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God Helps Those Who Help Themselves?

Alistair Huong

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In a survey conducted in the US where people were asked to name one of the Ten Commandments, a top answer was "God helps those who help themselves." This idea typically refers to a "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" attitude and seems to resonate with the intrepid, independent American spirit. And the response to this survey indicates it as a notion that's baked into the fabric of American culture--but is it Biblical? Isn't salvation a work completely of God? Is there a part for us to play too?

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Alistair Huong

Executive Director of AudioVerse

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  • May 11, 2019
    4:00 PM
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Gracious and we Father we bow before you once more asking for your Holy Spirit to be your teacher in our guide you speak to us help us to understand how to walk this Christian walk some clarity some of these things that pertain to our practical Christianity and the Holy Spirit guide us and teach us this is our prayer in Jesus' name. God helps those who help themselves notice this has a question mark appear so I want to ask the question as we get started is this a biblical statement God helps those who helps themselves is this something that we find in scripture I see a few faces a know how many of you think this is yes this is a scriptural see yes yes OK how do you think it's no OK good I'm glad we have a split vote that's good how about how many of you think it's a trick question. What a preacher starts off with a question like this your life was to twist right and there's a slight twist and we'll get to that in a moment but when you when you think about this this notion God helps those who help themselves what does that actually mean you know not long ago I was reading about a survey that was done in the United States I don't remember what university town it was conducted in I think it was in multiple cities actually and they went around asking people can you name one of the 10 Commandments guess what was one of the top answers right here in the Merica. One of the top answers for the question Name one of the 10 Commandments here in the United States is none other than the statement God helps those who help themselves now is that a problem. Why is that the prophet. This is this phrase is it found in the Bible. It's not even found in the Bible much less being part of the 10 Commandments but I think it does sort of reveal the response to the survey it does reveal somewhat of the. Maybe the American D.N.A. if you will there is a certain culture role. Identifier perhaps of Americans and that is that they're very independent they believe in being your own person making your own way you know the pioneers going out west right and the gold rush you know making a fortune for yourself and nowadays we hear about entrepreneurs starting businesses and they go public and then you know they become billionaires and we sort of glamorize these people and it also flows out of this idea of you take care of your business and then God will come in then sort of fill in the blanks the concept this idea of God helps those who help themselves generally speaking at least in American culture Western culture the idea is you take care of yourself and when you've got it figured out then God will have a place in your life then God might pay some attention to you is very much the notion of pulling yourselves up by your own bootstraps type of idea and when we think about it in that context maybe it's not so much of a biblical idea after all. But we're not here to discuss American culture or politics or anything like that I want to look at the Bible and I want to I want you to keep this idea this thought in your mind God helps those who help themselves is this true and we're going to take a look at 3 bible stories together as we get started and the 1st one is in 2nd Kings. Chapter 4 and verse one through 7 So let's turn our Bibles there together I don't have these verses on the screen. And setting the stage a little bit 2nd Kings Chapter 4 there's a story of a life. And this is one of. One of I guess I can say one of my favorite I have a lot of favorite stories in the Bible but this is one particularly that impacts an interest of mine and that is personal finance some of you may know my wife and I we actually write a personal finance blog and I have a couple of finance seminars on our universe and this is one of the quintessential personal finance stories in the Bible it's about someone who's in debt and the creditors are coming after her. And she needs a miracle does that sound familiar to anyone here student loans maybe. Verse one second before a certain woman of the wives of the sons of the prophets cried out to life just saying your servant my husband is dead and you know that your servant feared the Lord and the creditor is coming to take my 2 sons to be his slaves you see the dilemma that this woman is in she's a widow her husband died clearly he was a breadwinner of the home they were in debt she has 2 boys and the creditors are coming to take her boys away to be slaves to pay off the debt 1st to set a life she said to wash I do for you tell me what do you have in the house and she said your maid servant has nothing in the house but a jar of oil. Then he said Go borrow vessels from everywhere from all your neighbors empty vessels do not gather just a few and when you have come in you shut the door behind you and your sons then pour it into into all those