By Tyson Thorne

February 26, 2014

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Take a piece of paper and write down what you think you need right now, more than anything else, to make you truly happy.

Now read 2 Peter 3. This passage is about a group of people who questioned God’s form of punishment by asking, “Where is this ‘coming’ He promised… everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” Their unbelief in Christ’s return allowed them to continue living in sin – for their sins would never have to be accounted for. By forgetting the Creator of Earth, they also forget the creator of Hell, their eternal home. But it is more than a desire to live apart from God’s holy Word that inspired them to deliberately forget God; one must ask the question why do they want to live apart from God? The answer lies in the pages of Scripture, from the fall of Adam and Eve to the destruction of Annanias and Saphira, the sin of selfishness is exhibited as man’s chief problem.

It has been said of Americans, “Each citizen is habitually engaged in the contemplation of a very puny object, namely himself” (Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, circa 1848). It is perhaps around the Christmas season that this becomes most clear. Children grow up making Christmas lists of the things they want most, and because God does not fulfill selfish lists such as these the world devises a Santa Claus – the ultimate humanitarian – to take his place. Indeed, one need not look any farther than the parking lot at the nearest shopping mall to see the abject selfishness inherent in humanity. Holiday shoppers search endlessly for the parking place nearest the front door, carelessly weaving through isles, impatiently waiting behind someone who is himself waiting for another to leave a particular parking place. And though it is rarely expressed verbally, the thought running through those impatient shoppers minds is the same: “Why do I have to wait for you? I’m in a hurry. Get out of my way!”

A wonderful traveling preacher, Dr. Richard Owen Roberts, once responded to Christian’s false pride with this observation: “God is everything. We are nothing. So tell me, what is there left to be proud about?” Understand that selfishness and pride exist within the Christian community even as it does without. Each of us is guilty of taking our private “Christmas” lists before God and praying for our wants, creating in our minds a Santa–Christ. The list can contain many things of endless variation, but the recipient of each gift is always the same, it is the one praying. We may pray for a better job, a new apartment, a boyfriend or girlfriend, but always the prayer to Santa–Christ is for selfish wish fulfillment.

This brings us to an important truth: it is impossible for man to be saved unless he first recognize his self-centeredness. Once recognized, he must sacrifice it on the cross of Christ. Finally, he must yield his life to God. This is what every Christian has done at some point in their lives. Yet, after the initial conversion experience has ended, and our faith is no longer new, we find it all too easy to excuse our selfish lifestyles. Easy because despite the teachings against this sin our selfishness doesn’t cause many bad consequences. God seems to be slow in judging this sin. And we can interpret this slowness in two ways: we may interpret it as those in 2 Peter 3 did, that God is relatively unconcerned and not offended by our sinfulness, or we may interpret it as Peter does in verse nine, that God is patient with us, not wanting any to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

How does this happen? How is it that we get so caught up in ourselves that we don’t have time to see God for who He is? I believe that most people’s problem with God and with their Christian life is their own selfishness. I know it’s true of me. Rather than saying “no” to yet another late night to spend time with God, I choose instead the fellowship of man and go. I may have a good time, but what role did God play in my decision? Too often, finding God in a Christian’s life is a little like the “Find Waldo” pictures; God may be there somewhere, but is hard to find among all the clutter of our lives.

In this truth I am confronted with another: when you try to live by your own rules instead of God’s, you won’t live at all. The first creature that tried to live life by his own rules was Lucifer, and he was cast into outer darkness for it. While the Christian will not lose his salvation for attempting the same, the life he has exists in darkness also, as God’s presence is pushed away by one selfish decision after another. To restore fellowship with God after such an existence is especially difficult for the believer, and the level of difficulty is directly proportional to the length of time he has tried to live by his own rules.

Dr. Larry Crabb, in his book Men & Women: Enjoying the Difference, asks,

What will it take to convince us that our selfishness is without excuse and that our first job, in our friendships and marriages, is to recognize our selfishness and learn how we can change? To answer this question, we need to grasp three things: our greatest need is forgiveness, only God’s law has the power to shatter our excuses, and change only occurs in the context of hope.

God’s law, in eliminating our excuses, reveals our need for forgiveness, but this knowledge alone is not enough to save our souls. With only this much information, mankind is left in despair. Happily, this is not the end of the story. Through Christ’s accomplishments on the cross and resulting offer of salvation we find hope in place of despair.

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