mind-staggering truth of this “God,” Who is greater than All, while also being the ALL in the all. To say it is infinitely unimaginable is as much understatement as I can muster. Paul simply said it is “exceeding abundantly above all we ask or think.” (Eph 3:20)

Now it is this God Who has brought us to this place, not to break us but to crown us with glory and honor through the Son. What place? The place where we walk in resurrection life, in newness of life, every moment of every day. That is the Law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus, that has in us, not just in an abstract sense, but in the most real sense possible, overcome or swallowed up the law of sin and death that operated in our members. This law we had previously tried to follow, the law of self-effort, self-improvement, has failed. It has not delivered what we thought it would, when we decided to apply ourselves to “give our all” for God. Rather than victory we may have mostly only known defeat. But that day is past now in us, and is no more.

Because now we see we are no longer held by this law! This is not an on-again, off again thing, that we keep going through over and over and over. There comes the day when we KNOW this law, where we succeed by self-effort, cannot deliver. But as soon as we know that as the Spirit has revealed it to us, immediately the Life that had been hidden underneath the “law of self-effort” the whole time, begins to rise up in newness of life and in union and oneness with God.

Because we are in God’s Spirit reality and in His “process,” it has been His perfect winepress to squeeze out of us the true divine life that dwells in our center and to finally inwardly break free completely from our former selves by which we were held ignorantly in slavery to self-focus and self-reliance for the whole of our lives before that.

What happens as a result of this transition from the stress of self-effort and self-reliance to the rest of God within us, is that we finally break out into the totality of God’s freedom, now in adulthood as spiritual fathers, and begin to live a no-holds-barred life! We live in the relaxed freedom of faith, seeing things done in God that we call into being in our sonship, and in His rest we labor in the ripe fields of God, and are privileged daily to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth, as Jesus clearly and surely said we are.

I say again – Be not afraid. Only believe.

5 thoughts on “The Law of the Spirit or the Law of Self-effort

  1. Wonderful post, Fred….it took me a few days to digest all this goodness…blessings to you for your Voice in the Wilderness!!

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