Let me begin by stating that there is nothing wrong with wanting to make improvements in your life. It’s a good thing to want to learn a second language, improve your marriage or to grow in your ability to lead others.
Although it is understandable to want to improve your life there are some serious limitations when it comes to how much change you can make through a self-help philosophy.
Some recent estimates tell us that the self-help movement brings in over 10 billion dollars on an annual basis in America alone. Tell a person that you have the secret to success and happiness and they will pay just about anything for it.
4 Problems With The Self-Help Movement
- The self-help movement can’t change your biggest problem, your heart. Consider this for a moment. Psalm 37:4 tells us that our desires come from our heart. Matthew 9:4 informs us that our thoughts come from our heart. And in Matthew 15:19 we learn that all of our behavior comes from our heart. Do you see where I am going here? Motivational talks or books from our favorite gurus may may prove helpful in some ways but they can’t reach our heart. Sadly, far too many people spend a lifetime tweaking their behavior and fail to address the deepest parts of who they we are. In Jeremiah 24:7 we learn that only God has the power to transform us, “‘I will give them a heart to know Me, for I am the LORD; and they will be My people, and I will be their God, for they will return to Me with their whole heart.”
- The self-help movement is at least partly responsible for turning disciples of Jesus into consumers. Too often people are coming to church with a self-help mentality. They have been told that life is all about them and what makes them happy. They want just enough “religion” to make their life better. The gospel call to die to self and live for the good of others seems old fashioned and out dated. Of course, there is a significant problem with all of this. The bible never portrays Christianity as something we add to our life to make things better. Instead Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” -Matthew 16:24
- The self-help movement has had a negative impact on Christian Counseling (and preaching). About a year ago we began training people in our church to do Christian Counseling. As a church we are convinced that our mission is to make disciples of Jesus Christ and one of the primary ways that we do that is by applying the timeless truths of God’s Word to the struggles that people are going through. The problem is that so many people are trying to bring a self-help philosophy into the world of Biblical Counseling. Recently I looked through one book written by a pastor that is designed to help strengthen hurting marriages. I did not find one passage of Scripture in the book or the workbook! How can we call a book “Christian” when it is leaning more on the wisdom of man than the wisdom of God? Much of this argument can be connected with modern day preaching as well. All too often we have become afraid of offending people with the facts of the gospel. We are sinners, separated from God, in need of the grace of Jesus Christ to be restored in a relationship with our heavenly Father. The result is that our sermons end up becoming man-centered motivational speeches that help no one. We must remember these words from the Apostle Paul, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Cor. 1:18)
- The self-help movement has married the American Dream and given birth to some scary kids who foolishly believe that the world revolves around them. As I have already stated, it is a good thing to want to improve in areas of our life but the self-help industry makes it sound like the individual is the most important person in the world. The talk and the writings that I frequently see are about creating your best life, finding success, reaching the top. In Mark 8:36 we read something rather shocking, “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” Jesus never said success or money are wrong. What is wrong is focusing too much on success and money which is what the self-help movement seems to do.
Self-Help Movement=the solutions to your greatest problems lie within yourself.
The Gospel=the solutions to your greatest problems are outside of yourself and found in Jesus Christ alone.
You and I don’t need to tap into the deepest parts of who we are to be a success in life. Self-help philosophy can not fix us because our biggest problem is our self. We must come to recognize that thinking positive thoughts about who we are is not going to get the job done. The idea that we can save or rescue ourselves is a seductive lie. We need help from outside of ourselves. We need forgiveness. We need grace. We need a new heart and that is only found in Jesus Christ.