The Gospel is the Only Thing that Can Change Us, Not Self-Help

I don’t know about you but I love books. Over the years I have amassed quite a collection. Not near as many as some of my friends, but I’d say it is a healthy collection.

As most book lovers do, I love bookstores. I can spend hours in a bookstore just looking. My wife used to come along, but it’s gotten to the point now that she refuses to go to a bookstore with me because she knows I will be in there forever.

One of the things I like to do when I am at the bookstore is peruse the self-help and spirituality sections. Not because I am interested in buying any of those books, but because I want to know what others are buying. What they believe will make difference in their lives.

In these sections you will find all kinds of books. Books that promise to help you:

  • Win Friends and Influence People
  • To become a Highly Effective Person
  • Stop Worrying and Start Living
  • Gain Happiness
  • To lead people
  • To fulfill your dreams in life

The list can go on and on.

While all these books promise to help you in these areas, I don’t believe they can ultimately drive the change they promise. Nor can they fix the mess this nation is in. That’s because these books focus on the self. They attempt to pull the best you out of you.

What is inherently wrong with that idea is that we are all broken people. Ever since Adam and Eve rebelled against God in the garden, we have experienced corruption. Because we are corrupted to our core, we cannot rise above in and of ourselves. We can’t uncorrupt ourselves no matter how many books we read, seminars we attend, or life coaches we hire. Self-help is a falsity.

If these books and the ideas behind them can’t change people and fix our nation, what can? The gospel — the good news that God sent a Messiah, who is Jesus. Jesus not only pays the penalty for our rebellion, but He also creates a new humanity that can experience freedom from corruption. Jesus saves us and changes us. He gives us hope.

When God awakens us to our sin, we shouldn’t despair

Yes, our sin hinders our relationship with God, but we shouldn’t despair – we shouldn’t feel hopeless. In the beginning of Jonah 2:4, we learn that Jonah feels as if he has been…

“‘…driven away from [God’s] sight;’”

(Jon 2:4a)

The word Jonah uses for “driven” carries the idea of being forced out, to be forced away from. It’s what I do to our dog when he comes in the kitchen while I’m preparing food. I drive him out of the kitchen back to his bed.

As Jonah is sinking down to his watery grave, Jonah felt as if he was forced out of God’s sight. But even though Jonah felt that way, he didn’t despair. In the remainder of verse 4, he says,

“yet I shall again look upon your holy temple.’”

(Jon 2:4b)

The reason Jonah didn’t despair, the reason Jonah wasn’t hopeless, even though he felt like he had been driven from the Lord, was because he knew the Lord was a God of loyal love. Because God is a God of loyal love, we can turn back to the Lord through repentance.

The same is true for us. While our sin hinders our relationship with God, we can always turn to Him because He is a God of loyal love. You haven’t messed up so big that you are driven from God’s sight forever. You can repair your relationship by repenting. That’s exactly what we should do when we discover we have sinned against God.

When God awakens us to our sin, we should repent, turning back to the Lord.

We should repent, turning back to the Lord even though we might feel as if we have been driven from God’s presence because God loves us and wants what’s best for us.

Idols can’t save

Near the end of my college career at the beginning of my professional career, I got a credit card. I thought it would be a good way for me to build credit for any future purchases I might need to make like buying a house.

At first, I was good about paying it off. But little by little I began to carry debt on that card. The more debt I amassed the more my monthly payment became. Eventually, I had amassed so much debt I was barely making the monthly interest payment. But I kept on spending.

Now I didn’t let things get too out of control. I was in sales. Whenever I would get a big bonus, I would pay down my debt. Over the years, I would yo-yo between debt and paying it off. Back and forth, back and forth I would go. That is until I met Jen. At the time, Jen was much more financially responsible. She didn’t carry debt on her credit cards. She paid them off every month.

When we got engaged, she told me she wanted me to pay off my debt before we got married. I had to buckle down. I couldn’t keep buying. Racking up the credit card debt. Thankfully, the Lord blessed me with several deals that provided enough bonus money to pay off my debt before we married. Since then, Jen and I have never carried any debt on our credit card. We pay it off at the end of each month.

Reflecting back on my time in debt, the reason I kept spending was that I thought another experience or another possession would satisfy me.“If I just did that or had this, I would be good,” I thought. But nothing ever satisfied, which is why I had so much debt.

Idols can’t deliver on their promises. They can’t provide us with ultimate joy and satisfaction. They can’t save us. God wants us to understand that — Idols can’t save instead they leave us empty. If we hold on to them, if we cling to them, they will eventually lead us to death. Not just physical death, but eternal death.

Pastor, please the Lord, not self or man.

