God helps those who help themselves

God helps those who help themselves

In Malcolm Turnbull's autobiography, our former Prime Minister recalls an event from his childhood when a family friend died.

The woman was a "Christian Scientist" and had refused treatment for an illness based on the teaching of her church. Instead, she prayed that God might heal her.

God did not heal her and Turnbull remembers this as the moment at which he decided that 'God helps those who help themselves.'

The idea is a common one. I have often had people repeat it to me as a truism straight from the Bible.

But is this really a statement of truth?

In the case of the Christian Bible, the very simple answer is no. You will not find that phrase anywhere within the Bible. Go and look. It simply is not there.

Yet the lack of those exact words does not necessarily mean that the concept is not taught. Maybe the quote is a good summary statement of a theme that the Bible does teach? Again this is not the case.

In fact, what the Bible teaches is far better summarised by the opposite sentiment. That God helps those who CANNOT help themselves, and who own up to that fact.

In the Bible this idea is usually described as 'grace.'

To help us understand what grace is, the Bible contrasts it to a wage. While a wage is what is due to someone for what they do, grace is something which we receive but which has not been earned. In other words, grace is a gift.

Most importantly, grace gets to the very core of how we are to relate to God. As Paul wrote to the Church in ancient Rome, "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus."

In other words, by our works and efforts we can only ever fall short of God's standards. We cannot get out of that mess on our own. Nor can we enter in some kind of partnership with God to work up to his standard. The only hope for us is what Jesus has done by dying and rising to new life.

We cannot add to what Jesus has done. No rite or sacrifice could bring us even one inch closer to God than the blood which Jesus shed for us already has. Far from helping those who cannot help themselves, God provides what is impossible for us to earn. All that any of us can do is gratefully receive it as a gift.

The grace of God smashes the myth of self sufficiency before God. It forces us to acknowledge along with the hymn writer; "nothing in my hand I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling. Naked, come to Thee for dress, helpless, look to Thee for grace. Foul, I to the fountain fly. Wash me, saviour, or I die"

It is only once we admit that we are incapable of helping ourselves, that we can receive the help which God offers.

None of this is to say that human effort has no place in the Christian life. We are not called to have a 'let go and let god' attitude.

It is to say that we will strive in response to God's grace, rather than in hope of getting something from him.

This response will involve seeking to follow the example of Jesus. An example of love, of care, of compassion. An example of living for the good of others rather than ourselves. Jesus example was one of utter self denial, while striving wholeheartedly for the good of other people.

However we will do all of these things in the knowledge that we have already received from God's hand what we could never earn for ourselves.

So will you come to God for all the help you need?

David Robinson is the Anglican Minister in Glen Innes