What is at stake when we live for ourselves
I just read an article that was both enlightening and terribly depressing. It was about a couple who are in the early stages of opening their relationship. What I found most interesting is the way the author tracked her own story away from Government, Church, and Parents. It sounded to me like she is under the impression that she is finally finding Maslow’s last stage in his hierarchy of human needs – self actualization. She discussed how she had finally cast off every authority that prevented her from being what she wanted to be. And now, she is also throwing off the authority of commitment to another.
I know her story. I have seen others walk this path. I know people now who are in the midst of this journey. And there is one fatal flaw that can be found in the very early stages of this journey. The flaw is rooted in a denial of the first paragraph of an ancient document.
Almost 500 years ago a pastor and professor set out to define the essentials of the Christian faith. He began with “what is your only comfort in life and death?” The answer he proposed was “That I am not my own, but belong body and soul to my faithful savior Jesus Christ.” We could debate the validity of this, but for now let me point out that it is a pretty faithful articulation of what the Bible teaches. Again, we can debate the validity of that too… but just go with me for a minute.
If I belong to another then authority is valid. It should not be cast off, and if I belong to myself then I am the ultimate authority. If we belong to another, then living as if we belong to ourselves will lead to pain and destruction. It would follow that if we actually belong to ourselves, then living as though we belong to another would lead to pain and destruction. Whichever of these options is true, the other must be contrary to our humanity.
As a pastor, let me explain something from experience. I have known very many people who live for themselves. This is incredibly common, both confessing believers and unbelievers often lead their lives as though they are their own master. I have known a handful of people who, though falteringly, live their lives as if they belong to Jesus Christ.
Without reservation I can tell you that those who live as though they belong to Jesus Christ, are the most fulfilled. Often, confessing believers who attend church sporadically and live however they want change their ways when their own self induced trauma begins to hurt too much. I consider this a gift, and I want more people to encounter this kind of trauma if it leads to transformation.
The self directed life is never fulfilled. I have seen several self directed people die miserable and lonely, hated by those who should have loved them, while those who choose the other path die fulfilled and well loved. The one thing that can be said was that they were the authority of their own life. They lived for themselves.
American culture, and I would argue that the American Church has been complicit, has led us to believe that the most fulfilled life is one aimed at self fulfillment and self pleasure. Jesus taught that the most fulfilled life is lived in self denial for the sake of God and others. My own experience has led me to believe that Jesus was right.
I am constantly doing battle against the lie that we can fulfill ourselves. The primary reason I battle this is because I love people. I want to see people live fulfilled lives. I want to see people on their deathbeds surrounded by friends and family. I want to be able to say at funerals (as I have had the great privilege of doing more than once), “that was a life well lived.”
This is my call to you dear reader: deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Jesus. He is the lover of our souls and the perfecter of our faith. No other life can satisfy.