This is one of those phrases that people think is in the Bible, but actually is NOT. However, because it is used so very often it is helpful to stop and ponder upon whether or not it actually reflects biblical truth. Does God help those who help themselves? Remember it is to the Bible that we have to turn to in order to assess whether or not a statement is correct or not.
The crucial issue to remember in deliberating upon God’s help for human beings is that of whether or not people have the ability to perform the required tasks. Quite simply if we have the ability to help ourselves then we are expected by God to use that ability for His glory. However, before we substantiate this statement it is useful to look at the situation of those who cannot help themselves.
Help for the Helpless
Our God is a God who delights to help the helpless. In fact the whole history of God’s redemption story is about Him helping the helpless. How does this work? When it comes to our eternal standing before God we are all helpless. But the wonderful truth is that God helps the helpless. This is the great story of salvation. The theological term which describes our natural state when looked at in the context of salvation is “total inability”. We are totally unable to save ourselves. We are utterly helpless.
Paul in Eph. 2:1-4 most profoundly expresses our helplessness. Our state is described as follows:
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.
Into that situation of utter helplessness God came and, continuing in Eph. 2:4-5, because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.
The overall theme of God’s grace is expressed by Paul in Rom 5. You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly (v6). And further in that chapter God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (v8).
Whenever we remember our salvation we remember how God in Christ came and helped us in all our helplessness and powerlessness. We were dead in trespasses and sins and He came and brought us eternal life. Praise be His Name.
It is so important that we remember that we are helpless before as regards to obtaining His salvation. So many people go wrong at this point. So many are seeking to help themselves to gain acceptance with God in the vain hope that God will reward their strivings by granting salvation. People think of salvation as them doing their part and God doing His part. No No No; this is utterly wrong and leads to us placing ourselves in eternal peril. No amount of good works, penance or self-sacrifice can help us to earn salvation. Salvation is not earned it is received as a gift.
In looking at God’s workings in salvation we are entering into the heart of our loving Father. He is the One who is A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling (Psalm 68:5). He ever helps those who cannot help themselves. He is a caring God. This is what our God is eternally like.
A beautiful illustration of God helping the helpless is found in David’s actions towards Mephibosheth in 2 Sam. 9. Mephibosheth was the grandson of Saul and lame on both feet. Accordingly, he was connected with the fallen, discredited regime and he was unable to provide for himself. Such is our condition. In Adam we are connected to one who is fallen and discredited and we being dead in our sins are utterly unable to provide salvation for ourselves. Whereas David was now all-powerful, being King over all Israel (see 2 Sam 8:15-18). Marvelously David then moves to bring the helpless Mephibosheth to be fully provided for and permanently accepted at his table (see 2 Sam. 9:13). And therein is a lovely illustration of how God has brought us, as Christians, to be eternally welcome in His presence. Oh the riches of His grace!
And we of course should be like Him. We, as God’s people, should be godly. In the Old Testament God’s covenant people were taught to help the helpless. The law is filled with this teaching. For example: Deut. 24:19 says When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. We are reflecting the character of our God within us when we act to help those who cannot help themselves.
And in the New Testament. James encourages us to help the helpless when he writes: Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress. (James 1:27). Let us help the helpless.
Thanksgiving then should come from our hearts as we remember that God helps the helpless
We have thought about the delightful issue of how God, in His grace, helps the helpless. And most importantly how He brings the spiritually destitute to salvation. As we have thought about salvation the poignant thing to remember is that we were utterly without ability to help ourselves in this respect. However there are areas where we do have the relevant ability. All of us are able pray and most of us are able to read; so we must pray and read our Bibles. And most of us can get to a place where Christians gather “as church” to worship and praise God; so let us be there.
As a consequence of us choosing to help ourselves to know God better, through the proper use of means, praying, reading, church attendance, He graciously chooses to bless us. So for example John says concerning the book of revelation that Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near (Rev 1:3). So take the plunge read Revelation and get the blessing. Similarly for those who gather together in the LORD’S Name to consider His things Malachi says: Then those who feared the LORD talked with each other, and the LORD listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the LORD and honored his name (Mal.:3:16).
We are beginning to get the message then that those who help themselves in pursuit of the things of God are blessed by Him. This principle though also applies with regard to us taking action to legitimately provide for ourselves. Those who are lazy and never help themselves by doing a decent days work are certainly not under God’s favour. As *Proverbs 13:4 says: A sluggard’s appetite is never filled, but the desires of the diligent are fully satisfied. On the positive side remember how blessed Ruth was when she diligently took action to provide for herself and Naomi (see Ruth 2).
At this point we must remember that God only blesses those who do what is honouring to Him and act according to His Word. Acting in a way which contravenes His Word in order to obtain personal gain is condemned of God continually throughout Scripture. The LORD, for example, in Jeremiah 5 continually tells the people of Judah that they help for themselves in the ways of sin. Such conduct will lead to His devastating judgement.
Notwithstanding the truth that we have established that God blesses those who help themselves in pursuit of Him and that which is good, there must be the acknowledgment that the ability which we have to read or to walk or whatever comes from Him. He gives the helpless the abilities to help themselves so that He can bless them. As James says: Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights (James 1:17). As God is the Giver of the gifts we must use them for His glory. Accordingly we must confess that the ability to walk, read, speak, labour, pray etc. all comes from God. It is really a universal truth that as the LORD Jesus said: apart from me you can do nothing (John 15:5b). Every breath that we take is ultimately given by God. Our lives are in His hands.
With this in mind our study then migrates on to the theme of our co-operating with the workings of God. Paul summarises the content of his ministry along these lines. He says He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me (Col. 1:28-29). Accordingly, if we are truly laboring for God, as Paul was, then we are only doing so because of His energy is in us.
Similarly we remember that when he raised Lazarus from the dead He asked others to perform certain aspects of the work. In John 11: 38-43 we note how he asked the bystanders to remove the gravestone and the grave clothes. Only the LORD could raise the dead, but others could help. Are we willing to be co-labourers with the LORD in His great work?
This applies in all realms but particularly as regard to our spiritual welfare. Paul when urging the Philippians to make spiritual progress says: continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfil his purpose (Phil. 2:12b-13). God helps us and we help ourselves. In spiritual progress; both go together.
Finally we might note that if the LORD blesses all who use their abilities to pursue Him then so should we. This is true godliness. Again the Scriptures have examples of this. John, as an instance says to the chosen lady It has given me great joy to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as the Father commanded us (2 John 4). Let us then be ever blessing those who use their abilities to pursue the LORD.
So does God help those who help themselves? In a sense that is true if properly understood in a restricted context. But more correctly the following two statements are more biblically accurate.:
God helps the helpless.
God blesses those who use their abilities to pursue Him and do good.
(Taken from Feltham Evangelical Church Newsletters of August and September 2007)