vessels and and set aside the full ones so she went from him and shut the door behind her and her sons who brought the vessels to her and she poured it out now it came to pass when the vessels were full the she said to her son bring me another vessel and he said to her there is not another vessel so the oil ceased then she came and told the man of God and he said Go sell the oil and pay your debt and you and your sons live on the rest so we're we've all heard the story before us the woman the widow and the oil. So question was is a miracle. Are you sure. Obviously it was a miracle clear but did the woman have a part to play Yes Next question. The fact that the woman had a part to play did that in any way detract from the fact that it was a miracle and did the fact that the woman had to play a part in this miracle does it in some way. Was the word good as those she somehow get the credit for the miracle actually taking place no OK next question then but if she had not played her part would the miracle have happened or if she didn't fully obey if she didn't do her best she just borrowed one she wouldn't have had enough to live on right. So here's The Point did God help the woman yes but that the woman have to help herself to yes keep that thought in mind because. We're going to go to the next story and we're going to build on this idea God helps those who help themselves is this a biblical idea and if so what does it actually mean let's go to the next passage Luke Chapter 17 verses 11 to 14 New Testament now and this is the story of the lepers. 17. Luke 17 beginning in verse 11 Now it happened as he went to Jerusalem that he passed through the midst of some area and Galilee then as he entered a certain village there met him 10 men who were lepers who stood a far off and they lifted up their voices and said Jesus Master have mercy on us so when he saw them he said to them Go show yourselves to the priests and so it was that as they went they were client same list of questions was this a miracle. Oh yeah obviously they were lepers and then they worked that the lepers have a part to play they did because they had to go they actually had to obey and they were healed as they went that's what we're told but does the fact that they had a part to play diminish the fact that it was a miracle not all. But because they participated in the accomplishment if you will of the miracle do they get any credit Oh so we see a similar pattern here is it possible today for God to help us get out of debt Yes And when people come to me for part personal finance advice or even if they talk to you you don't have to have a degree in finance to know this but there's going to be some effort involved isn't I right if we want to get out of debt you've got to live on less than you owe. You got that you make it is what I meant to say you actually have to live on a budget you have to do certain things to participate but the miracle still comes from God What about our health in the case of the lepers can God still heal Does he still perform miracles of healing Do we have to play our part we of all people right as avid as we understand the the laws of health can God bless us when we are knowingly flagrantly violating the laws of health he doesn't make a miracle but in a whopper rating with him and following the laws of health he can perform a miracle but the fact that we participate and we do our part it doesn't diminish the fact that it's a miracle it doesn't take away from the fact that God is the one that performs the miracle and and gives the increase the woman could not have gone to her friends and said Oh yeah that I had such an incredible business plan for my all of oil business maybe it was an olive oil maybe nowadays maybe she was selling essential oils who knows right. I had such an amazing website so much traffic I could convert my viewers I did this myself because the woman I was at that no way and the lepers could not have said you know before I went to Jesus you know I wouldn't begin and. You know I've been using essential or hills. And you know I learned this thing on the Internet you know on youtube and you know Jesus it was nice of him but I did could have said. So what I'm trying to show what I'm trying to highlight here is that just because we have a part to play doesn't necessarily detract from the fact that God is performing a miracle you follow my line of reasoning. So let's go to our 3rd story and from here we're going to launch into the main gist of what I'm trying to communicate so let's go to Acts chapter 27. So we've looked at 2 stories we've talked about YOUR talked about personal finance we've talked about health and we understand that there is a park for us to play for God to bless us. About the spiritual realm what about salvation Acts Chapter $27.00 will begin reading in verse $21.00 but setting the stage here Paul and his companions there headed to Rome and they set off from the island of Crete unadvisedly and when they departed they got caught in the to again to storm and everyone thinks that they're going to die we pick up in verse 21 after long abstinence from food then Paul stood in the midst of them and said men you should have listened to me and not have sailed from Crete and incurred this disaster and loss and now I urge you to take heart for there will be no loss of life among you but only of the ship for there stood by me this night an angel of the of the god to whom I belong and whom I serve saying Do not be afraid Paul you must be brought before Caesar and indeed God has granted you all those who sail with you therefore take heart men for I believe God it will be just as it was told me however we must run aground on a certain