Have you tried the self-help gospel? Most people are interested in changing the way they think, and in improving themselves. It’s one of the hardest things to do! Luckily, it’s very easy these days to get information on personal development, whether online, or through other means.
The common desire for self-improvement is one of the reasons why some people find Christianity attractive. After all, doesn’t the Christian religion hold out the offer of transforming your thought patterns and of improving your life?
In fact, if you drop into your local church, you might hear someone at the front encouraging people to improve their thinking, to be more successful in life, to be healthier, and to make wise financial decisions. And all of these are good things. There are all things that God wants for your life.
But if you think that’s what Christianity is principally about, that you really have missed the whole point of following Jesus.
It’s interesting to see that the self-help Gospel is very, very old. The serpent preached the self-help Gospel to the first woman in the Garden of Eden:
“You will not certainly die,” “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen 3:4–5).
The serpent was saying. “God isn’t telling you what you need to do, and he isn’t doing it for you. If you eat the fruit, you will immeasurably improve in your insight, wisdom, and understanding. Frankly, you will be like God. Take the fruit! Help yourself!”
The self-help Gospel and its many variations have always been the greatest source of deception for humanity.
In the time of Jesus, the Jewish people thoroughly believed in the self-help Gospel. They believed that God only helped those who helped themselves. They believed that God would accept them based on the strenuous efforts that they made to obey him and do the religious things that he required of them. They believed that the path to ultimate success in life was obedience to God, and that as a result of doing the right things, their lives would be crowned with financial, health, and family blessings. It was all cause and effect based on their own performance. That was, in general terms, the self-help Gospel which the Jewish people followed.
It is clear from the gospels that the twelve disciples whom Jesus chose had a very difficult time understanding that the message of Jesus wasn’t about the self-help Gospel, since it was all they had ever known. The initial reasons why they followed Jesus were probably variously so that their fishing businesses might prosper, so that they could improve their career prospects and have comfortable and lucrative positions in the coming Jewish kingdom, and so on.
Throughout the gospels, you can see how the disciples struggled to break free from the self-help gospel. They didn’t even begin to understand, until the resurrection.
Consider Jesus’ disciple Peter, a leading exponent of the self-help gospel. He took a sword to the Garden of Gethsemane, on the night Jesus was betrayed. When the mob came, Peter drew his sword and struck the high priest’s servant (John 18:10).
“Put away your sword,” Jesus told him. “Those who use the sword will die by the sword. Don’t you realize that I could ask my Father for thousands of angels to protect us, and he would send them instantly (Matt 26:52–53).
Jesus didn’t need Peter to help himself. Jesus didn’t need Peter to help him. Jesus simply needed Peter to follow him.
The Gospel includes this world, but includes much more than just this world. Jesus said that he was a king, but that his kingdom was not of this world (John 18:36). The Gospel deals with the fundamental spiritual realities of the human condition under sin.
The message of Jesus is precisely the opposite The Gospel tells us that sin has so corrupted us that we simply cannot help ourselves. We need a Saviour. Only he can help us. His name is Jesus.
The Gospel is that our Saviour doesn’t help us by giving by giving us good advice or good ethical principles. He helps us by offering us a perfect righteousness that has nothing to do with us. It is a perfect acceptance before God based on what Jesus has done, and based not at all on anything that we could do to help ourselves.
Does the Gospel transform the life? Of course it does, but only as a result of our accepting that we are helpless to help ourselves, and accepting the perfect salvation that Christ offers us as a finished and fully-accomplished work. If we make anything else as the focus of our religion, then we have believed a lie, and are following a false religion.
Will a believer in the Gospel be blessed by God? Of course, in many ways! However, those blessings will be according to God’s will, and not necessarily ours. We should always remember that even his holy Son pleaded with God to be spared the agony of the Cross, yet he submitted to God’s will, and so received the highest honour of all (Matt 26:39; Phil 2:6–11).
The true Gospel will always make us surrendered to God. It will never ever make us think that we can help ourselves.
Article supplied with thanks to Dr Eliezer Gonzalez.
About the Author: Dr Eli Gonzalez is the Senior Pastor of Good News Unlimited and the presenter of the Unlimited radio spots, and The Big Question. Sign up to his free online course called Becoming a Follower of Jesus to learn about Jesus and His message.