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Q&A: Does God help those who help themselves?

I have been going through a string of bad luck lately. It seems like everything I do ends up in failure. I have a friend who shared the encouragement: “Just keep trying. After all, God helps those who help themselves.” That is not very encouraging! Is this what the Bible teaches?

Where does this statement come from?

Does the statement “God helps those who help themselves” appear in the Bible? No, but you will find a version of it in the Koran: “Indeed, Allah will not change the conditions of a population until they change what is in themselves” (Ar-Ra’d 13:11).

This statement about God actually has its roots in pagan religion. Five hundred years before Christ, Aesop wrote, “The gods help them that help themselves.” Our current wording comes from the deist, Ben Franklin, who said it in Poor Richard’s Almanac.

Is this statement true?

Satan often couches his lies in half-truths. There is an element of truth to this statement. In general, life goes better if you have a positive attitude and you do the right things. No one wants to be around an Eeyore who mopes around all day saying, “Woe is me,” or someone who is always making the wrong decisions. If you do the right things, generally things will go well for you. Martin Luther says in his conclusion to the commandments, “[God] promises grace and every blessing to all who keep these commandments. Therefore, we should also love and trust in him and gladly do what he commands.”

But hard times will come even if you keep God’s commands. Think of how crippling that thought is. A Christian mother sacrifices time and again for her family, but she gets cancer. A teenager stands up to the bully on behalf of a classmate and is ridiculed. A business collapses despite all the best effort. We perhaps have to say, “That’s not fair. They don’t deserve that. Shouldn’t God have helped them?” We conclude that either God is not being fair or those people must have had it coming. But neither conclusion is true.

Who does God help?

The truth is that God does help. We do not deserve anything from God because of our sin. And yet, listen to what Scripture says, “While we were still sinners (not while we were doing the right things, not while we were helping ourselves), Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). That is called grace: God’s something-for-nothing-when-we-don’t-deserve-anything. It is his undeserved love.

So why do we obey God’s will for our lives? Not to help ourselves. That we could never do. Instead, the Bible says, “The grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good” (Titus 2:11-14).

You are God’s very own special treasure, not because you have helped yourself, but because he chose to love you and help you by using all things in your life to bring you home to him. Because of that, we are eager to do what is good. We can trust his plans for our lives.

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This entry is part 39 of 67 in the series question-answer

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