You’ve probably heard the saying, “God helps those who help themselves.” Is that true? Is that a biblical statement? A lot of people think it’s a verse in the Bible, but it’s not. Is the idea there, though, even if the Bible doesn’t use these exact words? Does that Bible teach that God will help you only after you do your part?
When it comes to salvation, we’re completely helpless before God. In fact, Ephesians 2:1–3 says that we’re spiritually dead: “You were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived, in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”
The picture that the apostle Paul paints here is not, “Hey, Ephesians, you were doing everything you could, and God saw that. He thought, ‘Boy, they’re trying so hard. I’m just gonna give him some grace.’” No, he says the opposite. You were actually the Walking Dead. You were enslaved to Satan. You weren’t striving after God. That’s not why God came to you.
Think of the conversion of the apostle Paul. He hated the children of God. As he was on his way to kill Christians, Jesus came to him and said, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:4). The light of the gospel shined on him. And that’s what happened to the Ephesians. That’s why Paul says this. He knows what it’s like to be dead in sin and have the light of God break in and transform everything.
He goes on to say, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:4–6).
We need to recover this radical view of the matchless grace of God toward sinners. Too many people think our relationship with God is this sort of dance. I do a little bit and then he does some and then we’re sort of working together to save me. No, it’s all of grace. We contribute our sin and brokenness, and that’s all we bring to the table. God declares us righteous in his Son Jesus solely by faith. Then he begins to work in us by the power of the Holy Spirit.
But again, that phrase can be really confusing. Many people believe it describes the Christian life. We need a higher view of the grace of God and a higher view of human sinfulness. We need to see just how lost we were apart from the revelation of Jesus Christ. If we have faith in Christ, then God gets all the glory. And it should produce humility in us and also thanksgiving because we realize we didn’t help out God at all. We didn’t give him a hand in our salvation. We were rebels, dead in trespasses and sins.
But Jesus, in love, came to us and pursued us. That’s the good news. And that’s what we need to recover.