God only helps those who help themselves. It’s a popular phrase, and many people seem to think that it is from the pages of the Bible. Fortunately, that is far from the truth.
Yes, when it comes to work and such the Bible commands us to have a good work ethic, to not be lazy, and to not intentionally burden others if we are capable of working. When it comes to our salvation, Paul even wrote the phrase: Work out your salvation in fear and trembling; but he preceded that with: He who began a good work in you will bring it completion; and followed it with: for it is God who works in you (Philippians 1:6, 2:12-13).
What we find as foundational throughout scripture, indeed the very reason why God sent Jesus to live and die for us, is that God delights in helping those who cannot help themselves. This is grace—freely bestowed, unearned favor; God’s ultimate “helping hand.”
And so it is that God calls his people to pursue social justice. He calls us to seek to help those who either can’t help themselves or who are oppressed by others and therefore unable to have their voice be heard.
Yes, the church as God’s people must be about more than social justice. There is a greater need at the core which we must address. Every person in the world has a sin problem. Each of us enter into life as natural born rebels. We reject God and his word, instead opting to create our own god who wouldn’t dare judge us (at least not judge those things we think make us happy). But the wages of sin is death. Death in sin results in eternal hell—the wrath of a perfectly good and just God against his enemies who have rejected him.
No amount of creating idols for ourselves will rescue us from this fate.
Yet, God gave us Jesus, our hope and our rescue. In Isaiah 1:18, God calls out, “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are like crimson, they shall become like wool.” This stain of sin is washed away through Jesus, the one who bore “our griefs and carried our sorrows…pierced for our transgressions [and] crushed for our iniquities” (53:4-5).
Abandoning our commitments to a life of self-seeking and self-satisfaction through sin, and believing in and following Jesus brings us true life and salvation from sin.
But having been personally redeemed, we are called to address the sin problem of the world which manifests itself through injustice. Therefore God says to us:
Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s case (1:17).
Through Jesus, God helped us when we were unable to help ourselves. Having been helped by God, we are to take up the mantle of social justice towards others. We do this because of Jesus (Matthew 25:31-40), both to show his love and to make him known. We also do this because as followers of Jesus love is the great virtue and we are to loves others as we love ourselves (Matthew 22:34-40). So we speak of the One who saves from sin and at the same time we stand up for the poor, oppressed, orphaned, and widow.
These are people who receive the attention of great rhetoric (good and bad), especially at times such as this in the political cycle. Yet we are to be as lights shining in the darkness, we are to speak in such a way that transcends the rhetoric and offers real hope and real solutions.
And this is a community effort. No one Christian can do everything needed, nor can a single church. But we can pray for wisdom and seek to meet what needs we can. Then together in our efforts we are able to fight against poverty, injustice, and hopelessness.
This post is part of our ongoing journey through the Bible as a church.