Perhaps one of the most frequently quoted phrases falsely attributed to scripture is: “God helps those who help themselves.” While this motto emphasizes the importance of self-initiative and humanistic philosophy and finds its origin with the Ancient Greek play writers Sophocles (409B.C.) and Euripides (428B.C.), the Bible teaches the exact opposite. God provided the “help” that we need precisely because we could not help ourselves. In his letter the the Christian church at Ephesus the Apostle Paul makes that fact abundantly clear.
He begins this passage with the implication that all humanity came into the world spiritually stillborn. We were physically born into the world with no inclination or responsiveness towards God and without the ability to please Him. Satan, “the prince of the power of the air,” so dominately influenced humanity that all were spiritually born into his family of those who rebel against God (viz. born enemies of God). We were hopelessly imprisoned by a nature opposed to God and helplessly subject to become the very objects of divine wrath.
In verse 4 the Apostle utters the greatest short phrase in the history of human speech, “But God.” Except for God’s inexhaustible mercy and infinite love we would still be His helpless enemies. Solely because of His great love and without our demonstration of meritorious behavior God lavished His mercy in providing help for the helpless. He sent His One and only Son to incur His wrath intended for our sin. In contrast to our spiritual stillbirth pre-Christ (v.1), God has regenerated us with new spiritual life so that we could respond to Him with saving faith, post-Christ’s resurrection (v.5). By placing our hope in Christ’s resurrection we have not only received new spiritual life (regeneration) now, but we will be given new physical bodies (raised) when He returns. Until Christ returns we share in His authority to triumph over the influence Satan previously wielded (cf. 6:10-18; James 4:7; 1 John 4:4).
The Apostle completes this thought by emphasizing that we are “saved by grace through faith.” God’s grace is not simply divine favor that extends deliverance to undeserving sinners. His grace is also the power that secures our salvation. By grace salvation is fully secured through faith in Christ. Grace and faith are the gifts that make salvation real in our lives. Salvation becomes real when we realize the depth of our depravity and God grants us faith that assures us of His forgiveness. If grace and faith were sourced from us, we would get the glory. But God is owed all glory because grace and faith is sourced out of Him. He lavished them upon us so that we could demonstrate lives that please Him and attract others to salvation found only in Him.
Whenever we receive precious gifts we are indebted to the gift giver. To the extent that we value their gift we display our gratitude by our actions. You are no longer helpless or hopeless because of Christ’s empowering work of redemption. In King David’s attempt to express adequate gratitude for all of God’s benefits he wrote Psalm 116 (see vvs. 12-17). How will you express gratitude for God’s gifts of grace and faith that made salvation a reality in your life? Or have you accepted the gift of God?