Self-reliance and Christian discipleship cannot coexist in anyone who truly follows our Lord and Savior. We are not talking about the kind of self-reliance manifested in a strong work ethic whereby an individual labors hard in order to provide for himself and his family, seeking to meet the needs of his household without outside assistance. Instead, we are referring to the kind of self-reliance that does not turn to Jesus for spiritual strength but rather tries to muster up the power necessary for Christian growth and for defeating Satan without Christ.
Mark 9:25–29 shows that disciples of Jesus are to be fully reliant on Him. First, we have an example or object lesson regarding our need to rely fully on Christ. Verses 25–27 record Jesus’ healing of the demon-possessed boy whom the disciples had been unable to help while our Lord was on the Mount of Transfiguration (see vv. 2–14). The exorcism of the evil spirit and the restoration of the young man happened in two stages. Jesus cast out the demon, but once the spirit left, the boy lay on the ground like a corpse. That exorcism was followed by our Lord’s taking the boy’s hand and raising him up so that he was alive again (vv. 25–27). The boy may have not in fact died in the course of his healing, but that is not essential for the object lesson to work. A death and resurrection of sorts happened that released the young man from demonic oppression, providing a picture of what it would take for Jesus to fully and finally defeat Satan. He would have to truly die and rise again to break the devil’s might (see Col. 2:14–15; Heb. 2:14–15). Christ’s followers must rely on His power over Satan in His death and resurrection in order to defeat the enemy.
Jesus also exhorts us to cast off all self-reliance in spiritual warfare with His direct statement that the demon who possessed the boy could only be driven out by prayer (Mark 9:28–29). The implication is that the disciples were unable to help the boy because they had not depended on the power of God. Before encountering the boy, when our Lord sent the Twelve out on their preaching and healing mission, the disciples had received authority from Jesus over “the unclean spirits” (6:7). Perhaps they thought such authority eliminated the need to rely on Jesus for success in fighting the enemy. Christ’s exhortation to prayer, then, shows that His followers remain ever-dependent on Him for every spiritual victory.