Have you heard that old saying, “God helps those who help themselves”? I know many people say this as if they are giving wise, religious advice. Some people even think that it’s a verse from the Bible.

I don’t want you to make that mistake. Although that saying is widely quoted, it communicates something completely different from what the Bible teaches. In Luke, Chapter 4, Jesus Himself tells us what kind of people He came to help.

One Sabbath day, Jesus entered a Jewish place of worship (a synagogue) and stood up to read Scripture. That “was His custom” (Luke 4:16).  He was handed the scroll written by the prophet Isaiah.  He opened it and began reading these words from Chapter 61: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord” (Luke 4:18–19).

Jesus told the people of His hometown, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:20). He was saying in effect, “These verses from the Old Testament prophet are talking about me. I am here. I am going to do these things.”

It was a startling announcement to make to people who had known Him all His life, and they didn’t take it very well. (You can read the rest of the chapter yourselves.) Look back at the verses I quoted, though. Do you see the ones Jesus came to help? It certainly wasn’t those who were already helping themselves.

These verses say that Jesus came to earth to give the Gospel to those who knew that they were spiritually poor (that term is sometimes used to describe penniless beggars). He came to help the captives, the blind, and the oppressed! Those are all people who absolutely cannot help themselves.

The world is full of people who do think they are helping themselves get into heaven. These people think they are basically good people. They’re religious, maybe they give to the poor or help others when they can. They think that all God expects from us are our good intentions. In other words, even if we mess up, God will understand if we mean well.

Those ideas are not in the Bible either. Most people don’t realize that God’s standards are extremely high. “Like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior” (1 Peter 1:15). Holiness means no sin, and complete righteousness. None of us can do that.

Until we realize how bad off we are, that we are weak and helpless sinners before God, we cannot get His help.  Jesus could not have said it any clearer: “…It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17).

It takes humility to realize that we are spiritually sick. Jesus showed us how much we need His help when He said, “Blessed are the poor [or beggars] in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). The path to forgiveness and a changed life begins when we agree, as the Apostle Paul put it that “… Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all” (1 Timothy 1:15).

Realizing our own brokenness, helps us realize how much we need God. When we come to Christ for His forgiveness, He also covers us with His holiness. Only God can “… make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen” (Jude 24–25).

Here are two verses of a Christian hymn written by Joseph Hart in 1759.

Come, ye sinners, poor and needy,
Weak and wounded, sick and sore;
Jesus ready stands to save you,
Full of pity, love, and power.

Come, ye weary, heavy laden,
Lost and ruined by the fall;
If you tarry till you’re better,
You will never come at all.

There is still time to respond to Christ’s invitation: “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28).