“The Bible Says…” Are You Sure? (part 5)
In this final post of my 5-part series on “The Bible Says…” Are You Sure? we will survey one of the top aphorisms mistakenly attributed to the Scriptures.
This proverbial saying is said to have been quoted by Benjamin Franklin in the Poor Richard’s Almanac of 1757, who adapted it from Aesop’s “Hercules and the Waggoner” fable. The Townsend version of the fable is as follows:
A carter was driving a wagon along a country lane, when the wheels sank down deep into a rut. The rustic driver, stupefied and aghast, stood looking at the wagon, and did nothing but utter loud cries to Hercules to come and help him. Hercules, it is said, appeared and thus addressed him: “Put your shoulders to the wheels, my man. Goad on your bullocks, and never more pray to me for help, until you have done your best to help yourself, or depend upon it you will henceforth pray in vain.”
Someone summarized the moral of this mythological story with this pithy saying: “God helps those who help themselves.” And over time it stuck and people began to assume that its origin was the Bible. But this phrase, even just the concept itself, is not found in the Scripture. As a matter of fact, the opposite is true: God helps those who can’t help themselves. To say it another way, God doesn’t expect us to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps, or promises only to step in to help us after we have done our part. On the contrary, the Bible declares and shows God to be the one who steps out first to help us. He initiates. According to Scripture, we can clearly see this truth displayed in at least three major areas of our lives.
1. Our Salvation
Whether we are talking about the objective or subjective (i.e., our turning from sin and placing our trust in Jesus to be saved from sin and God’s wrath – Romans 3:21-25a; Ephesians 2:8-9) aspects of salvation, God is the one who accomplished it. God the Father planned or purposed it (Ephesians 1:3-5), God the Son [Jesus] achieved it (Romans 5:6-21), and God the Holy Spirit appropriated it in our lives through our faith in the redemptive work of Jesus (John 3:5; 16:8-11; Titus 3:4-7).
“For while we were still weak [without strength or helpless],” Paul says, “at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” (Romans 5:6)
2. Our [Progressive] Sanctification
Even our desire and efforts to live Christ-like lives moment-by-moment and day-by-day is caused by God. As Paul writes, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:12-13) We can work out our salvation (notice he didn’t say work for our salvation) precisely because God works in us, enabling us to do so.
3. Our Service
Our acts of service to the church through our spiritual gifts and to the greater community of humanity through gospel-proclamation and good deeds are empowered and executed by God as well (Romans 12:6; 1 Peter 4:10-11; Acts 1:8). This does not absolve us Christians of responsibility before and cooperation with God in serving others (or even in our sanctification) because, often times, he requires that we work in tandem with him, that we obey him. But it is to recognize that in Christianity God is the initiator of all things and we are first and foremost recipients who then become contributors, all by the grace of God.
“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” (Titus 2:11-14)