Summary: Picking yourself up by your bootstraps is a great idea but the impossibility of doing that is like finding salvation by your own efforts.
GOD’S MESSAGE OF SALVATION
A Call to Faith
We have heard the expression "Pick yourself up by your bootstraps." The picture this brings to mind is that of someone pulling on his or her shoes and as a results being lifted off the ground. In a way, this is rather humorous when we realized the impossibility of it. Of course, the idea of the expression is attempting to communicate is that by hard work and initiative a person can rise above his circumstances. People in poverty can work their way out of poverty. People without any education can get an education on their own. We like the idea of people being able to be successful if they will just apply themselves and work hard. This concept is part of the American dream.
The problem with the "dream" is that, as stated, is just that -- a dream or a fantasy. The expression overlooks the underlying foundation of all that has gone before us. Who could educate himself without the benefit of an alphabet, books, and perhaps a tutor. Now, this argument is not to depreciate the significance of the hard work involved in obtaining an education. The hard work is needed but so are all the substantial resources one might use in the process. In the same way, lifting oneself from poverty requires making use of resources beyond the person himself. Consider the situation of a person who has no home and no job. He decides he is going to find a way out of his condition by collecting and selling old newspapers for recycle. If he were successful, then we might say that “he picked himself up by his bootstraps.” However, closer examination shows that many people had to give him the newspapers to start with. There had to be a recycle system and a paper industry that needed the product. There was a substantial foundation already provided for him upon which he could build. Again, his application of initiative and hard work was necessary for him to be successful, BUT the most important ingredient was already there and he did nothing to make that happen.
A simpler illustration is that of climbing the stairs from one floor to the next. You walk to the base of the stairs and take one step at a time and eventually get to the next level. You might say "I did it." In a way, you did; but, the most important thing that allowed you to be at the higher level was not your ability and energy but the fact that the steps were there. Someone had already provided the means so that many people can go from one floor to the next.
In the last four verses of Romans Chapter9 Paul had compared the response of the Gentiles to the Good News of the Gospel of God’s Salvation in Jesus Christ with the response of the Israelites. Following the symbolism of getting from one floor to the next, Paul noted that the Gentiles found their way to the next floor and the Israelite had failed to recognize the staircase.
Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. Romans 10:1-3 NIV