Self-Help Can’t Help Enough

“It is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.” Romans 7:18-19

Paul’s encouragement to the believers in Rome—read by us in Romans 7—is filled with an explanation of their own demise. But he does this by describing his own demise, something directly opposed to how their society believed leaders should function. Leaders were supposed to be the ones who had it all together, not the ones who shared their struggle.

Not much has changed since then. The fastest growing genre within book sales is “self-help.” Most bookstores now have whole sections to house this genre of books now making up over 5% of all book sales. What is most astounding is that this genre didn’t even exist 20 years ago. Today’s leaders are the ones who provide a picture of the life we want, and they teach us how to get there.

The overly used self-help picture of liberation
The overly used self-help picture of liberation

But the premise behind it all deserves to be questioned: how much can we help ourselves? Does becoming more efficient and having better self-awareness and knowing how the most successful people run their lives, actually help you become a better person?

There’s also the Christian self-help genre that encourages you to be brave, that you’re stronger than you realize, and other encouragements that place you at the center of the story. Self-help pushes a narrative that says the best life possible comes through personal fulfillment—a 21st century adaptation of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

Read through Romans 7 and you’ll get a picture of Paul shaking his head, as if to say, “You’ve totally missed it.”

At one point the middle of chapter 7 Paul begins to describe the good things that sin was able to distort, turning them against him: “For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me” (Romans 7:11). What he’s saying is that there are plenty of good things in our lives that Satan can use to deceive us into thinking we’re a big deal, or we can do this on our own, or that the good thing should be the main thing.

That hobby you enjoy on the weekends? What if it becomes the focus on your life? The thing you lived for? See how easily something good can be turned around into something harmful? It’s true, we’re each one step away from turning a good thing into a harmful thing.

Thankfully Paul doesn’t end Romans 7 with bad news, and he doesn’t tell the Romans how to fix themselves. No, God has stepped in to fix our problem:

“What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24-25)

None of this means you can’t work on becoming a better follower of Jesus, or a better employee, or a better boss, or a better husband, dad, student…you can obviously make an effort to improve, but you will never improve in a way that ultimately matters if you do not realize you cannot improve by yourself.

By yourself you’ll constantly be losing a battle to Satan by making good things ultimate things. What you need instead, is a God who stood in your place to deliver you from that ongoing death sentence.

Thanks be to God!

From Tyler: Today’s post is taken from Renew Daily, a devotional app I help produce. We’re up to nearly 150 daily devotionals for under $5. If you have a device on iOS, be sure to check it out.