Saturday, January 19, 2013

The selfishness of Man versus the Preeminence of God

The Selfishness of Man versus the Preeminence of God

Ephesians 1:12 That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ.

Dr. John MacArthur rightly asserts, “Preeminence implies supreme standing, picturing one who excels over all others in a particular quality or achievement. There is no one more preeminent than God. You were redeemed and granted an eternal inheritance that God might be glorified. Certainly you benefit greatly from salvation, but God's glory is the primary issue.”

After a careful examination of the sociological characteristics of selfishness in our culture, I have been captured by the influence of hedonism within our own Christian community. Understanding hedonism as the doctrine of self pleasure and self satisfaction as a way of life, I believe a careful examination of the three major doctrines of the Christian experience will reveal that we tend to approach them from a very self centered view (sin, salvation, and glorification). While sacred writ holds as its general foundation the idea that man must forsake himself and seek a life experience that exalts God preeminently, we have somehow manufactured an interpretation of the text that allows for our greatest good at the cost of God’s glory.

Let us first turn to the doctrine of Biblical anthropology. Scripture is abundantly clear that our nature is that of opposition to God, tainted with sin, transgression of His law as the expression of our nature, and rebellion against the Almighty as our most basic instinct. We often define sin only within the parameters of what it does to man…
  • We tend to view sin just within the parameters of its negative effect on such things as our families. We will focus on such rebellion as the sin of adultery, and focus on how it has lead to the destruction of many American families. We emphasize how it destroys trust, shatters emotional stability, and it leads to painful difficulty with the children and the extended families of those involved. While all of these things are true, this is not the supreme difficulty of adultery.
  • I have heard many a discourse on how sin destroys the body. Much emphasis is placed on how many illnesses, diseases, and deaths are caused because of our wicked indifference to Biblical mandate. Consider just a few “amen” statements that are frequently used from the pulpit…
    1. HIV and other diseases are spread rampantly because of sharing needles. Therefore intravenous drug abuse is wrong.
    2. Sexually transmitted diseases are spread when we live immorally. Therefore homosexuality, promiscuity, and all forms of sexual sin are wrong.
    3. God has instituted civil government as a means of punishing the wicked, and rewarding the righteous. When felonies are committed such as theft, murder, and rape, the individual’s civil liberties are then removed, thus limiting his opportunity for freedom. Therefore, the sin of civil disobedience leads only to imprisonment and loss of personal liberty.
    4. Liver failures, heart failures, cancer and so forth come from alcoholism, gluttony, and drug abuse. Therefore excess is wrong.
Once again we should agree with the warnings coupled with each of the above scenarios, and all those warnings are supported by scriptural text. However, those consequences are not the supreme consequence and reasoning behind the scripture forbidding such activities.

We must learn to look beyond selfish concerns of this temporal life, and realize what sin truly does: It offends a thrice holy Almighty God.
  • We are separated from Holy God because of our sin. Isaiah 59:2 But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear.
  • God’s purpose for reaching others through our testimony of righteousness is destroyed by our transgression. Matthew 5:16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.
We tend to view sin only in how it affects us personally, or as a community. In reality we must view sin as an offense to our Creator and Sustainer. Our motivation to forsake sin and the manifestation of sinful activity should be birthed from a reverential fear of how that wickedness affects a righteous Deity who “is angry with the wicked every day.” To be lavished with the blessings of life, opportunity, intelligence, free moral agency, abundance of supply, and the many other gifts afforded by our Creator, to offend Him should be enough motivation to abstain from rebellious behavior. Yet, our own selfishness is manifested as we simply see sin as that thing that brings ruination to our personal comfort and happiness. If sin is best defined as “missing the mark” then we have sinned on the matter of sin.

We turn now to the matter of salvation; perhaps the most endeared doctrine within Christianity. When it comes to a presentation of this doctrine we tend to focus on what salvation offers to us from God. Take a moment and ponder these great Biblical truths…
  • Salvation offers us freedom from the wrath of God. Romans 5:9 Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.
  • Salvation offers us freedom from the bondage of the law in order that we might live our lives by faith. Galatians 3:24 Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.
  • Salvation offers the most blessed truth that all of our sins are forgiven. Psalms 103:12 As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us.
  • Salvation offers the most marvelous teaching that God has eternally secured us in the love of Christ. Romans 8:38-39 For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,  (39)  Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Most lectures, teachings, and sermons focus all their attention on bringing the listeners to the understanding that salvation offers all the above. But we rarely focus on the aspect of salvation in which we are to forsake all selfish wants, and commanded to turn to a life of self-sacrificial obedience toward God. Consider now these truths pertaining to salvation…
  • We are told in scripture that in order to enter that eternally secure love relationship with Christ we must enter with a heart of total obedience to His commands. John 14:15 If ye love me, keep my commandments.
  • Rarely is it mentioned that salvation means complete and total submission to Christ as Absolute Lord of every aspect of the human life. Romans 10:13 For whosoever shall call upon the name of the LORD shall be saved.
  • When was the last time you heard a lengthy discourse reminding fallen humans that salvation means forsaking everything and everyone else for Christ? Matthew 10:37 He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.
  • Where is the Charles Spurgeon of our generation to gently remind us salvation means we must die to self completely, and crucify ourselves in order to be pleasing to God? Matthew 10:38-39 And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.  (39)  He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.
The aspect of salvation that entails complete and total selflessness is as rare as the proverbial hen’s teeth. We would much rather focus on the human benefits of salvation, rather than the God honoring sacrifices commanded by Him in salvation. This has birthed the age of seeker friendly evangelism, easy believism, and modern antinomianism, all of which are an affront to the holiness of the Almighty.  

