“God helps those who help themselves.” How much, or how little, does the Bible support this statement?
There are several phrases we share with one another that are not necessarily found in the Bible or even supported by the Bible. One of the phrases, “Cleanliness is close to godliness,” is also not found in the Bible.
These popular phrases that we take on may not be in the Bible, but may not also hurt to say. We just have to be careful not to attribute them to the Bible. In this case, the idea behind the phrase is also somewhat dangerous.
This is a good phrase for Christians who already know the Lord and are following him as his disciples. In this case, God does help us as we conform to Christ and obey the Holy Spirit. This is our only part in our sanctification, our growing in godliness and becoming holy.
But it is a dangerous phrase for those who have not yet come to Christ. It insinuates the idea that God will only intervene if we do our part. The thing about salvation is that it’s by God’s grace and there are no works that we do to be saved.
So God helps us even before we can help ourselves. The whole point of salvation is that our spirits and souls are lost until the Holy Spirit begins the work of regeneration, waking our spirits up to hear the gospel and respond to it to be saved (Romans 10:8-10, 14-15).
God does all of the work to bring us to salvation. Until the Holy Spirit regenerates our spirits, we cannot respond properly to the gospel. We see it as foolishness (1 Corinthians 1:20-25; 2:14). It is only after God provides his grace for us to properly hear the gospel and receive it that we can be saved.
So the idea that God only helps us if we help ourselves does not work. Human willpower does not save us. Our own works and goodness do not save us. It’s not about what you can do to enter heaven. It’s about who you know, Jesus Christ, that gets you into heaven (John 14:6).
So to sum it up, this phrase is true of believers in Jesus who must “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). Through our obedience to the Holy Spirit’s guidance, we grow in Christ. In this way, God helps us as we obey him. That’s as close as we get to the idea behind this phrase.
But for non-Christians and those who have not yet come to know the Lord and serve him, this phrase is not true. God must intervene in his grace before they can know him. We do nothing for our own salvation except believe in faith once we have access to the gospel.