Does God help those who help themselves?

Although the saying "God helps those who help themselves" sounds pious and spiritual, it is not in the Bible. Its earliest appearance (around 620-564 B.C.) seems to be from one of Aesop's fables—Hercules and the Waggoner.

A Waggoner was once driving a heavy load along a very muddy way. At last he came to a part of the road where the wheels sank half-way into the mire, and the more the horses pulled, the deeper sank the wheels. So the Waggoner threw down his whip, and knelt down and prayed to Hercules the Strong. "O Hercules, help me in this my hour of distress," quoth he. But Hercules appeared to him, and said:

"Tut, man, don't sprawl there. Get up and put your shoulder to the wheel."
The gods help them that help themselves.

The saying later appeared in several Greek plays written by Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides. Algernon Sidney (1623-1683), an English political theorist, first worded the proverb in the way we now use it. About a century later, it found its way into Benjamin Franklin's Poor Richard's Almanac.

The sentiment is very popular among deists and other Christian and Christian-like sects who believe in a remote, hands-off God. It might even be said to be the core of the gospel as preached by Arminianism. Initiative and hard work are common themes among people who believe that we must come to God of our own volition to be saved and continue to perform good works to maintain salvation.

However, this is not the gospel of the Bible. Scripture is clear that in our original, sinful state we cannot seek God on our own (Romans 3:10-18). God chose us before we accepted Him (Romans 8:29-30), and once saved, we are secure in that salvation forever (John 10:27-29). There is no part of salvation that we can initiate or work toward. When it comes to salvation, we cannot help ourselves.

For the saved, however, the proverb has a little more merit. Second Thessalonians 3:10 admonished that the church should not give aid to those who can work but refuse to. In John 21:6, Jesus promised the disciples a great harvest of fish—once they threw the net into the water.

A better version of the proverb would be "God blesses those who obey." The original proverb infers that God will help those engaged in good, beneficial things—and certainly getting a cart pulled out of the mud applies. But God does not promise His followers an easy life. In fact, He promises hardship (John 16:33; Acts 14:22). The blessing Jesus promises in return is the Holy Spirit (John 14:16-17). The Holy Spirit will not take away every struggle, but He will lead us to truth (John 16:13), seal us as God's (Ephesians 1:13-14), gift us with the ability to help others in the church (1 Corinthians 12:7), and give us wisdom when faced with persecution (Mark 13:11).

"God helps those who help themselves" seems true for the simple reason that things tend to get done more if we get down and do them. Our obedience to God produces fruit. The more modern version of this proverb in American Christian culture is "It's easier to steer a moving car," meaning, God can lead us more easily if we just start working for Him and stop talking about it. To an extent this is also true. Another is "Join in where God is already working," or, don't start something new when there is work to be done with other, established ministries. But if that were always true, this ministry would never have been created. So while all these sayings have some merit, none are gospel truth. Our salvation and God's love are not dependent on our works. However, God has prepared good works for us (Ephesians 2:10) and does bless our obedience to Him.

Related Truth:

What is the Truth about salvation?

Is salvation by faith or works or both?

What is sanctification?

Christian discipleship - What is it?

Christian spirituality - What is it?

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