Unfortunately in most churches selfishness is quite overrated. This may seem like a bold statement but it will make sense as I explain. In Mark 12:30-31 Jesus said, “‘30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” We are to love others as much as we love ourselves. Obviously we must love ourselves. There is nothing wrong with loving yourself. Nothing is wrong with wanting good things for yourselves. In fact Jesus even motivates us to work hard because we know that we will receive a reward [Colossians 3:23-24]! This is often what churches label selfishness: wanting good things for yourself. But if you think about it, this view doesn’t really make sense.
Sinful selfishness is when you are selfish to the point of being unloving. This is evident in the commandment Jesus quoted, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Sinful selfishness is when you love yourself more than your neighbor to the point of doing something or taking something in an unloving way. Sinful selfishness is when I take the last cookie and consciously know that others have not had a cookie. ‘Righteous’ selfishness is when I take the last cookie after making sure every one who wanted one got one.
Many times holiness and “perfect living” seem a little daunting, and maybe even boring. Why would anyone want to follow the 10 commandments. Besides the fact that God commands us to, why would you want do it? My sister proposed a very good idea to answer this question.
Suppose you are a musician. For some of you this may not apply, so for those of you who aren’t musicians just pretend you play the radio. You, being the musician that you are, have multiple instruments you can play. But your favorite one is the saxophone. You love playing it, especially in the evening. One day your parents come over to visit. As the day nears to an end you start to play your saxophone. After you have played for a while you notice that your dad is plugging an ear. It is the ear that he has a hearing aid in. You realize that the noise is hurting his ear, because your music is ringing and screaming too loudly in his ear. At this point you have a choice. You can either continue playing your music, hurting your father, and just pretend you don’t notice the pain on his face; or you can stop and kindly suggest to do something together a little more quiet.
This illustration is an everyday example of our activities in life. Everyday we do our habits, sometimes without even thinking; and some of those habits are sinful. God our Father is sensitive to sin. Because He is Holy, He cannot be with sin. When we sin, our sin separates us from Him; and because He wants to be with us, our sin hurts Him. Then we come to a choice. We can stop sinning because we love our Father and we don’t want to see him in pain (pain that may even compare to the pain God endured while Christ was on the Cross), or we can continue in our habits of sin. And when we continue, we not only hurt God but we also hurt ourselves.
So, out of love for our Heavenly Father, we should strive to be holy. But to be holy we must understand what it means.
Holiness is obeying God:
loving one another as He loved us
even when it’s against our own interests
sharing His love, even when it is inconvenient
finding ways to help those in need
holiness consists in thinking as God thinks and willing as God wills
When you give yourself wholly to God, He will make you wholly holy. Holiness is obeying God.
1 ‘History continues to validate the biblical account that man is by his own nature sinful-indeed, imprisoned by his sin.
And we are not reluctant prisoners. Like Augustine, we actually delight in sin and evil. What else explains our secret delight in another’s fall? What else accounts for our morbid fascination with violence on television or the bloody carnage of horror films? Alypius, Augustine’s friend and student who shared his experience in the garden, learned this lesson well.
Alypius was addicted to his day’s popular form of entertainment, the bloody gladiatorial games. Frightened by the grip these had on him, he vowed passionately to break his addiction. After avoiding the games successfully for some time, Alypius one day met several friends who, knowing his weakness, dragged him into the arena. Forced into the crowded coliseum, Alypius determined he would not watch. So he hunched in his stone seat, jammed among screaming, frenzied fans, his eyes screwed shut and his hands over his ears.
Suddenly, with a single voice, the crowd sent up the loudest bloodcurdling cry of delight he had ever heard. Curiosity gripped him. He opened his eyes in time to see one of the fighters fall, covered with blood. He drank in the insane violence. “And I fell more miserably than that gladiator, he confided to Augustine later.
Though Alypius thought himself above the enjoyment of such bloodshed, his will was no match for the evil thrill it brought. He became “drunk on blood and pleasure,” and he was again one with his friends and the evil he abhorred.2
Who has not found himself at some point slyly boasting of his sins, as Augustine confessed, to earn the “praise it brought”?3 So pervasive is the sin in us that we are subject to lonely shame if we cannot share in the sins of our peers.
What causes a man like Alypius to cheer lustily as a gladiator’s head is lopped off?4 Why, in our modern gladiatorial contest played out on a national and international scale, now called war, do we sense a certain spellbinding grandeur in the drama of armies moving across a field of battle?5,6 Why do those who find war’s allure the most irresistible often become national heroes?7 ( Remember the moment in the movie “Patton” when the legendary general, played by George C. Scott, looked over the field of battle from a command vehicle with undisguised exaltation: “Look,” he said to his companion, “could anything be more magnificent? . . . I must tell the trust-I love it- God . . . I do love it!”8) And why does the same bloody thrill grip a movie theater audience when [fill in the blank]….
What is it? Nothing less than the evil within us, the dark side of the line that, Solzhenitsyn wrote, passes through each human heart.’
I believe that Charles Colson has hit it right on the bulls eye. Our culture drinks violence, in movies, in video games, in books. Just look at the top seller book list: Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, these games are soaked in dripping blood. Video games are like the modern gladiator arenas, just without the real people. Games where wars of past are replayed in vivid reality. When young men cheer raising their controllers in the air when they get a kill. And boasting occurs over who had the most head shots. Movies that would be rated R years ago are now only PG-13. And, the worst yet, Christians who are supposed to be the light of the world are immersed in these types of media day in and day out. We Christians have a hard time not taking part in sin along with the rest of the world. I have struggled with want to play these games, to read these books and to watch these movies. But something inside me has said, “You are not of the world anymore, you do not have to do this. You have been made a new creation in Christ.”
1- Charles Colson, Loving God pgs. 121-122
2- Confessions pg. 144
3- Confessions pg. 68
4- Many movies include such scenes: see the Hobbit: an Unexpected Journey
5- J. Glen Gray, The Warriors: Reflections on Men in Battle
6- Men especially feel this exhilaration
7- Theodore Plantinga, Learning to Live with Evil chapter 11
8- From the shooting script of “Patton”
2Timothy 3:16 says “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (also consider 2Peter 3:15-16). Notice the ‘all’. All means everything, all of it. Not one part is wrong or incorrectly translated. Even if it was, I think that that would indicate God is not all-Powerful, because even He could not keep His servants on earth from messing up His Word. If God is not all-Powerful, then honestly, how could He guarantee us a place in heaven. How could He forgive us and pay for our sins, if He can’t even help us not make a mistake in writing the Bible, His own Words?
People will often say that they’re to sinful or dirty to come to church. They would say that God would be shamed to have them there. However, I would suggest this: God wants to be worshiped (Exodus 43:14), Luke 7 says that those who have more debt forgiven are more thankful. Therefore when God forgives those with more sin, they will worship Him more and He will get more praise, which is exactly what He wants. Therefore God will not be shamed by you coming to church and worshiping Him or asking Him to forgive you. He will be praised.