The Sin of Self Reliance
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding. Acknowledge him in all your ways, and he will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own estimation, fear the Lord and turn away from evil.”(New English Translation Bible, Prov. 3:57).
It catches me off guard every time. Swift and smooth. Its main tactic is to grasp you by slowly creeping up when you least expect it. Perhaps it already has a grip on you. Maybe you have not even noticed yet.
Self-reliance becomes an intimate friend for the successful believer. You probably have seen this or even experienced this in your own life. Every time I find myself successful at work, sports, school, friends, or ministry, I have no reason to ask for help. I mean, why would I?! I am doing great… Everything is going great! The important question here is, what is the spiritual condition of my heart? It is only then, when I realize that I have not prayed or read Scripture in days perhaps even weeks and this is only the symptom, not the problem. What makes self-reliance hard to spot is that it hides with a mask of successfulness and a mask of “righteous” independence and autonomy. Success can buy you that house and car you wanted; it can buy you the fancy clothes and the expensive vacation. Success gives you the respect and the applause you think you deserve, and the good reputation for your hard work and discipline. Now, don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with wanting to, and being successful. The problem is when your heart is spiritually stagnant despite everything around you being prosperous. To have it all is to have nothing at all.
The self-reliant heart believes in self-sufficiency and has The Self as the center of all. Essentially, it is the exaltation of The Self above everything else. It is pride at its finest and purest state. Pride, as the original sin, invigorates and enables other sins and as we know, pride makes the easiest thing the hardest thing to do. Therefore, reliance on the Omnipotent, Omniscient and Omnipresent Lord makes sense theoretically. To depend on The One who has no greater, makes sense. Why then, depend on ones’ self? The world upholds independence and sees dependence as a weakness and reliance as a vice. Is this sound Biblical teaching?
There are two negative effects of the self-reliant heart. It harms oneself and it harms the Church. Self-reliance will naturally hinder your own spiritual life. Truth is, many times self-reliance hides’ behind a facade of spirituality. You may think that all is well. In fact, perhaps you are the believer who attends church biweekly, the one who leads a Bible study, the one who mentors the younger ones, the one who leads outreach groups, but the truth is, you might be deceiving others and worst of all, deceiving yourself.
You can do all the right things for the wrong reasons. Finally, self-reliance hinders the Church by keeping believers from ministering to one another. When the believer relies on self, he prevents others from using their gifts towards him. When the pride of Self-reliance is within the Body of Christ, there is no Body at all! “So now there are many members, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I do not need you,’ nor in turn can the head say to the foot, ‘I do not need you.’” (1 Cor. 12:2021).
We must not be self-reliant but Christ-reliant; a body whose parts are humble enough to work with each other for the glory of God. Bringing it all together, I believe that one of the most practical ways of dealing with self-reliance is the power of thankfulness. When you find yourself slipping into a lapses of self-sufficiency, be thankful. Remind yourself of the many blessings you have received: creation, redemption, salvation, justification, sanctification and one day, eternity with the one and only true God. On a more short term note, there is true comfort in following the proverbial message of not leaning on oneself. When we become less self-reliant and more Christ-reliant, the following verse in Proverbs promises “healing to [One’s] body and refreshment to the inner self.” (Prov. 3:8). It is certainly ironic that one’s true and health care for self only comes as a by-product of relying more on Christ and not vice versa.