If it’s true that “God helps those who help themselves,” then….

If it’s true that “God helps those who help themselves,” then it sounds like we’re in a partnership with God, where it’s a combination of his grace and our works that save us and see us through.

It’s like the quote, “Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition,” yelled by an American chaplain during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour. The chaplain’s first instinct was to trust God, but right on its heels was the men doing their part too. It wasn’t enough just standing on deck shouting, “Praise the Lord,” and expecting God to knock the enemy planes out of the sky, when they could shoot off a few shells too. It was God and man in partnership, side by side; his grace and human works together.  

Others through history have thought the same thing, like Sophocles who wrote, “And heaven ne’er helps the men who will not act,” and Euripides who wrote, “Try first thyself, and after call in God; For to the worker God himself lends aid.” From the French author Jean de la Fontaine came, “Help yourself and Heaven will help you too,” and from the English political theorist Algernon Sidney the well known phrase, “God helps those who help themselves.” The Quran adds its bit as well in Chapter 13:11: “Indeed, Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves.”

But if that’s true, then what happens if we can’t change what is in ourselves, we haven’t got any ammunition left, and we are totally out of options as far as helping ourselves?

It happened to Paul. He discovered a power inside his head “waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin,” Romans 7:23, and there wasn’t a thing he could do about it.

So what did Paul do? Did he yell, “Praise the Lord, and pass me my spiritual disciplines” in a renewed effort to do his part in the partnership better? No, verse 24; he yelled: “Who will rescue me from this body of death?” He recognized he couldn’t help himself, and threw himself entirely on God’s grace to save him. There was no partnership here; it was all one way. And when Paul understood and accepted that, it was then that God delivered him (verse 25).

God didn’t help Paul after Paul helped himself. God helped Paul when Paul recognized he couldn’t help himself. This was no partnership of God’s grace and Paul’s works; it was all God’s grace and nothing from Paul. God totally took the reins when Paul had no control over the horse whatsoever, and that’s what saved Paul. 


Is there nothing we do to help ourselves?

Does a Christian’s life depend entirely on the Holy Spirit, or are there things we do to help ourselves? What about depression, for instance? Do we just wait on the Spirit to cure us, or can we use human resources too, like counselling, medication and positive thinking techniques, and perhaps even some religious exercises as well, like meditation?

Fortunately, Paul explains in Romans 8 what the Spirit does, and what only the Spirit can do, because there are needs in our lives where we cannot help ourselves. It is only “by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body,” for instance (verse 13). The Spirit is the only cure for our sinful nature too, and the only means by which we can fully meet the righteous requirements of God’s law (verse 4) and want to please God rather than resist him (verses 7-8). The Spirit is also the only means by which we understand the relationship we have with God, that we are his children (verses 15-17), that we belong to him (verse 9), and that he lives his life in us (verses 9 and 11) – so that even now we can begin to experience “the glorious freedom of the children of God” (verse 21). It’s the Spirit who gives us hope in a frustrating, decaying world (verses 23-24), and the Spirit that testifies with our spirit that glory awaits us (verses 16-17). And if we are weak in any of these things, “the Spirit helps us in our weakness” (verse 26), and “intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will” (verse 27).

“What, then, shall we say in response to this?” Paul asks in verse 31. His answer? “If God be for us, who can be against us?” To Paul, that’s the starting point for a Christian. It is not what we can do to help ourselves, it is what God has done, is doing and will always do for us as his adopted children and heirs. We also have Jesus Christ “at the right hand of God interceding for us,” verse 34, so that “in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us,” verse 37.

On the other hand, Paul does accept that even when we know we’ve got all this going for us, we still “groan inwardly,” verse 23. It is quite normal for us to get depressed and frustrated. Who wouldn’t be in this world? But rather than place our dependence on human resources as our first step, Paul emphasizes dependence on the Spirit because it’s the Spirit who keeps our spirits up and gives us the hope that saves us (verse 24).

It’s only the mind that’s “controlled by the Spirit” that has “life and peace,” verse 6.

Salvation isn’t about saving ourselves

Salvation can be be such a selfish thing, where one’s entire life is geared to “being saved.” And to get oneself saved means working hard at being a good person, obeying all the commandments, having high moral standards and serving in the community, all of which are good but at the same time very selfish if the motive for doing them is really just one’s own salvation. I’m nice to people, for instance, but for whose sake – theirs or mine?

But if salvation is in any way a “self-seeking” exercise, Romans 2:8, it has defeated its purpose, because salvation was given to us to get our minds OFF ourselves, “For we know that our old (selfish) self was crucified with him SO THAT the the body of sin might be rendered powerless, that we should no longer be slaves to sin,” Romans 6:6.

