Self Effort and Scapegoating

Jan Antonsson

The Glory Road Blog, A Kingdom Highway

May 11, 2018

Neosho, MO

“And they made a calf in those days and offered sacrifice unto the idol, and rejoiced in the works of their own hands”  (Acts 7:41, KJV).

Over the years, many words on self-effort have flowed from my word processor onto The Glory Road Website and now The Glory Road Blog, so when this title came to me, it seemed repetitious and a bit of an overkill, but the Spirit persisted, and I relented knowing that God is new every morning, and always faithful to get whatever word out that He intends to put forth.

You may well ask what the connection between self-effort and scapegoating might be, as I did also.  Then the fog lifted and I saw that one follows the other as night follows day.  Moses’ brother Aaron provides a good example of self-effort.  Think back to the scene where the chaotic children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, were gathered, as you’ll remember, beneath Mount Sinai, waiting for Moses to come back down from his meeting with God.  They trembled with fear at the smoke and fire emanating from the mountain, the rumblings, the thunder and lightning, and staying a distance away from the terrifying sight, they pleaded with Moses, “‘Speak to us yourself and we will listen.  But do not have God speak to us or we will die.”  Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid.  God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning” (Exodus 20:21, NIV). Christian leaders continue to utilize fear as a motivator in an attempt to keep the flock in line.  It stirs up self-effort, but no real righteousness ensues.  Clearly, it works no better today than it did when Moses proclaimed it because fear simply cannot transform us into the image and likeness of Christ.

Aaron’s great sin of self-effort was creating the golden calf for the people to worship.  When Moses came down the mountain and saw the calf and the dancing, “his anger burned and he threw the tablets out of his hands, breaking them to pieces at the foot of the mountain.”  When he confronted Aaron, his brother made the people his scapegoat, saying, “You know how  prone these people are to evil.  They said to me, ‘Make us gods who will go before us.  As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.’  So I told them, ‘Whoever has any gold jewelry, take it off.’ Then they gave me the gold, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf!” (See Exodus 32:19-24, NIV).  As an aside, that has got to be one of the biggest whoppers in the Bible.

Scapegoating is, of course, what people resort to when their self-efforts do not work.  When things don’t turn out well,  we may blame someone else to spare ourselves.  Adam started it when God confronted him about eating the forbidden fruit.  His reply has echoed down the centuries “The woman you put here with me, she gave me some fruit from the tree and I ate it” (Genesis 3:12, NIV).  Likewise, Eve passed the buck, “The serpent deceived me and I ate” (Vs. 13).  And this brings us to the biggest scapegoat of all:  the devil.  

Blaming the devil is what Christians have been doing since the beginning, maybe because Matthew, Mark and Luke tell us that Christ was “tempted by Satan” for forty days and forty nights. (See Matthew 4:2, Mark 1:13, and Luke 4:2).  That’s a long, long time for anyone to avoid temptation. Jesus’ ability to trust His Father and avoid it surely came from His divine DNA, not His human lineage.  

Most Bible characters were unable to resist temptation, the notable exception being Joseph who refused to succumb to the wiles of Potiphar’s wife, and was imprisoned because she lied to her husband and said he had. (See Genesis 39:6-19).  Notably, Joseph neither tried to fix the situation himself by self-effort, nor blame the devil, but went to prison, where God used him to save Egypt as well as his father and brothers from the 7 years of famine which came upon the land.  When he finally revealed himself to his brothers, who were devastated by fear and guilt over what they had done, he graciously took them off the hook with kindness and truth:  “But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.  So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God (Genesis 45:7-8, NIV). 

That passage always brings tears to my eyes, because it reveals the great truth which liberates us all from self-effort and scapegoating, when God opens our eyes to see it.  That truth is that He is in control of all people, all things, all circumstances, and all consequences, all the time, though we usually can’t see it, until later.  “Hindsight is always 20-20,” as the saying goes.

