Stop Being Self-ish
When I was a teenager a youth minister told me the story of the early Christian martyrs. He told me of how they went to their deaths singing hymns rather than make a small offering to Caesar. One of the best known descriptions of this is the story of the martyrdom of Polycarp. If you haven't ever read it, I suggest you do. It will blow your mind. When I compared the lives of the earliest followers of Jesus with myself and the people around me in Church, I had to honestly admit that we didn't have what the earliest Christians had. Something important was missing. A few years after that I came to the conclusion that I would never find in the Church what it was the early Christians had. So, I walked out.
You might say I wandered in a kind of wilderness for many years. I checked into many different theories about early Christianity, different religions and philosophies. Initially I thought the problem with the Church in America was that it was an "institution." If we just got rid of the structure and hierarchy, then we could return to the truth. But, the early church had its apostles and bishops and deacons and, although there were problems, that didn't seem to matter too much. So that wasn't it. Maybe it was the Pastors? Well, I know quite a few pastors and for the most part they are well trained in interpretation of scripture and how to organize and deliver a sermon. That's not it either. I also considered the possibility that it was the scriptures we were using. Maybe the answer was in older manuscripts, better translations, apocryphal writings, or something like that. Possibly, writings of other peoples that had not been "corrupted" so to speak by the centuries of Catholic then Protestant theology would hold the answer. But, I didn't find the answer there either. And so on and on I went until one day I began to understand.
The flesh - me - ego - I is always looking for a way of self-preservation. It always wants a quick way out of whatever difficulty it faces. Because of that, the self will compromise. It will go against principles in order to put food on the table for one more day. It will bend the knee to Caesar in order to go home and sleep in a warm bed tonight. All along, the self will make excuses or find reasons why it is all OK. Even more, the self will seek to find something "I" can do to make sure "I" am all right. It wants a set of rules, of do-this-donít-do-that so that it can believe that "I" am all right and doesn't have to face up to its own failings. The self can compare its actions against the rules and verify that it is "good." Ultimately, it just leads to hypocrisy, like the Pharisees in Jesus' day. They knew all the law and thought that they could keep it. That's the self at work again. The self has to preserve its ego and thus will interpret the rules in such a way as to validate self. In the end, the temptations of the flesh, the "corrupt desires" that deceive us, will be stronger than the will, and we fall short. There is no way for the self to do it. The self must die and be replaced by a life that does have the power to overcome sin. That's what it means to live by faith - stop being self-ish.
So, one way to think of the problem is to say the Churches in American don't have faith. By "faith" I don't mean a set of beliefs that you live by. The faith that Jesus talked about and urged His disciples to get is something different. That faith is what comes when you finally realize that you cannot do it your self. You will have to rely on some power greater than self or you will never make it. Faith is, in essence, a binding of the mind to something outside your self. Christian faith is binding our heart, soul and mind to Jesus. We are saved by His power alone. We are saved not because of what we do but because of what He does in us. Thus, faith is something other than self and to really have faith, you have to stop relying on self and start relying on God. In other words, you have to stop being self-ish. That is the difference between the first Christians and the Church in America today. Today's Church is self-ish -- it is oriented towards the self.
People will go to Church, sing hymns, pray, hear sermons, do Bible study, give to missions and charity, and so on. They will do all that as long as it doesn't interfere with their life. Furthermore, they will do all of that because they perceive that it is a way to have better life. But, Christianity isn't about living the "abundant life" and achieving self-fulfillment. Christianity is about learning how to die. I don't mean physical death, although it certainly came to that for the earliest Christians and is also the condition for our Brothers and Sisters in places like China and the Sudan today. What I mean is that we have to learn to die to self -- to stop being self-ish. I don't see very much of that around anywhere. Almost no one is even looking for a way to die. But, they ought to be.
It's not just the Church either. This same self-ish philosophy is all over the place. Whether it is new-age or old-age, liberal or conservative, it is always about self-realization, self-help, self-improvement, self-empowerment, self-satisfaction, self-preservation, self-this, and self-that. SELF-ISH!
Jesus said, "Take up your cross and follow me." Jesus didn't pick up the cross for a walk in the park. He picked it up and went to die. He did so based on the promise that the Father would raise Him from the dead. That's the ultimate in faith and that's what WE have to do also. We have to die to self based solely on the promise of Jesus that He will generate a new life in us. We have to stop trusting self and only trust Him.
If you want to know if you are following Jesus, you don't have to consider the dogma you hold, what versions of the Bible you think are correct, or what scriptures you think should be included or thrown out. You don't have to have a priest or pastor bless you, or pour water on you or tell you what to think. It doesn't matter what clothes you wear, what food you eat, or what words you speak with. It doesn't matter if you pray with eyes closed on your knees or standing up with eyes and hands lifted to heaven. It doesn't matter what form of worship you use or what festivals you keep. IF YOU WANT TO KNOW IF YOU ARE FOLLOWING JESUS, JUST LOOK AT YOUR HANDS! Are they clean and soft and well manicured? Or, are they cut and bloody and full of splinters from clinging to the cross. Until you pick up your cross and walk towards Calvary to die, you are NOT following Jesus.
Some may think this going to Calvary and dying-to-self is a terrible thing. That's not the way Jesus saw it. Consider this:
"I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it." John 14:12-14
This saying of Jesus is one of those verses that is easy to misunderstand. When we are oriented towards self, we get the idea that Jesus is there just to make us comfortable. That's what happens when the self is in control. It takes the words of Jesus and interprets them according to its own desire. But read verse thirteen carefully, please. What Jesus is saying in this passage is that the miracles He did form a basis for faith. The greater miracles that He does through us are intended to bring glory to the Father. Whenever we ask for something, we do it not for our self, but so that His power may be manifested in us. Whenever we face trials and persecution, it is an opportunity for Him to demonstrate His power to miraculously deliver us. When we are sick and need healing, we can pray that He demonstrate His power to heal through our situation. When we are in need, we can pray that He demonstrate His power to provide. That's why whatever we ask in His name, He will do! So, let persecution come so that He may deliver us.
We sometimes get the idea that we should not trouble Him for little things. We say, I can handle this one, you don't need to help, Jesus. That's self-ish, too. There is no opportunity for Him to demonstrate His power when we do that. When we stop being self-ish we become the means by which He can perform miracles. Each and every time He fulfills His word, it is a slap in the face of Satan and further proof to an on-looking world that God's word is true and all glory belongs to Him. So, stop being self-ish and look for opportunities to ask for Him to perform a miracle in your life. Not for the sake of your self, but for the sake of the Father.
"But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you." John 16:7
All this is possible because He was willing to go to Calvary. The cross comes first, then the power comes from it. Get it? It is the same with us. The power He places in us comes when the self gets out of the way. Then, and only then, can the spirit of Christ so fill us that we can be what God intended for us to be.
One final thing must be understood. All of these promises are conditioned on this: That we obey His command.
"My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." John 15:12-13
NOW DO YOU GET IT? The ultimate expression of God's agape - unconditional love - is when we die to self that others may benefit. God gave His son. Jesus gave His life that we might live. We must do the same if we are to follow Him. We cannot love where there is any self-ish attitude involved because love is not possible when our actions are for the self. If you want to express God's love, then stop being self-ish.