Christ died to “set me free from the law of sin and death,” Paul wrote in Romans 8:2, so that “gratifying the cravings of our (old selfish) sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts” (Ephesians 2:3) no longer ruled his thoughts. And we can be free of it too, so that instead of “our minds being set on what our (selfish, sinful) nature desires we can have our minds set on what the Spirit desires,” Romans 8:5.

And what does the Spirit desire? He wants to “put to death the misdeeds of the body,” Romans 813. The Spirit’s great desire is to get rid of everything in us that’s motivated by self. And what a relief that is: Imagine having motives that are no longer selfish. Never again are we plagued by that niggling voice in our head that says, “You know why you’re doing this good deed, don’t you? It’s really just to look good, isn’t it? It’s to be looked up to by other people and become known as such a good person, etc.” The Spirit, though, frees us of always questioning our motives, because the Spirit gives us the mind and motives of Jesus instead.

And what motivates Jesus? “The life he lives, he lives to God,” Romans 6:10. Not a selfish thought in his head or a selfish bone in his body. And because of the Spirit that God gives us, we can have the same mind Jesus has, completely free of all selfish thoughts.  The Spirit takes our minds off ourselves and purely onto what God created us all for, to love him and love each other so we can rule his creation one day with love.

Salvation, therefore, frees us from worrying about saving ourselves. Instead, it frees us up to love.

Isn’t wanting salvation for ourselves a bit selfish?

Is Christianity all about getting oneself saved and going to heaven? And isn’t that the Christian purpose too, to get people saved before they die, so they go to heaven and not to hell? And isn’t it our greatest concern as Christians for our family and friends to get them to turn to Jesus Christ for salvation from their sins? And isn’t that why Jesus died in the first place, to save people? So what’s wrong with wanting salvation so much?

Because the focus of Christianity isn’t about getting oneself, or anyone else, saved. And the reason for that is – the salvation of humanity has already been taken care of. The focus of the Christian message, therefore, is not to get people saved, it’s to tell people they’ve already been saved. We explain how it was done, by Jesus taking our sins upon himself two thousand years ago, rescuing everyone from the both the penalty and power of sin, so that nothing we’ve ever said, done, thought or imagined is held against us by God (2 Corinthians 5:19). We have no worries, then, about anyone not being saved. Everyone has been saved.

The focus of a Christian, therefore, is not selfishly wanting salvation, or getting in a knot of worry about friends and family being saved, or not. The focus, rather, is what we’ve (already) been saved for. It’s great news knowing we’ve been rescued, but rescued for what purpose?

It’s to fit in with what God created humans for in the first place. He made us in his image so we could rule his creation. We messed that up by seeking our own ends instead, but Jesus died to put that in the past, and now through his resurrected life he remakes us in God’s image through his Spirit. That’s why he saved us from our selfishness, to put us on the right path again, our minds and hearts focused on what God created us for, and tuning in to what he’s remaking us into. Our focus, therefore, is totally on our Father’s purpose for us, and on pleasing him. It’s totally unselfish.

Our desire to do good and be good people, therefore, is not to get ourselves saved, it’s to please God, who loves it when we catch on to what he saved us for. He assures us in Romans 2:7 that when we seek the glory, honour and immortality he intended for us humans in the first place, by pleasing God and obeying him, “he will give eternal life” to us. He removes all selfish worry about our future, so we can get on with living what he made possible through Jesus.

How can I be a Christian when I’m feeling lousy?

I wake up feeling lousy. I’m not remotely interested in praying or thinking loving thoughts. All I want to do is curl up in bed and do nothing. Today I’m a washout as a Christian.

But Jesus didn’t exactly feel great all the time either. He was so exhausted on one occasion that a raging storm on the Sea of Galilee didn’t wake him up. But there’s no record of Jesus getting sick and grumpy, and he never lived to a ripe old age with all its aches and pains either.

It seems like we’re on our own on this one, then, because unlike Jesus we experience all sorts of weaknesses passed down to us by our ancestors. We suffer from accidents and injuries, and old age knocks the stuffing out of us. Add a troubled childhood and we probably have mental and emotional issues too, including bouts of depression, or even thoughts of suicide.

Does God expect Christians to rise above all that, though, and never grumble? Should we always put on a bright face, and be full of love, joy and peace? But how can I leap out of bed every morning all cheery and positive when my head feels hammered, my brain isn’t working, and my body won’t move?

But surely this can’t happen to Christians, can it? We’ve got the Holy Spirit.

