“God helps those who help themselves.”
This sounds like something that makes a lot of sense when you first hear it, doesn’t it? We see examples throughout Scripture of men and women who seem commended by for their ingenuity—Abraham, David, Joseph, even Jacob to some degree… all are men we see (apparently) take matters into their own hands and come out on top and in God’s favor.
On top of that, we’re told by the Apostle Paul to “work out [our] own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12b); we’re to be active in our faith, not simply sitting back and doing nothing. So it almost sounds like this could be a biblical truth, doesn’t it?
One of the earliest forms of this saying goes back to Aesop’s fable, Hercules and the Waggoner, where the moral of the story is “the gods help them that help themselves.” The modern variant, “God helps those who help themselves,” was allegedly first coined by the English political theorist Algernon Sidney and later popularized by Benjamin Franklin, a Deist. In case you’re wondering, a Deist is one who believes that while a supreme being did indeed create the universe, that supreme being does not involve itself in human affairs. Therefore, miracles and special revelation (such as healing, prophecy, the virgin birth & resurrection of Jesus, and the inspiration of the Scriptures) don’t actually happen.
At the risk of oversimplifying, according to this view, God just isn’t interested in his creations. He’s got better things to do.
Okay, we know the origin. So, what does the Bible really say? Does God really help those who help themselves?
What the Bible really says…
Nowhere in Scripture will you find appropriate support for the statement “God helps those who help themselves.” Whether you’re looking at life here from 30,000 feet or from street level, you will actually find the opposite is true.
Here are just a couple examples:
In speaking of trials and affliction, the Apostle Paul writes to the Corinthian church:
For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. (2 Cor 1:9-10, emphasis mine)
Additionally, in speaking of repentance, and God coming to save the lost, Jesus says:
What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost” (Luke 15:4-6)
In this parable, we (that is, humans) are the lost sheep, a completely helpless animal, in need of saving.
God does not help those who can help themselves, simply because no one can help do so! We cannot save ourselves from our bondage to sin, nor from the wrath of God, so He does. Our own power fails us when we rely on it, rather than God. To believe that God helps those who help themselves, is not only foolish, but it’s proud. Pride motivates the belief that we can do everything by our own gusto and go-to attitude. That we can pick ourselves up by our spiritual & moral bootstraps. But, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6, 1 Pet. 5:5).
How do we respond?
We know that the idea that God helps those who help themselves is false, so how do we respond? I need to spend some time asking God to reveal to me in what ways I live like this is true. And as He reveals them, my desire is to repent. I have no doubt that there are areas in which I am doing this, and I hope that I am learning to be humble enough to admit them.