Being brought up in a culture like America teaches you many useful tools. One such tool Americans try to instil in their children is the idea of self-reliance. And at face value this seems like a virtuous quality to pass on because it teaches people to give back to others and society rather than take. However, at it’s core, self-reliance starts to erode our relationships and most importantly decreases our desire for God.
And so this week I wanted to unpack how exactly self-reliance tears us away from our souls true desire and leads us into a place where we feel like we don’t need God or where we feel like we are stuck in a pattern of sin. So I want to look at two ways self-reliance plays out in our lives and then discuss what we can do to deal with this epidemic.
First, self-reliance most clearly rears it’s ugly head in our self-righteousness. For the non-Christian this is the idea that because I am a “good” person I have no need for a Savior. Many non-Christians feel like they do not need Jesus to save them because they don’t need saving. Yes they aren’t perfect, but most try to make the good outweigh the bad and thus deem themselves “good” or at least not “evil.” (I like to use the term evil to describe all mankind, not just non-Christians. I feel as though most people would not consider themselves evil even though the Bible tells us otherwise, (Genesis 6:5)).
For the Christian, the self-righteousness disease is also fairly plain to see. While the non-Christian will outright deny their need for God, the Christian does so in a much more subtle manner. Again, the Christian depends on their good works to outweigh their sin but they do so seeking approval from God. So when a Christian has had a good day he feels good about his works and when he has sinned he feels shameful. However, often we feel these emotions not because we have honored or dishonored God, (which are good reasons to feel pride or shame in your accomplishments), but rather because we either earned or lost favor with God. This is exactly how the Pharisees viewed their works: as a means to earn something from God and thus be rewarded. (Matthew 23).
The natural results for the Christian and non-Christian practicing self-righteousness are the same. Acceptance of your own sin, (you start to excuse your own sin because you don’t want to be too hard on yourself if you are your own judge), judgment of others sins, (you become very impatient with others because they don’t match up with the standard of righteousness you have set), and ultimately a lack of desire for God, (if you are self-righteous you either don’t need God because you meet your own standard or despise God because you can’t earn his approval).
Secondly, self-reliance leads to less dependance on others which in turn erodes relationships. Don’t we love movies where the one guy is able to beat an entire group? Don’t we like the idea of a lone wolf who is able to conquer impossible odds? We even had a show called “Lone Ranger!” (I find it funny that even the Lone Ranger had a partner). Our culture, which preaches self-reliance so heavily, has in essence brain washed us into thinking we need to handle our own problems and overcome obstacles by ourselves. We have even started to view others as weak or needy if they ask for help.
This stands in stark contrast to what the Bible has to say. Genesis 2:18 says, “The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” Ecclesiastes 4:8-12 basically laments for those who have no one to work with or help them. Acts 3:32-37 describes the early Church and the importance of them being together. And also Hebrews 10:25 teaches us “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another- and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
Self-reliance, although useful in a small dose, has taken over the way we think. And now because of it we are left with shallow relationships, unable or unwilling to break our sinful habits and most depressing, lacking a need, desire and thirst for God. So what can we do?
Well first and foremost we need to repent. Frequently repent. So many of us deny having this problem yet wonder why our relationships, desire for God or sinful patterns remain unchanged. The first step in solving a problem is to admit you have one. I encourage us all to DAILY repent of this sin. Jesus was talking about the Pharisees but this same verse can also apply to us who feel no need to repent of our sin of self-reliance. “For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.” (Matthew 13:15).
Secondly we need to open up with others. We need to be willing to share our shortcoming with others so that we remain humble. When we only share the good with others we often start to believe only the good we hear. Also, we need to stop using a high standard for others and a low standard for ourselves. Jesus tells us in Matthew 7:2 that “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” A good rule of thumb is to view others as Jesus views you, with grace. This helps to remind you that Jesus has been so graceful with you so you can be graceful with others. And rather than that low standard we use for ourselves, (often from comparing ourselves to people who sin more than we do), start comparing yourself with Jesus and you will see just how short you fall from the mark.
Finally, we need to meditate more on grace. I really feel like we don’t spend enough time dwelling on the grace of God. Self-righteousness and works based salvation makes sense to our sin-stained hearts. Grace is heavenly. Thus we have a hard time grasping it and soon fall back into self-reliance. Spend some time this week reading and meditating over God’s grace. Some good verses to check out are 2 Corinthians 5:21 and Ephesians 2:8-9. Take some time to study and pray over these verses so that you can better understand what grace really means.
So I hope we can all forsake self-reliance and self-righteousness in exchange for the amazing grace only offered through the blood of Christ. I’ll end with one of my favorite quotes, (which if you have been reading my blog for a while you probably remember it), from a man named Jim Elliot who lost his life trying to evangelize an unreached tribe in Ecuador. “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”