island this is pretty remarkable there on the verge of death and God sends an angel to tell Paul not one life is going to be lost. Wouldn't that be nice to have an angel show up and tell us that when we go through our storms in life maybe there's a horrible calamity in our lives maybe it's financial maybe it's health maybe there's some circumstance or find ourselves in maybe it's a little storm or a car a car accident or something and Boman angel shows up a says don't worry you're going to be just fine Oh I'd be like No problem this is going to be just fine and that's exactly what happened in the store but I want to focus in on how the men on that ship responded OK let's take a look at sketches from the life of Paul page 267. At these words the words that Paul just told them that the angel said passengers and crew roused from their apathy and put forth all possible exertion to save their lives there was much yet to be done those that response strike you as odd as it did to me because what just happened here they thought they're going to die and an angel comes down and literally tells them not one person is going to die you're all going to be saved every single one of them and they respond notice. By putting forth all possible exertion to save their lives does this not sound or look like a disregard of the promises of God in a way like the angel just left right the angel was just here and they said everyone is going to be saved and they're very next response is let's put more elbow grease into this thing let's put our back into it we have to do more or is. Yes very good. So these passengers had a response. That was not a response that perhaps maybe I think looking from my easy chair looking back in history think I would have done I would have looked at the situation I want to see that oh great let's just let's just relax let's just sit back let's just watch God perform a miracle to save us Jesus called the storm with his hand and he said Peace be still and everything stop let's just see what happens right that would be my response why would I. Presume on the grace of God and behave in a way that seemed might be viewed as saying God Fanks but no thanks. Let's take a look at the next sentence in this passage are these passages presuming on the goodness of God are they saying God I hear you but we got this is that their attitude what were they thinking every effort within their power must be put forth of her directed destruction for oh god help those only who help themselves. Right at the very beginning we started with the question is this a biblical statement God helps those who help themselves and indeed that statement not found in the Bible but. It is found in the spirit of prophecy and right here in the story we see an illustration of what God must mean when he says this You see God expects a certain reaction from us when he gives us his promise it is not presumption to cooperate with God It is presumption to disregard God's promise and so what does this mean then we got a ravelled this you know there's some cognitive dissonance going on now well is God saying you save yourself and then I'll come in and interject myself in your experience is that what God is trying to say. Let's make this clear this is in sermons and talks Volume 2 page 195. What the staff 1st on the say God's promises and what Cundiff this is a bedrock principle of Scripture never forget this God's promises are conditional in order to make it possible for Him The bless us we must do our part we cannot expect that all his blessings will come to his naturally if we fold our hands and inactivity so just like the woman with the oil she had to go borrow the vessels she had to put forth her effort in gathering as many vessels as you're good and then after the oil was all filled up she had to go out and actually sell the stuff she had her part to play the lepers they actually had to obey the Word of Jesus and go show them that to the grease as they went they were healed and the promise that God gave the Paul of his compatriots on the sinking ship is yes I'm going to save you but you've got to play your part and here's the big difference when we think in today's terms God helps those who help themselves we think of it as at least the way that American culture projects it is you take you take care of everything yourself 1st and then God will listen to you but what we're seeing here is God offers us the promises 1st he offers us his promise of grace and power and we have to accept it we cooperate by receiving or we help ourselves by accepting by faith the promise that he gives 1st you see there are 2 extremes there are 2 extremes in the Christian experience that is just equally deadly. On one hand there is the idea of cheap grace. The idea that God does everything Jesus Take The Wheel that that type of idea and we just sit back and any effort on our part is legal isn't if we actually have to try if we actually have to make a choice if we actually have to alter anything in our lifestyle that's that's works that's legalism that has nothing to do with my Christianity and that leads down the path of cheap grace of one saved always see Jesus does it all any effort on our part is wrong that's one extreme but then the opposite extreme is just as bad and that is we have to do everything ourselves and once I get my act right once I fix myself once I've tied up everything then I'm worthy to come to Jesus. One side says there is absolutely no effort involved in my Christian experience the other ass the other side says it is all my effort and my effort is what merits Jesus to pay attention to me those are both equally dangerous and a Roni is extremes and what we're trying to say today. Is