♣ Selfians and Christians
“If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me” – Luke 9:23
NO ONE CAN simultaneously follow Christ and self; either we will love one or the other (Matthew 6:24). To follow Christ is the undeniable evidence of a new nature born within that empowers us to embrace our cross of adversity and suffering. These are the conditions laid down before we even pursue Him. No man builds without first considering the cost (14:28). Scripture furthermore elaborates: “…anyone one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33).
This is one of the main reasons as to why many professing Christians ‘throw in the towel’ because it has been found unexpectedly hard as Oswald Chambers so rightly stated, “…Christianity…has been tried and abandoned because it has been found difficult; but it has never failed when it has been tried and gone on with honourably. There is no problem or difficulty that stretches before a man for which adherence to Jesus Christ will not give him the line of solution.” Today’s mainstream evangelicalism hardly gives counsel, in that to live the Christian life, one is to expect fierce opposition. We downplay the truth for fear of losing potential converts. As dogmatic as it may sound, if we do not preach the truth then we shall never witness true converts. One of the biggest nemeses in modern Christendom is the obsession with numbers or how many members a church has. That is Christ’s responsibility; ours is to rightly proclaim Him, to preach the whole counsel of God and to make sure we are endued with God’s power to fulfil that calling –that is an awful responsibility in and of itself. No cross was planed, waxed and adorned; it was rugged, splintered and cruel; it was a cross that prohibited all manner of life. The preacher’s responsibility is to preach the rugged Truth. No preacher has to go out of his way to make Christianity appealing; if there is cause to then we are deviating from being true to God and instead of displaying confidence in His power, we display an inverted embarrassment. New Testament Christianity is what it is: dynamic but is desperately found wanting in our generation. Never be preoccupied with defending the gospel and never be afraid of its offence to others; it wounds to heal; casts down to lift up. “The truth is like a lion, you don’t have to defend it. Let it loose. It will defend itself” (St Augustine). Apologetics has its use so long as it takes a back seat. The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16). God will honour His word; it will never return to Him empty-handed.
Of course, there are moments when even the most legitimate Christian falls short of following Christ; the desires of the flesh are opposed to the Spirit and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh (Galatians 5:17) and because of indwelling sin (until the day we die) we will often need cleansing. The Christian life is one of continual and progressive repentance. If we are not mortifying the passions of our flesh (Romans 8:13; Colossians 3:5) then the signs of new life are lacking. We cannot pursue Christ if we love ourselves too much or if we cherish sin. Is there such a thing as loving ourselves too much? Narcissism, that is prevalent in our sophisticated cultures, will provide the answer. We haven’t to be obsessed with just our personal appearance to be guilty of vanity.
Our churches today may attract a proportionate attendance of selfians as those of genuine Christians, if not higher. We are told that only a few shall enter the kingdom of God (Matthew 7:14). Is there such a word as selfian? Our dictionaries show that no word exists, but with all the slang that is officially admitted into the English speaking language today, I am committing no ‘crime’.
Selfians are prevalent today. A selfian is one who loves two masters. A selfian refuses to take up one’s cross; repels and rebels against suffering and settles for a liberal and smoother ‘Christianity’. Selfianity is preoccupied with creature comforts; the Christian pursues their Creator’s comfort. Selfianity will use God in times of trouble, but will gladly forget Him when circumstance turn in their favour; Christians will be loyal to God in both good and bad times, knowing that the DNA of all life is God Himself. Selfians will spread the lie that God wants to prosper their dreams and purposes; Christians will proclaim the truth that they live unto Him and that His will and plans are prospered through them. Selfians love self, family and friends more than Christ; the Christian loves Christ above all and so loves his family and friends from a Spirit-filled motive, which is infinitely better. The selfian withers when trials hit; the Christian grows nearer to God and more Christ-like through them. Selfians love only a part of God’s Word; Christians gladly embrace the entire written Word. Selfians are easily bored when Truth is expounded; Christians soar when Truth is unfolded. Selfians sulk when things do not go their way; Christians willingly and gladly yield themselves to the loving discipline and chastisement of God. Selfians grow fonder of material wealth; Christians increase in awareness of eternal values – to them they are the true riches. Selfians love life more than Christ; Christians love Christ more than life (Psalm 63:3). Selfians live nearer to the world; Christians live nearer to heaven. Self-image takes priority in the selfian; conforming to Christ’s image takes precedence in the Christian. Selfians grow more confident in themselves; Christians grow more confident in Christ. The selfian’s career takes priority over adhering to Christ’s ways; the Christians ambition is to know and do the will of God. Happiness is the selfian’s goal; holiness the Christians constant desire, without which no one shall see the Lord. The selfian lives for pleasure; the Christian lives to please God. The selfian lives for the praise of men; Christians look for the applause of heaven. The comparisons are innumerable, but what has been mentioned is sufficient to show the contrast that is seldom seen today.
“The stench of self will frighten souls away” said John Hyde (known as ‘Praying Hyde’) and we can certainly put it down to why many churches are ineffective in their communities. There is lots of activity, no doubt, but as Leonard Ravenhill once said, “The accent in the Church today is not on devotion, but on commotion.” Many good works are being done, but that never implies that God’s will is the hub of it all (Matthew 7:21-23). A social gospel is no different from social services, except for a bit of God thrown into it. It is true that good works follow a profession of genuine faith, but just like fruit is brought forth in our lives resulting from regeneration, so the souls of men and women are to be the utmost priority as we reach out to the world. The Son of God said that we are not to seek for the food that perishes, but the kind that lasts eternally (John 6:26-27). Christ did not primarily come to fill our stomachs and end poverty. If Christ had yielded to the temptations of Satan (Luke 4:3-12), world poverty would have been wiped out; He would have gained the whole world as a miracle worker but never as Saviour. It is the heart that is in desperate need of change; it is being transformed from the inside out that inevitably and radically alters things around. The greatest changes in society was not through law and prohibitions laid down by governing authorities; the greatest ‘revolutions’ that came about were through authentic revivals. People’s hearts changed that resulted in the improvement of societal living; people were no longer looking out for themselves. ‘Loving your neighbour’ became a living reality. That entails sacrifice on our part, a denial of self – a heart that cheerfully gives, for it is more rewarding to give than to receive; it is more joyous to see the joy on other people’s faces as their needs are met rather than being wrapped up in own little world of wants.
I have witnessed this kind of love in one particular church – and only one kind ever in my life. It wasn’t perfect but it was certainly a balanced church – the New Testament kind. Some may beg to differ, but I know what I (and others) saw and felt. God’s presence was literally encountered in those meetings; God came near and outsiders (some of whom were gang leaders) knew there was something radically different to us in comparison to other churches around – and they wanted it.
Self has to go if we want to follow Christ and see the world impacted. The Church has more than once turned the world upside-down and it can happen again. We are long overdue for God to come very near. May it be – pray that it will be – in our generation.