I have a problem. Maybe you do, too. I bet you can at least relate.
I think from my perspective. Sometimes I pursue my agenda. This probably happens more often than I’d like to admit.
I like to do, what I like to do, when I like to do it, where I like to do it, how I like to do it, and with whomever I like to do it. I like to listen to and believe what makes me comfortable.
I think you do, too.
Sometimes we are good at hiding our self-centeredness. I believe it is possible to have moments where we put others above ourselves. Powerful emotions like love, hate, and disgust can cause us to act contrary to our self-centered nature.
The sinful, selfish nature of human beings is evident early. Tantrums and screaming fits naturally flow from young children who do not get their way.
Adults are usually better at hiding their tantrums. Usually. They may be throwing a tantrum in their heart, though.
Christians are given the gift of God’s grace. Grace is even more powerful than selfishness. We receive this gift when we repent of our self-centered ways and trust in Christ alone.
Modern “Christianity” has a lot of noise. If you really listen you will hear many false gospels being preached. There are many appeals to the self-centered, individualistic nature of human beings.
A false gospel appeals to the desires and felt-needs of the individual.
A false gospel fails to mention or emphasize biblical repentance.
A gospel without repentance is no gospel at all.
This is causing a lot of debate today. Accusations are leveled at those who include repentance in the gospel of being heretics. Critics say they are adding something to the call to simply believe.
But repentance and genuine belief are intertwined. They are inseparable.
Let’s say you are an unbeliever. I tell you to believe in Jesus. Really, I am saying you must change your mind. No longer be unbelieving, but believe. That call to simply believe is a call to simply repent. Change your mind. Believe.
Jesus preached repentance. Don’t take my word for it. Read what Jesus said in Luke 13:1-5. Jesus boldly tells His hearers that unless they repent they will perish. Jesus then tells a parable related to unrepentant, fruitless individuals and ministries.
After the resurrection Jesus instructed His followers to preach repentance.
Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and He said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.” (Luke 24:45-48, bold added)
The prophet declared a vivid prophetic description of our self-centeredness in Isaiah 53:6. We each go astray, each to our own way. Like sheep.
Self-centered, self-willed, rebellion against God is sin. We are created to live God-centered lives. That’s what the greatest commandment is all about – to love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.
Isaiah continued to say that sin was put upon the Messiah:
But the LORD caused the iniquity of us all
To fall on Him. (Isaiah 53:6b)
To receive the gift of salvation we must repent and believe. We must stop living self-centered lives. Stop going astray. Stop living our own way. Turn to the living God. Begin living God-centered lives.
This is the genuine gospel call.
Paul was excited to see believers in Thessalonica do this:
For they themselves report about us what kind of a reception we had with you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come. (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10)
Self-centeredness will receive its due from God. Wrath. To preach a gospel without repentance is to encourage people to continue living self-centered lives. The results are not God-centered, but God-flavored.
This is a type of false conversion. It’s understandable. People want to continue living their own way but also want to go to heaven. A gospel without repentance produces converts who profess to believe but deny God by their deeds.
We are not the first generation to deal with this. It has happened since the beginning.
Paul wrote about it to Titus, a leader in Crete:
They profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him, being detestable and disobedient and worthless for any good deed. (Titus 1:16)
Paul wrote about it to Timothy, a leader in Ephesus:
For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these. (2 Timothy 3:2-5, bold added)
Will leaders today pay attention to the apostolic counsel?
I am a Christian. When I notice self-centeredness in myself I don’t need to try harder. That’s the self-centered, American way of responding. This is sin. Going my own way in a God-flavored way.
The biblical response is to confess my self-centeredness. Then put it to death by the Spirit (Romans 8:12-14). I need to die to myself so that Christ can live through me. To make this possible, Christ has given every follower of His the indwelling Holy Spirit who desires to live in and through His people for the praise and glory of God.
Hopefully, everything above is basic to you. After all, these are the fundamentals of the faith. This is part of the foundational teaching of Christianity. Hebrews 6:1 makes this plain:
Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God. (Hebrews 6:1, bold added)
This post is intended to direct our attention to something else that is less basic. Something more subtle: The affect of our self-centered nature on our theology.
Christians who understand biblical repentance may still revert back to self-centered reading of the Scriptures. Self-centered consumption of Christian teaching. Seeking what they believe will best benefit themselves and their personal relationship with God.
The terminology “personal relationship with God” emphasizes the self-centered and self-oriented emphasis of modern Christianity.
Don’t get me wrong, one of the coolest truths of biblical Christianity is that individuals are redeemed to God through faith in Christ. I genuinely have a personal relationship with my Father, through Christ. I hope you do, too. If you don’t, I urge you to repent and believe. Be reconciled to God today.
We can’t stop here, though. It’s too narrow of a focus. God is not primarily interested in redeeming individuals.
I have heard it preached that Jesus would have come and died if it was only for you. That is a powerful statement.
It is also false.
If Jesus came only for you, then He would be a failure. The entire mission of God to redeem a people for Himself from every tribe, tongue, and nation would be a failure, too.
This is self-centered, man-pleasing preaching at its finest. It appeals to the flesh. It makes the individual the major focus of the gospel. That’s what we want to hear if we are self-centered.
The genuine gospel is much bigger than the individual. It is a God-sized gospel. A God-sized gospel is wayyyyy bigger than the supposed “hole” in any one individuals heart.
We don’t need more self-centered theology. We need more God-centered theology. That will be the topic of the next post tomorrow.