that there is a path down the middle where Jesus gives the promise of infinite power but we must do our part to accept that power I wrote this down I want to say it properly I want to make sure I say this properly God gives the grace through his promises through His Word which is the supernatural power to accomplish the impossible to accomplish the miracle right the healing of the leper saving the men in the storm filling the jars with oil he gives the promises of grace but the appropriation of that power requires the cooperation of the human agent that's called. Faith says that God said it therefore I will believe it and live it if we never apply the faith we're just hoping for a miracle we're being the woman who says I believe you but never barring the jars We're being the lepers I say I know Jesus you can heal me but never going to the priests we are saved by grace through faith indeed that's what it says in a fetus chapter 2 but at the same time we're also commanded to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling You see when we have God's promises of infinite power we don't stop all our effort because of his promises rather we put forth all of our might because now we know there's no chance of failure that's the difference we know we cannot fail so let me sum this up this is a statement that highlights the key principle of what I'm trying to present this afternoon prophets of King's Speech 46 here it is revealed the outworking of the Divine Principle of was that word cooperation without which no true success can be attained how many of us want success in our Christian experience I think I know we all do so the only way this happens is if we cooperate but what does that look like human effort of veils nothing without divine power and without human endeavor divine effort is with many of no avail to make God's grace our own we must act our part His grace is given to work in us to will and to do but never as a substitute for our effort you see the balance right there the grace is given freely as much grace as we need God is giving it to us but. We've got to reach out and take We've got to exert the effort to apply it in our situation cooperation is the name of the game the Divine Principle of cooperation you see God can still feed the 5000 but we stuff the pack our lunch you understand what I'm saying. Jesus can feed the 5000 sure but we can cooperate by doing our part David God performed a miracle in delivering Israel in allowing David to slay Goliath but David still had to pick up the stones he still had to go face the giant in the field of battle it took effort but the miracle came from go go perform the miracle of preserving Noah and all the animals in the flood but no as to how to build the ark there would have been no miracle without the cooperation of the human agent Maimane would have still been a leper unless he was willing to humblest himself and dip 7 times in the Jordan River cooperation what about the Passover God could have spared the firstborn of Israel but they had to put the blood on their doorposts there was a part for the human agent to play we can yoke up with Christ that's the illustration Jesus gives We have to take his yoke upon us by yoking up with Jesus means he's carrying the load there is a cooperation there we can go on and on Daniel and his friends God could have delivered them whether it's from the fiery furnace or the lion's den but they themselves had to make the choice not to bow to the Idol not to give up their devotion to live praying 3 times a day. There was the story of Jericho I mean the list goes on and on right God performed a miracle the walls came tumbling down but they still had to March around the city all week long this stuff to blow the trumpet their part to play did not diminish from the miracle but the cooperation was vital essential in order for the miracle to take place and in the regeneration of the Christian of of our sinful hearts rather than a Christian experience if we are saved at last this happens only through cooperation all the glory all the credit goes to God We get no credit but the same time we have our part to play because God helps those who helps themselves I think we're beginning to get a clearer picture of what that statement actually means testimonies for the church Volume 4 page 538 I frequently think about this past whenever I'm in the midst of a challenging situation maybe at work when ministry or in some particular situation I think how should I react what is my position with God right now how do I properly frame. My prayers in and what I'm doing notice prayer and effort effort and prayer will be the business of your life you must pray as though the efficiency and pre's were all due to God and labor as the duty were all your own if you want power you may have it as it is awaiting your draft upon it only believe in God take him at his word act by faith and blessings will come you notice to the frame of mind that we ought to be we pray as though everything depends on God because it does but then we get up with the promises of God in hand and heart and we put forth our absolute best effort to do the best we can and then we leave the consequences with Go. When we think about the Christian experience I have a friend he has a statement that always resonated with me being a Christian is not just being feet we talk about faithfulness a lot but we also have to be useful if we are faithful to Jesus we will be useful to Jesus and what that means there's work involved there's effort involved there is putting our back into the gospel plow if you will and in the Christian experience God provides the power we can receive it and just like it says here only believe