The self-help movement is massive and goes back further than you would think for such a modern-feeling phenomenon. James Allen launched the idea over a hundred years ago, with his book ‘As a man thinketh’. Not such a modern title, I agree.
It can be called humanism – the idea that it is within human power to change anything. Written within you is the key to your success. Or so we are told.
And yet, so we tell others. As a teacher myself, I really want the children I come into contact with the grow up believing that they can make a difference to their own education and their own lives. But had you thought that this idea can be taken too far?
Norman Vincent Peale taught that ‘Positive thinking is another term for faith’. That doesn’t sound like a quote from an ordained Christian leader! Isn’t it odd how preachers can sound just like self-help gurus?!
Paul in Romans 7 was certainly trying to help people, specifically those in Rome, although I am sure that history has accused him at times of being confusing rather than helpful. He had previously been apparently dismissing the law hundreds of Jewish generations knew like the back of their hands. Now he was explaining the value of the same laws. Confused yet?
The law, as an expression of God’s character, shows the sinfulness of sin. All sin. Not just the ‘big’ sins like murder, but the ‘little’ sins like covertness. Because neither have size – sin IS sin.
The law shows the sinfulness of our hearts: our desire to rebel.
The law shows me that I need Jesus. And that argument follows through whether you hold that Paul is talking in verses 14 – 20 about himself as a Christian or a ‘slave’, i.e. non-Christian. Either way, look in the mirror to see the problem! And who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!
So the answer of salvation we need to hold in our hearts and our heads is not the Old Testament:
The law, the law, the law…!
Nor Tony Blair’s 2007:
Education, education, education…!
But God’s route, taught to us through Paul:
Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ…!
Because we don’t need self-help. We need God-help.