When it comes to self-improvement and self-help goals and methods, whether we hope to be more physically fit, more socially engaged, more financially successful, more intellectually accomplished, or even more spiritually disciplined, we must take great care. These goals, while they may seem harmless and even good, can swiftly become idols. Instead of pointing us to the only one who will most satisfy us, they can tempt us to focus on ourselves, on our own successes and failures. Then we begin to place our hope and identity in these endeavors.
The problem is obvious when we look at what society advocates in comparison to God's design for our lives. The world promotes self-help, self-improvement, self-reliance. Our culture says, "Get glory by achieving your dreams!" It encourages us to focus on ourselves and our desires in order to find fulfillment—and no wonder, for we are naturally self-lovers (see 2 Timothy 3:2). But God's Word calls His children to self-control, self-denial, and God-reliance. We are to fix our eyes not on ourselves but on our glorious Savior, who deserves all honor and praise.
The eternal, glorious transformation that we seek in life only comes as we become so enamored with God that we become not self-helping, not self-loathing, but self-forgetful.
RESTING FROM THE NEED TO ACHIEVE
The world thinks this kind of sacrifice is absurd: "How can Christians possibly be content if they are always denying themselves, always pouring themselves out?" And this is an excellent question. Even many professing Christians struggle in their faith; we feel as though we are always giving, always sacrificing—and we don't feel rewarded. The problem is that we are still looking at ourselves; we are still focused on our work, our service, our accomplishments—even when it is for God. But that's not how God wants us to live the new life He's given us. He says, "Come to me all you who are weary, and I will give you rest" (see Matthew 11:28-30).
Rest. We are called to rest in Christ, our righteousness. We cannot help ourselves. We cannot bring ourselves the satisfaction we long for, but Christ can and will. But we must first come to know Him—and we know Him by reading His Word, meeting with Him in prayer, calling on Him throughout our day, and studying Scripture. We have a responsibility in our sanctification—our renewal and change—as we conform to the image of Christ. There is work to do: "A man reaps what he sows" (Galatians 6:7).
GOD'S WORK FROM FIRST TO LAST
The eternal, glorious transformation that we seek in life only comes as we become so enamored with God that we become not self-helping, not self-loathing, but self-forgetful. For He has promised that He has supplied everything we need to live a godly life—a transformed life—by knowing Him. And He is the one who makes Himself known to us by His goodness and glory—He is the one who calls us out so that no one can boast before Him (see 2 Peter 1:3, John 6:44, 2 Timothy 1:9, et al.).
The more we know Him—the more we contemplate His majesty, holiness, perfection, love, mercy, and grace—the more we will be satisfied in Him so that we don't even note our sacrifices, whether to take pride in them, begrudge them, or lament their inadequacy. For, they are no longer sacrifices in the light of the joy of being with Christ; they no longer depress us with their insufficiency because we see that Christ is our sufficiency (see Colossians 2:10). The more we rest in Christ, the more we grow in faith, setting our hearts and hopes in Him alone. And when that happens, we begin to walk in obedience not to achieve something for ourselves but because God is our focus and delight.
Never forget: You were dead in your sins. You could not help yourself. But then God, who is rich in mercy, made you alive in Christ because of His great love (see Ephesians 2:1-13). It has always been His work, never yours. Our faith is not from ourselves; it is God's gift (see Ephesians 2:8-9). And with faith that trusts God for every need and victory, God so changes our hearts that, from our rest in Him, we naturally pour out His peace and love in service to others around us to the glory of God, the author of our faith.
LIVING OUT THE BALANCE
We will not always live out this beautiful balance of resting in God so that our endeavors and achievements bring Him glory. We will struggle with our flesh that wants us to earn our audience with the King. But by coming to the cross moment by moment, confessing our need for God, and looking to Him for fulfillment, we can rest in Christ and let our lives be living sacrifices to God. He has given us both the ability and the will to do so by His Spirit.