”For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts.” (1 Thess 2:3-4)

True workmen for the Lord do not have ulterior motives. They should not be greedy. Their desire should not be to amass wealth, status, or position off the backs of those they are to serve and to whom they are to preach the good news. One should not enter ministry for riches or acclaim.

Ministers are entrusted with the gospel. They are speak the truth in love, not to please man, but to please God. Here in lies the difficulty. God is our boss/master not man. Sometimes those two are at odds. When they are at odds with one another, our default should not be to please man, rather our default should be to please God, trusting He will care for us.

Pastor, why do you preach? Why do you serve? Is it for your own gain or the gain of others? Do you trust God to provide or do you fear man? As Pastors, we serve an audience of One (God) to the pleasure of many (the congregation). Our focus must always be on pleasing the Lord not self or man.

God Works Through Others to Refine Us

God not only works through circumstances, but He also works through others to get our attention.

I distinctly remember one time when this happened in my life. It was when I was in college. When I moved off to the University of Georgia, I got involved in the party scene. One night in particular I was sitting at the bar with a friend and we were talking about religion. He was an atheist, so I was telling him why he should believe in Jesus. In the course of conversation, I remember him looking at me and saying,

“You know, you’re telling me about Jesus. How He is supposed to change your life and all, but I don’t see a difference between you and I. We pretty much do the same thing, live the same life.”

While I’d like to tell you things changed that night, I can’t. But what I can tell you is that God did get my attention with that conversation and it was the catalyst for future change in my life.

God may be speaking to you through someone else right now.

It might be a friend, it might be a spouse, it might be a church member or someone in the community.
God will use a number of different people to speak into our lives. We need others to speak into our lives. We need everyday relationships with other church members who can hold us accountable and are willing to speak to the truth of God’s Word into our life.

Listen when others speak

When others speak, we need to be willing to listen and then do the hard work of assessing whether what they are saying is right or not, and then make the necessary changes if it is.

When you are assessing whether the person is right or not, don’t do it in the moment of that conversation. Our first reaction to others confronting us with something we are doing against God’s will or loving more than God is almost always to be defensive, so don’t assess right then, unless you are convicted. Instead, assess later when you are out of the moment. Spend some time afterward in personal reflection and prayer. Maybe even ask others you know if they see that in you as well.

God will use others along with circumstances to convict and teach us.

Goals Lead to Success but hold them loosely

Goals, whether they are small or large almost everyone has them. That is especially true this time of year. We call them resolutions, but essentially they are our goals for the next year.

Goals for the New Year

Personal Goals

I’ve set some goals for 2021. Like most people, one of my goals is to be healthier. 2020 did a number on me. We went from stocking up on M&M’s to Oreo’s to Ice Cream and then holiday candy and treats. Before I knew it, I had put on 20 in 2020.

If I were to poll the audience, I am sure many of you have a goal to live healthier this next year as well. Or maybe you are planning on striking out on your own and starting a new business. You are finally going to do it. Or maybe your goal is to finish school or that big project you have been working on. Maybe you want to read more or through the Bible in 2021. If you don’t have any other goals, I’d certainly suggest reading through the Bible in a year as a worthwhile goal. Or maybe you want to downsize, clean out those closets and garage. Whatever it might be, I’m sure you have some goals, a New Years Resolution, or two in mind.

Almost 50 percent of people make New Year’s resolutions. 80% of those people believe they will keep their New Years resolution, but the truth is New Years resolutions are not easy to keep. According to the Washington Post, only 46 percent of those who make resolution will keep them for six months and 8 percent the whole year. That is a staggering statistic. Only 8% hit their goal, which means 92% of all people fail at keeping their New Years Resolution.1

Since New Years resolutions are not easy to keep, the goals we set are not easy to attain so:

  • We must be realistic with the goals we set.
  • We need a good foundation upon which to build.
  • We need others to help us realize our goals.

Church Goals

As a church, we need the same. We need a goal for which to reach or we are going to flounder around like a fish out of water. We also have to be realistic with the goals we set. We have to build on a good foundation. We need one another to help us realize our goals.

Goals Lead to Success

We have to know in what direction we are going before we head out. I’d encourage you to develop some personally goals for the year.

If you are a brother pastor, develop some ministry goals as well. Develop goals for your personal ministry as well as your church’s ministry. If we are going to see success in 2021, we must develop goals.

Hold Them Loosely

While it is important we develop goals, we must hold our goals loosely. If 2020 taught us anything, our goals, whether they be personal or ministry-related, might not match God’s goals for us. Develop goals, but hold those goals loosely as you pray for the Lord’s guidance, empowerment, and ultimately for His will to be done.


[1] https://www.finder.com/new-years-resolution-statistics AND https://www.wrpawprint.com/features/2015/01/27/failing-new-years-resolutions/