No one wants to be told their problems are too big for them to solve.
Talk to a drunk, as he staggers away in a drunken stupor, and he’ll shout out, “Don’t worry about me! I’ve got this under control. I can handle it…”
People are so committed to this way of thinking about themselves that it affects their view of God and of salvation and spiritual growth. Whether you are talking to Mormon, a Muslim, or your average every day person, you’ll find at the core of whatever faith they have, a belief that somehow through what they do, by being good, doing the will of Allah, saying their prayers, being nice to little old ladies, they can save themselves; and worst case scenario, they can save themselves with a little extra help from God on the side.
This way of thinking, believe it or not, has even infiltrated the Christian church. The desire to stand on one’s own two feet is so strong that people develop theologies around it.
One of the most famous men to do so was a British monk who lived in the latter part of the fourth century and the beginning part of the fifth century after Christ. His name was Pelagius, and he developed a system of doctrine theologians call Pelagianism.
Pelagius devoted most of his life, as a monk, to being what he considered a good person. He had all sorts of strict rules. He really was very serious about what he thought was holiness.
And he became very frustrated with people, who when they sinned and were rebuked for it, would blame their sinful nature – and say things like, “Oh that’s just the way I am” or “I can’t do what God wants.” So whenever he was given a chance to speak on holiness, he would talk about how great human nature was and what humans had the ability of achieving.
“If God commands us to do something,” Pelagius would have say, “we must in and of ourselves, have the ability to obey it.”
In fact there was a little prayer that was famous in Pelagius’ time that quite frankly, sent him over the edge – someone would say, “O God command what you want, and grant what you command.” In other words, God you tell us what to do and give us the ability to do it.
Now Pelagius didn’t have a problem with God telling us what to do, but he went bonkers when someone would say we needed God’s help to be able to do it. Because the one belief at the core of Pelagius’ system was the belief that we as people have the ability to do what God commands us to do on our own apart from any help.
I’m not here to give you a history lesson but it is true that those who don’t know the past are doomed to repeat it – and that’s certainly the case with good old Pelagius. Even though the church roundly rejected his teaching, his influence is so powerful and pervasive that there are millions upon millions of people today who are Pelagians and they don’t even know that a person named Pelagius ever lived.
Most people think they are good people, capable people.
The fact that people go to such great lengths to hide their sins from others, to fool themselves into thinking they are good people when they so obviously aren’t, the way in which people respond to rebuke, the religions they make up, the fact that even professing Christians build whole theologies to minimize the seriousness of sin – makes it very, very obvious people want desperately to think of themselves as good people who are capable of handling their problems on their own, apart from any help.
And this makes it very difficult for most people to grasp what the Bible teaches about how changes actually happens. No one ever truly changes until they have come face to face with the fact they can’t change themselves.
It is that simple.
If you need proof of that, just go back to what you believed when you first became a Christian.
The gospel smashes into smithereens this image of ourselves that we are so wholeheartedly committed to maintaining no matter what the facts tell us. It tells us that we are not basically good and we are not capable of solving our spiritual problems on our own, or even with a little help– far from it.
The Bible tells us because of Adam’s sin, every one of us is born with a sinful nature, and that sinful nature affects every one of us completely – rendering us 100 percent unable and incapable of doing any spiritual good on our own apart from God’s grace.
To put it very bluntly, if God only helped those who helped themselves, we’d all be damned. It is God’s work to save, and ours to come to him for help.