Stop Believing in Yourself

'Believe in yourself'.

This is one of the great clichés of our time. Motivational speeches, seminars, books and sermons all encourage people to ‘believe in themselves’. They are not urging people to realise their own existence, but rather to firmly accept and become convinced by their abilities and ambitions.

I still remember the first time I rode a bicycle without stabilisers. It was terrifying. My mother, never one for half measures, placed me on top of a hill, and pushed me down. “You can do it, just start peddling!”, I remember her shouting. It worked. I never used stabilisers again. Had she attended a self-help group with American influences, she might have yelled “Believe in yourself! You can do it! Now peddle!”. If the phrase simply means ‘be more confident’ or ‘riding a bike is not as hard as you think’, then fair enough. We sometimes need a boost and encouragement from others. I suspect, though, that it is really used most of the time in a different sense. It is an an appeal to that very worst of human snares- pride.

I’m great, so I’m going to believe in myself!

I’m attractive, so I’m going to believe in myself!

I’m clever, so I’m going to believe in myself!

I’m spiritual, so I’m going to believe in myself!

I’m the best, so I’m going to believe in myself!

I’m going to be rich, so I’m going to believe in myself!

I’m better than her, so I’m going to believe in myself!

I’m going to fulfil my ambitions come what may, so I’m going to believe in myself!

All of these statements are said by people who ‘believe in themselves’. They are products of pride. The world’s religions urge you to believe in yourself, accept that you have it within you to please God and attain a pleasant afterlife. The Muslim goes on Hajj and prays five times daily. By doing this, he can attain Allah’s mercy. The Buddhist mediates in order to clear his mind from craving and desire. He can overcome karma if only he can become nothing. The Roman Catholic prays for grace that she might be empowered to perform acts pleasing to God. ‘Believe in yourselves’ they are urged, ‘You can do it!’

Biblical Christianity says the opposite:




God considers all our righteous acts as pleasing as used menstrual rags. There is nothing attractive or commendable about us, ruined and corrupted by sin as we are. The only way by which we can be saved is God’s own undeserved kindness. This we call Grace.

The great hymn by Augustus Toplady, Rock of Ages, puts it succinctly:

Not the labour of my hands

Can fulfill Thy law’s demands;

Could my zeal no respite know,

Could my tears forever flow,

All for sin could not atone;

Thou must save, and Thou alone.


Nothing in my hand I bring,

Simply to the cross I cling;

Naked, come to Thee for dress;

Helpless look to Thee for grace;

Foul, I to the fountain fly;

Wash me, Saviour, or I die.