In the first place, our Father needs nothing from us.  There is no Quid Pro Quo with God. For those not familiar with the term,Quid pro quo (“something for something” in Latin) is a phrase used in English to mean an exchange of goods or services, in which one transfer is contingent upon the other; “a favor for a favor.”  But, as Paul asked of the Corinthians, “What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” (I Corinthians 4:7, ESV).  Everything we have or ever will have comes from God.  Our only response is to receive it and give Him the glory.

We Christians are to love one another as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for it, and that leads us to help others: feed the hungry, comfort the sick and dying, clothe those in need, visit those in prison, and provide for widows and orphans to name a few Good Works mentioned by Jesus and others. I used to tell the old dears at Medicalodge that those you help will be grateful for the aid, no matter your motivation, so keep taking casseroles to the hungry, driving folks to the doctor, visiting the sick and imprisoned, or whatever it is you do.  But if you are doing it to impress God, to curry favor with Him, or to influence His decisions in anything in your life, you might as well stay in bed with a favorite book for all the good your actions will do in that department.

Many church leaders lay guilt on people to get them to do the things which need doing.  I remember helping clean the church sanctuary, visiting people new to the church, helping put the finishing touches on the church preschool building, and various other things that were needed.  I didn’t question my motivation because what I was doing looked righteous to me.  I met Lenny and John Gavazzoni some time later at that fellowship in Thousand Oaks, CA.  John impressed me mightily when he gave a sermon on this very topic of good works.  What he advised, was not to do what he or the other pastor and/or the elders told us to do, but rather, to go into our prayer closet and ask the Spirit what He wanted us to do.  I was a jogger in those days; it was my time of meditation, my prayer “closet,” and my special enjoyment of God’s presence.  I remember asking Him what He would have me do, and He replied, “Be the mother of your child.”

I felt like a failure at that job and so was very disappointed that He didn’t give me something I had a chance of doing well.  That was before He showed me that all  the good works any of us do come from Him, and whatever He called me to do, He will do through me by the Spirit.

The best remedy for self-effort and scapegoating, in fact possibly the only one which has worked in my life, is what I’ve come to call the “cactus patches” which God drags us through. These trials and tribulations are not pleasant to endure, but they do ultimately bring us to the end of ourselves. Paul assures us that, “When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world” (I Corinthians 11:32, NIV).   Here’s Jonathan Mitchell’s translation of that verse, which to me is the perfect description of God’s “cactus patches”:

Yet, being folks habitually being sifted, separated, evaluated and judged by, and under, the Lord [= Christ or Yahweh], we are being continuously child-trained, educated, disciplined or corrected [by the Lord or His agent], to the end that we should not at any point be correspondingly evaluated or commensurately decided about (separated-down or condemned; or: = have sentence passed on us) together, and in company with, the organized and controlling System (the world of culture, religion, economy, government and mankind).”   Jonathan shows that God’s judgment is a blessing for the here and now, rather than after death,  a course correction to point us in the right direction.

This definitive statement leads us into the Hebrew writer’s description of God’s discipline of His children found in Hebrews, Chapter 12:6-8): 

“For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.’’ It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? “If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons” (ESV).  (The KJV uses the wordbastards” instead of illegitimate children, strong language which makes a major point).

The net result of God’s cactus patch dragging discipline is that we finally see ourselves for who we are, and understand that all the Good Works which flow from our hands are not for our glory, or to impress Father God, but rather are a manifestation of His life pulsing through ours!  Think of a 220 Current that powers your home and/or business appliances.  This current is a metaphor for  Christ in us, our hope of glory, or to put it another way, God to the power of 10!

Father, we thank You for taking us off the treadmill of works generated by self-effort, and the folly of blaming others for our own shortcomings.  You made us exactly the way we are, the good, the bad, the ugly, in which Your glory will ultimately shine so that Your unconditional love will flow out to those You put in our path.  We adore You and praise You now and forever: “Now unto Him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Savior, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, now and ever.” Amen.  Jan Antonsson

Jan Austin Antonsson

17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850 (Snail Mail Address)

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