Now let us conclude the big three by turning to the doctrine of sinless perfection. By this I mean glorification, or simply put; arriving in heaven. When we think of heaven we too often return to thinking selfishly. The most popular of Biblical texts dealing with the doctrine of glorification is found in the Revelation of Jesus Christ:
Revelation 21:4 And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.
  • We rejoice in the idea of no more personal struggles with the flesh.
  • We rejoice in and emphasize the idea of no more sickness, death, and heartbreak as a result of our bodies of fallen flesh.
  • Too many of our hymns, poems, and promises focus on reunions with family and friends.
I recently heard a song entitled “Thank you for giving to the Lord.” The song depicted heaven as a place where those greatest affected by our lives would be singing songs of celebration for our service. Again, heaven in this popular song is depicted as a place where WE will be celebrated and rewarded.

In reality heaven is that place where we might be humbly presented to Christ, the Lord of heaven, in order that we might glorify Him for all eternity.
Revelation 21:2-3 And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  (3)  And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.
In heaven Jesus Christ is the central theme, and not family reunions and personal bliss. He will be our all in all, and thus will be the object of eternal praise. Rather than singing “thank you for giving to the Lord,” the Saints will simply be singing “Thank you Lord!”

The Christian experience in this life is about growing into Spiritual maturity. Spiritual maturity is best manifested when we discover that God’s preeminence in all matters takes precedence over our own selfish desires and pleasure. When we finally reach the place in life where we are truly living for God’s glory it will be manifested in our daily living, and in the motivation for the simplest acts of Christian service.

  1. We should see ourselves making a priority of things like prayer and Bible study, rather than entertainment and slothfulness. Not that we might understand righteousness, and live free of the consequences of breaking of law, but that we might honor the Almighty and live for His glory.
  2. As we understand the true calling of Christianity is not service for personal reward, we will begin seeking a life of serving others for God’s glory. We are not called to serve in order to be blessed personally; we are called to serve because living a life of service best honors Immanuel.
  3. We should mature to the point that as we do everything in our lives, we do these activities while intensely considering whether or not God is glorified in the things we do.

In closing let us consider the simplest of Christian matters; attending a place of worship. Why do you attend? While many answers can be offered, a careful examination of the reasons people stop attending is very revealing. Consider just a few…
    • They switched from a more traditional worship service to a contemporary service. I just can’t stand this new music!
    • I don’t like the way people dress these days. I was raised with the belief that men wear suits and women were dresses. I just can’t stand to look at all those disrespectful people.
    • The service just lasts too long. If you can’t be finished by twelve o’clock, then I’m not going. I have things I need to do before returning to work on Monday!
    • They don’t have programs that best fit the needs of my family. I want specific class opportunities for each of my children, and if they can’t offer those then I’m not going.
    • It’s never warm in that building! I can freeze to death at home! What are they trying to do, hang hog meat in there?
    • It’s too hot in that church house. What are they trying to do, roast beef in that building? I just can’t stand that heat, I’m staying home!
    • Someone sat where I always sit! That meddling old lady did it on purpose too. She knows I like sitting there. I’ll just sit at home, and she can have that seat!
There was not one reason listed above that wasn’t based on selfish hedonistic comfort or preferences. The ultimate purpose of attending a house of worship is that we might seek to serve others, deny ourselves, and glorify God to the fullest. Yet, even in the simplest matter of attending church we tend to be completely selfish in our approach.

This matter of selfishness is not confined to the unregenerate. It is a massive problem within our Christian ranks. Its effects are overwhelming the Church with difficulties, and destroying the foundation of our faith. It is not a problem for the unbeliever to deal with. It is a problem staring you and I as Christians dead in the face. The question is now, what will our response be? If this article has made you as uncomfortable as it’s content made me, perhaps we have just been blessed by the Spirit of God with the revelation of our own selfishness. May the Lord grant to us now repentance.