The Foolishness of Self-Trust

Proverbs 28:26 — The one who trusts in his own heart is a fool, but the one who walks in wisdom will escape.

Let’s face it: There is a lot, and I mean a lot, of advice out there telling us to rely on and trust in ourselves. To those who don’t know better, this secular dogma to trust in self sounds really good on its face. But is it good? No doubt, this appeals to our fallen nature. You may even think you are the only one who can make the right decision for yourself. Right? Not really. The fact is, this is terrible advice, and it will lead to disastrous results. A Christian should never accept this line of thinking. Rather, he should reject this kind of self-positivism as the answer to life’s questions or problems. Why? Christian theology teaches a doctrine called “The Fall.”

This doctrine can be understood by looking in the Westminster Confession of Faith, chapters 4 and 6.

Westminster Shorter Catechism questions 10, 18

WSCQ. 10. How did God create man?

A. God created man male and female, after his own image, in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness, with dominion over the creatures.

WSCQ.18. Wherein consists the sinfulness of that estate whereinto man fell?
A. The sinfulness of that estate whereinto man fell, consists in the guilt of Adam’s first sin, the [lack] of original righteousness, and the corruption of his whole nature, which is commonly called Original Sin; together with all actual transgression which proceed from it.

In man’s rebellion against God, he has fallen from his original estate of innocence and righteousness to sorrow and misery. Among the most striking fruits of that original fall are self-reliance, self-trust, and self-positivism.

The LORD says,
“I will put a curse on people who trust in mere human beings, who depend on mere flesh and blood for their strength, and whose hearts have turned away from the LORD. They will be like a shrub in the desert. They will not experience good things even when they happen. It will be as though they were growing in the desert, in a salt land where no one can live.

My blessing is on those people who trust in me, who put their confidence in me. They will be like a tree planted near a stream whose roots spread out toward the water. It has nothing to fear when the heat comes. Its leaves are always green. It has no need to be concerned in a year of drought. It does not stop bearing fruit. The human mind is more deceitful than anything else. It is incurably bad. Who can understand it?

Jeremiah 17:5-9

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.

Proverbs 3:5-7

This proverb points out the folly and foolishness of trusting self over the tried wisdom given by God and found only in His Son, Jesus Christ. So, where is your confidence? Are you looking within trusting your “inner voice,” even though you can never know that what you are hearing isn’t actually your voice? What if it’s something else or someone else? Are you above misleading and justifying yourself? This kind of thinking is widespread. The fact is, most folks are so committed to their own opinions and ideologies of life that facts and truth rarely make even a minimal impact on their final decisions. This holds true even when the consequences of those wrong decisions are life-changing and not for the better.

But how does true wisdom compare with self-reliance? The person who trusts in himself is a person who is exposing himself to danger. The word escape in Proverbs 28:26 indicates the reality of danger—something unpleasant and destructive, intimating his need for deliverance. His trusting in self is contrary to the moral instruction he’s received in the past. On any number of occasions he has been given counsel from others, but he doesn’t consider a wise course of action. His self-trust is strong—he is too smart for his own good. He believes his own wisdom and efforts will save him. If not a Believer in Christ, he discounts God’s grace and providence, and the reality that this world isn’t based on random nor accidental causes. According to the Scriptures, this is God’s world (Romans 11:36); therefore morality, justice, and righteousness matter!

The Scriptures label that person a fool. He is a fool because he remains the standard of his whole life. He will not accept the wisdom revealed in Scripture, or even godly counsel from those who learned in the hardest way. Clearly he is unteachable, unconvinced of his need, and so wedded to his own ideas that he doesn’t see his own danger. His greatest liability is resting upon his own fallen intellect and intuition. When he is faced with decisions bearing severe consequences, his own folly will cast him into danger. His inner voice leads to his failure. This pit was dug by his own self-reliant hands, and he suffers for no other reason than his misplaced trust. The fool’s wisdom will not allow for humility; neither will heaven’s wisdom make the smallest impression on his conscience. He is always the final word in the matter!

The wise escape avoidable danger by NOT trusting in self but in Jesus Christ—the Word and Wisdom of God. The wise will learn, receive instruction, gain understanding, and put off folly as it is pointed out along the way. This heavenly wisdom is gained by faith in Christ. It is strengthened by reading Scripture, Bible study, listening to sermons, counsel, and edifying conversation with parents and other godly people. The wise are never wise alone! They have God as their Father, His Son as Savior, the Spirit as Teacher, along with ministers, elders and friends who share their convictions. The wise take many precautions to avoid personal ruin, while the fool does not. Hopefully you see why it is important to think and practice discernment and make critical judgments about things you are exposed to every day. Do you see how dangerous and misleading the wisdom of Waldo Emerson really is by telling others “Self-trust is the first secret of success”?