Even with the Holy Spirit, though, Christians “groan,” Romans 8:23. Feeling lousy, then, is permitted. It’s an inescapable part of living in a world that God deliberately “subjected to frustration” and “bondage to decay” (verses 20-21). But for Christians it’s even worse, because every day for us is like being stuck in prison when you’re innocent. We’re God’s children, but in this world we can’t be God’s children yet, with beautifully redeemed bodies (verse 23); our bodies have to suffer like everybody else’s.

We will feel sick and horrible, then, and at times we won’t feel like doing anything Christian. But the only non-Christian thing about feeling lousy, according to Paul, is not waiting it out patiently, verse 25. Patience is the sign of a Christian, not being perfectly positive and loving all the time. And patient we can be too, because we know, verse 21, that the whole creation is being “brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.”

As Christians we know this world is only temporary. It’s like a sickness: It comes, it goes. And whenever we get sick it reminds us of that. Feeling lousy and sick, then, has its good point. While we’re lying there groaning, it’s the best reminder ever that one day, just like our sickness, this mess will be over.

“Would you please let me trust God?”

What do you say to pushy people, including Christians, who won’t let you trust God? Trust is all well and good, they say, but there are things God expects us to do for ourselves too, if we hope to be healed or want a problem solved.

Try it and see. Tell a Christian you think the blotch on your nose is cancer, or that you can’t sleep, or you’re depressed, or stressed, or your eyesight is failing. Prepare for an avalanche of advice – home remedies, Grandma’a favourite recipes, internet diagnosis, the latest discoveries the medical profession has been hiding from us, what worked for Aunt Mabel, and a host of potions, pills and miracle foods that will restore body and mind back to full, vigorous health again.

It’s all probably well-meaning, but it can leave you feeling terribly guilty that you’re not doing your part, especially in a world that offers us so many things we can do for ourselves. And how do you reply to a well-meaning but pushy person who then asks you if you tried what they advised – and you haven’t? And the reason you haven’t is because, well, gulp, you’re actually trusting God and what he’s provided through trained professionals.

“Trained professionals?” they cry, spit flying. “Trust that money-making medical profession and its fancy drugs? Wake up,” they cry, again, “this is the new world of self-diagnosis, and expertise learnt off the internet. Forget the ten years of training that doctors go through; a few hours surfing the internet and we can all be trained professionals.”

It makes trusting God difficult, almost antiquated, when fellow Christians – from a totally untrained perspective, take note -make us feel we’re out of sorts with God if we’re not doing our part. Or that we can only truly trust God if we’re looking after ourselves properly, which in their minds means following their advice.

But what if their advice is wrong, or it doesn’t work on my type of body, or it turns out to be harmful? Is it doing my part properly taking the advice of people who don’t know for certain that what they’re advising is right for me?

It seems we’re wired to give advice, though, even when we have no training or proof that our advice is correct for everybody in every situation. But that’s what makes trusting God so obviously the better option, because if anyone knows exactly what’s best for all of us in every situation, short or long term, he does. So, would you please let me trust God, and not look down on me for not doing what you would like me to do as well?

How much is God really involved in our lives?

Evolutionists and atheists would have us believe that God is just a figment of human imagination created by religion to make people behave through fear and superstition. There’s no such thing, then, as God being involved in our lives.

But a lot of religions don’t think God is involved in our lives either. God, or the gods, simply set the world in motion, and we humans either tune in to what the gods require and get a nice reward if we do, or we disobey and fall short of what the gods require and get a much smaller reward, or no reward at all, or even a trip to hell. It’s all rather mechanical and cold: Obey the rules and we’ll be fine. Disobey and we’re in trouble. God, therefore, is only involved in our lives in giving us what we deserve, for either good or bad, when our lives end. And his only involvement now is to tally up our daily goods and bads, and see which of the two tips the balance at the time of our death.

There are others, however, who believe God is super involved in our lives. He’s taking note of our every action and thought every second of every day, and reacting accordingly. And if we’re being good and making right choices, he makes things work out well for us, but if we’re weak and straying off track and not behaving ourselves as we should, he makes bad things happen to us. He’s like a suspicious boss watching our every move to see if our work is up to snuff, and he’s only in a good mood if we’re perfect.

But what if God does exist and he loves us and he made a free ranging relationship with him possible, that allows us to learn and make choices at our own pace, that makes room for all sorts of doubts and questions, that accepts we don’t always feel good or energetic, that totally takes into account our weakness, our moodiness, our frustration, and days or even weeks when we don’t think he’s involved in our lives at all? What if?

And what if he’s true to his word that he’s in everything with us? We make the choices, yes, but he’s in our choices with us, and he’ll willingly and lovingly help us discover and grow as much as we want him to?

Because that is what he promised, that he’d be with us and in us in Spirit, his own self, all the time. In other words, he loves being involved in our lives, and always for our good, both now and forever. What if?