in God take him at his word act by faith and the blessings will come guarantee so the Divine Principle cooperation let's make this real practical in this cooperation between God and man what does God do what is his part. Very simply he does what we can't so what does God expect us to do what do you think the answer is what we can add when we think about our Christian experience really this is what it boils down to what is God's part he does everything that is impossible for the human to do and what do we do what we can and guess what Jesus offers us grace and power to do what we can we don't even have to rely on our own strength he helps us with that so using some of the examples we've talked about getting out of debt guy can perform a miracle he can but do we have to make the budget. Do we have to find ways to save can he give us a new job yes he can but once we get the new job can we show up on time be a good coworker go the 2nd Mile. You understand what I'm saying we give people advice in the what I call secular realm when the spiritual realm is really not that different can we can we cleanse ourselves from sin no but we can go to Jesus. Jesus is going to force himself upon us we have to go we can choose we can't cleanse our hearts from sin but we can choose to surrender to Jeanne's we can't even give him our affections but we can ask him to take it we can't change our hearts but we can set the alarm clock so we wake up in the morning to have time with Jesus it doesn't earn us anything it's not a merit you understand but Jesus doesn't force himself into our lives the power of the Grace is a vailable waiting for us to take it but we have to make the appointment to be there to see Jesus we can't overcome our sins but we can choose new friends Jesus can help us work the miracle to help us overcome our addiction but we can choose to not go by the bar that we used to go with our friends. To not be in circumstances that makes provision for the flesh it doesn't earn us one whit in our salvation but that's coal whopper ration God can provide the power we just have to do our part we can't overcome the devil we can't but we can memorize scripture so when he comes to us like a flood we can say it is written back to him and through that cooperation God gives us the power to overcome you understand this Christian experience we actually have a part to play we have to choose. And in other places I don't the quote here We are told that the battle with self is the greatest battle that was ever fought that sounds like effort to me though a victory is guaranteed because Jesus had already won the victory the promises are sure but we have to claim it we have to call whopper rate with God You see the principle that we are talking about here is the Divine Principle of cooperation What does God do he'll do every part that we can't do for ourselves what do we do we do the part that we can't and if we have struggles and we we stumble and we fall God says Come to me and ask me to help you with those 2. But we have to make the choice here's an in lightning passage from testimonies for the church Volume one page 345 that really highlights this in the context of the great controversy though of the role between the divine agencies the grace of God the power of God and the human agent what part do we play in cooperation notice what this says it's almost chilling when you read this scenario I saw evil angels contending for souls and angels of God resisting them there's a great controversy right there the conflict was severe evil angels were corrupting the atmosphere with their poisonous influence and crowding about these souls to stupefy their sensibilities holy angels were anxiously watching and waiting to drive back Satan's hosts but it is not the work of good angels to control the minds of men against their will notice the next passage. If they yield to the enemy and make no effort to resist him then the angels of God can do but little more than hold in check the host of Satan that they shall not destroy until further light be given to those in peril to move them to arouse and look to Heaven for help here's a key sentence Jesus will not commission the holy angels to extricate those who make no effort to help themselves there's a sound familiar to the title of our message God helps those who help themselves but you notice this is not the traditional understanding when people usually talk about it today what Jesus is saying is all the hosts of Heaven at He'll send every single angel he'll empty the barracks in Heaven of all the angels to come help one soul and meet only of the soul except the help only if that individual makes the effort to say Lord Jesus hel me if we make no effort if we take no step to cooperate the angels are powerless to do anything to Deliver Us From Evil God helps those who help themselves only those who choose to cooperate with him. We have a part to play we have to make effort but God supplies the power Here's a statement from steps across page $47.00 that we've probably read many times and I think it's might come in be vivid more vivid a new new light now this is desires for goodness and a holiness are right as far as they go but if you stop here they will avail nothing many will be lost while hoping and desiring to be Christian. So it's possible to read the promises of God Read what God has given in Scripture read about heaven and all the wonderful things I say I want to be there I want to be saved there's a difference between hoping and desiring and wanting it to actually having it what's the difference what's the key point here they do not come to the point of you'll doing the will to God They do not now choose to be Christians