Today someone spoke about going “from selfishness to salvation”. I have never heard anyone put it that way before, but it’s as accurate a statement as any I have heard.
Jesus said, “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (John 12:25) Loving and holding tightly to my own life, shutting God out, refusing to concede control to my Creator, desiring to go my own way is the life of a person without God. Marked by a desire to control my own destiny, to be captain of my own soul, so that I can say, at the end of the day, “I did it my way”, is a life lived without God.
The terrifying thing is that God will let us our own way. He didn’t prevent Adam and Eve from eating the forbidden fruit. They were tempted by the desire to “be like God”[a], championing their own lives, making their own choices and, ultimately, usurping God’s place of prominence in their lives.
The fruit they ate was “good”; it was delightful and even desirable.[b] The fruit, itself, wasn’t bad, but the choice to go their own ways, to assert their own wills over the will of God, was their downfall.
Without the choice of going our own way, we would, perhaps, live a seemingly idyllic life. We would forever be “perfect” little angels, but God obviously had something else in mind. God had to know the choice we would make.
That initial choice doomed us to the imperfection of our humanness, but it also opened the door to something else completely. It opened up the opportunity for us to enter into a relationship with God we could never have known in that “perfect”, idyllic, innocent state.
Without a real choice, we could never really reciprocate God’s love for us. The choice, as dreadful as it was, opened up the possibility of choosing God – something we could not have otherwise done.
Our nature in our natural state is selfishness. We talk about babies as if they are perfectly good and innocent beings, but that is just a projection of our desires on them.
We are born selfish. Everything revolves around us. We cry when we need something (or scream!), and people come running. We learn that people will retrieve what we throw on the floor, and we begin to manipulate for our own pleasures. When we learn the power of “no” and exerting our own wills in opposition to our parents, we are at the height of our selfishness.
Most of our lives we have to learn, through painful trial and error, that there is a better way. We call this maturing and growing up. Even this, though, is driven by selfishness at its roots. We just get more sophisticated and subtle in our manipulation of others. Because others are selfish too, we learn that we get what we want more easily when we appease them.
I don’t think I am being overly cynical in this assessment of the human condition. I only have to consider myself!
But, our ability to choose raises the possibility and the hope that we might actually choose the good for no reason other than good is good, and choose God for no reason other than God is God.
The only problem is that it isn’t in our nature to be able to live like that. We are enslaved to going our own way. Sin is who we are. It is the essence of our being to be absorbed by ourselves.
Just as Adam and Eve lived idyllic lives in the Garden, but for one awful choice – that looked good, delightful and desirable, we live imperfect, sin-filled, disappointing, unfulfilled lives, but for one beautiful choice – that looks bad, difficult and undesirable!
When Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life”[c], He was talking not only about believing in Him, but following Him in the example that He set. Jesus said, “I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me”[d]; and as He faced the prospect of His own death, he prayed, “Not my will but yours be done!”[e]
If you lose your life, you will find it! Making this one choice involves following Jesus, and that means denying ourselves and taking up our crosses daily.[f] Losing ourselves, denying ourselves and taking up a cross is something we naturally oppose, but it is the way to life.
Although this choice looks like the last thing we would want to do, it is the very best thing we could ever do! Though it likes like the way of death, it is the way to life everlasting. Though it looks like we are resigning ourselves to perpetual subjugation to an Almighty God who may seem like a tyrant who wants abject obedience, we find that we have gained all that we ever desired and more than we could have imagined from a God who is love and desires love from us.
This we could not do without choice. This we cannot achieve on our own accord.
Unlike the choice Adam and Eve made, which was all their own doing, the choice to bow to God and to concede to Him as our Lord is something we can’t accomplish by anything we do. Rather, we must cease from our own doing.[g]
Whereas once we were slaves in our sinful nature to sin that leads to death, we exchange that sinful nature for eternal life when we become slaves to God.[h] God gives us life, not death. Salvation is freedom from that selfishness to which we cling at our own peril. Only in God are we truly free.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:24)
[a] Genesis 3:4-5 (“The serpent said to the woman, ‘You surely will not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’”)(NIV)
[b] Genesis 3:6 (“When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate.…”)(NIV)
[c] John 14:1-7 (“’Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.’ Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.’”)
[d] John 5:30b (ESV)
[e] Luke 22:42 (ESV)
[f] Matthew 16:24-26 (“Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?”)
[g] Ephesians 2:8-9 (“[B]y grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”)
[h] Romans (6:22-23 (“[H]aving been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”)