Monday, January 30, 2012

Does God help those who help themselves?

5-6Answer this question: Does the God who lavishly provides you with his own presence, his Holy Spirit, working things in your lives you could never do for yourselves, does he do these things because of your strenuous moral striving or because you trust him to do them in you? Don't these things happen among you just as they happened with Abraham? He believed God, and that act of belief was turned into a life that was right with God.
(Galations 3:5-6 The Message)

This is indeed a good question for each of us to consider in our daily walk!  Does God do the "stuff" in our lives he does out of obligation to us because we have somehow "earned" it?  Do we obtain the blessings of God, including his attention and his directing influence, simply because we "did enough" to warrant it?  The Book of Galations is a letter to a church with a mixed up set of ideas.  They believe in the work of Christ - salvation through his shed blood (faith).  Yet, they cannot fully detach from the influence of the common beliefs of the day - you get good stuff when you do good deeds (works).

The writer has taken three chapters to explain the futility of thinking anything we do, say, or imagine in our minds will bring us into a "better place" with God. All the "moral striving" we go through - and for some of us, this may be quite a bit - is really just "good deeds", but it is NOT what brings us into God's presence, gives us the leading of his Holy Spirit, or provides us with some good outcome.  It is Christ alone who accomplishes this within us - no amount of our own striving produces positive effect!

You have probably heard it said, "God helps those who help themselves."  Ummm....although you may think it is biblical - the answer is "NO".  Really, when we say this, we are declaring our intention to take the initiative.  This phrase actually originated in Greek mythology!  Aeschylus wrote, "Whenever a man makes haste, God too hastens with him."  This comes from the Greek tragedy, The Persians, written in 427 BC.  Sophocles wrote, "No good e'er comes of leisure purposelessness; and heaven ne'er helps the men who will not act."  He was another writer of Greek tragedies during the same time period.  The concept of acting FIRST, then asking God for help AFTER you act is a concept taught throughout Greek mythology.  

Although there have been various "iterations" of this concept over the ages, the most notable to us is the present day rendering of "God helps those who help themselves."  This variation was penned by an Englishman (Algernon Sidney), intent on editorializing the governmental stands of the day, in 1698. We probably remember it best as being part of the writing of Benjamin Franklin - a quote in his Almanac in 1736.  

Regardless of how we have come to learn this "concept" - we have learned a concept which is foreign to the scriptural teaching of dependence upon God for direction!  Yes, God expects us to work - laboring well at our calling in life.  Yes, he expects us to engage in life - open to the leading he gives.  In fact, he invites us to act WITH him!  Solomon penned the words, "I have seen all the works done under the sun; indeed all is vanity and grasping at the wind." (Ecclesiastes 1:14)  At best, our works are "grasping at the wind" - an attempt to grasp the wind will show us each the futility of even trying!

We have an opportunity to change our mindset.  We can either believe we must do "things" in order for God to intervene in our lives, or like we are taught in scripture, we can accept God has already intervened despite our "doing"!  At best, our "doing" falls short of perfect faith!  This is the idea Paul is teaching.  No amount of "doing good" gains us any closeness of walk with Christ.  "Doing good" is an outcome of "being made" good!  The "being made" part is God's part - not ours!

So, if we have a tendency to be "self-initiators" in this walk with God, we might want to step back a little to see where it is God is leading!  He may have an entirely different course for our lives - one which is not focused on all the "works" we have been pursuing.  In fact, he may lead us away from some of those "works" into a place of grace we have never experienced before when we finally stop "doing" and just learn to "trust" in his completed work for our lives - the work of the Cross provided ALL we need for salvation!