and here's the point when we talk about the effort that is a part of the Christian experience the effort is not so much making ourselves better or climbing a mountain or doing some act of penance Don't get me wrong the effort is making the choice the effort is yielding the will choosing to cooperate with what God has said even if it's difficult even if it goes against what our natures prefer So this statement says many will be lost with this mindset oh but I thought that is legalism when all they had was a wistful Christianity not a realistic Christianity the next statement from the next page step to Christ 48 says this through the right exercise of the Will an entire change may be made in your life by yielding up your will to cries you ally yourself with the power those above all principalities and powers I highlighted the word ally what's another word of Ally cooperate by yielding up your will to cries you are cool walk parading with the powers that is above all principalities and powers you will have strength from above to hold you stuck fast and thus through constant surrender to God you will be enabled to live the new life even the life of faith can we say men do that. We can live a new life but do we have a part to play does Jesus give us the promise of a new life yes can he perform the miracle of the new birth yes can help us overcome all of the setting sins yes but we have to choose to cooperate we have to go borrow the jars for the oil we have to be like the lepers willing to go when Jesus says go we have to have the response like Paul and his fellow passengers and crew on the ship says Hali lujah God has given us all his promises all the power from heaven we know we can never be lost as long as we are faithful So lets put our back into being useful for the kingdom of. Cooperation prayer and effort effort and career this will be the business of your life so let me ask you this question again God helps those who help themselves is this a biblical statement. Or is this a trick question. You understand now why it's a little bit of a trick question. Because as it's commonly understood today as it's commonly associated with in our American vernacular God helps those who help themselves no I do not believe that is a biblical statement the way is presented as in you take care of all your business and then come to G.'s you fix yourself and then maybe Jesus will listen to your prayers you earn your way into heaven like you know earning your way into a successful business I don't believe that is Biblical at all that is and and antithetical to the Gospel Jesus helps us while we were yet sinners while we were helpless and hopeless to help ourselves but on the flip side this is a biblical statement as it is properly understood. And what does it actually mean to read rephrase it to be perhaps a little bit more precise it is this god can only help those who choose to cooperate with him we have all the power of heaven at our disposal God will not permit one of us to fall into the grasp of the enemy but we do have to play our part we have to cry out Lord see me we have to be willing to allow the angels to do battle for us we have to be willing to choose to say no to certain temptations we have to be willing to say look I am not going to stay up late tonight because I need to wake up early to spend time with Jesus tomorrow we have to be willing to say you know what I cannot accept that job because I have to work on set I am willing to sacrifice my grade in this class because I am not going to take this exam on the Sabbath day we are willing to say I value my relationship with Jesus more than my romantic relationship with this young man or woman who is inappropriate for me spiritually we can make those decisions that is the part we can play God provides the grace to help us in every circumstance and in every time of need where we cooperate with Jesus today how many of us today want to say Lord Jesus yes I believe your promises make them a reality in my life help me to be willing to cooperate with you whatever that may look like I know that's my desire how many of you want to say that with me today. Has together as we pray Father in heaven we thank you. But your promises are sure your word is sure we can have confidence that when you say something it is so and you have promised us grace to help in time of need I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me now and to Him who is able to keep you from falling and to present us before his presence with exceeding joy Lord we know you are able more than able to perform the impossible in our lives and Lord help us today to understand our part our insignificant worthless part of merely cooperating with you. Choosing to place our hand in yours to place our confidence in you to be willing to go when you say go to dip in the Jordan river when that is required to borrow vessels to sell the oil to to bail water out of the ship whatever it might be whatever the circumstances might be in our lives Lord May we cooperate with you so that your power may flow in and through us in turn be a blessing to others so lord go with us from this place for the remainder of the Sabbath day and also the upcoming week ahead and May We walk hand in hand in cooperation with you May we experience this this the joy of having the promises of God being fulfilled in our lives and having the experience of gaining the victory with you Byers we pray for your return to be ready for that this is our Jesus. This media was brought to you by audio 1st a website dedicated to spreading God's word through free sermon audio and much more if you would like to know more about audio. 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