Tim Keller once wrote that we are “so instinctively and profoundly self-centered that we don’t think we are.” I can’t help but marvel at the truthfulness in that statement. Selfishness causes us to view everything outwardly, with ourselves as the source. It causes us to be critical of all that we see and experience. But when we shine light on everything else, we become blind to ourselves. We are unable to look inward, to look at life from another perspective.
This is a sobering thought, but one that I can relate to – one that we all can relate to. The implications send shivers down my spine. It’s not that I’m scared to become selfish, but that I’m there already. I’m scared of who I am at my core. Selfishness is already in my heart and nothing that I do can stop it. After all, that in itself is a selfish concept – to think that I can stop my selfishness. Let’s face it, the world is about me, just like you believe the world is about you. This thought is terrifying. Selfishness is a small, lonely, dark, and unsatisfying world. In fact, this is how the Bible describes Hell. In many ways, Hell is a place where we will be left to ourselves. It’s where our passions and personal desires grow increasingly strong but are forever unquenched, just as eternal fire constantly consumes but is never put out. Selfishness leads to selfishness. Adam and Eve’s sin shows us the consequences of one selfish act. One day some will live in Hell, but for now God’s mercy allows Hell to live in us. The fires of selfishness are there.
But how can we stop this selfishness? As mentioned, we cannot. Religion is not the answer – it only makes us more aware of the problem. People attend church, pray, and do good things because they think it will make them safe, solve their problems, and keep them from eternal danger – how selfish. This is true for even the “good” people who try to keep the law. Although for our benefit, the law could not save self-centered people. In fact, it became perverted – it led to the Pharisees. The law leads to self-righteousness, self-justification, and self-satisfaction. Not keeping the law leads to self-guilt, self-anger, and self-hatred. In everything, we strive to satisfy our desires, to know that we will ultimately be taken care of.
Here’s the good news: we’ve already been taken care of.
God has already declared us new. He’s already declared us righteous and justified. He has promised us an eternal home where our desires will be eternally met. God guaranteed to us that we already have everything that we could ever want. We no longer have to worry about ourselves. We no longer have to strive to make sure that we will be “okay.” No matter what happens in this life, we can rejoice knowing that we already have everything. There is great freedom in this. We are free from sin. Sin tells us that we need something in order to be satisfied. God tells us our greatest satisfaction has already been given. We are also free from the law. We no longer are bound to the selfishness attached in the “does and don’ts” of religion. God tells us that it has already been done.
We are free from ourselves.
And, when we are out of the picture, what’s left?
God and others.
In Matthew 22:36-40, a man asked Jesus “‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?’ And he [Jesus] said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.’”
When we no longer have to worry about ourselves, we are free to love God and love others. We don’t have to worry about our sin. We don’t have to worry about our righteousness. In fact, by loving God and loving others, these things take care of themselves. When we no longer focus on “not sinning,” we actually sin less. In fact, Jesus was sinless because he was solely focused on God’s will and reconciling others to Him. Jesus was the epitome of selflessness. He did not try to get to glory from death as we do, but instead came to death from glory.
Jesus’ selflessness saved us from selfishness. When we accept what He did for us and bow to Him as our savior and king, the Holy Spirit blows out the kindling fire of Hell in our hearts and sets us free to live for God and others.
“For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.” – James 3:16
Jesus’ selflessness saved us from selfishness.