Though I had been aware of many self-centered movements within Christianity, it was while attending a Passover celebration at a major hotel with hundreds of other Christians that I was first confronted with the problem in person. Having arrived early, I found a seat outside the ballroom and began talking with a conservatively-dressed lady in her late forties. Our conversation focused on a variety of Christian topics before we began discussing what it means to be living in Jesus Christ.
“It’s about time that someone started telling us about the health and wealth that we’re supposed to have in Christ,” she declared, voicing her approval of a well-known leader in the Prosperity Gospel movement.
Today, hundreds of thousands of Christians have fallen into a self-centered philosophy rather than a Christ-centered relationship, being led astray by various movements that distort our place of servitude in Jesus Christ. The question in many corners is no longer what we can do to serve God because of our love for Him, but rather “What can God do for us?” or “How can God make us feel good?” Whether the endless quest for health and prosperity, or the continuous pursuit of a counterfeit spiritual experience, these extremes are a deviation from our true resting place of peace through Jesus Christ in surrender of self to God.
Jesus told us to first seek the kingdom of God and then all things that we needed would be added to us, not so that all things could be added to us. As Christians, we are not to set our heart on things or feelings of this world, for our Father in heaven knows what we really have need of and He will provide for us. It is in our intimate relationship with Jesus Christ that we are to focus all our energy and longing. “If anyone desires to come after Me,” declared Jesus, “let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me” (Luke 9:23). Daily denial of self that Christ can be all is the continual theme of God’s Word.
“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God,” instructed Paul, “that ye present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service” (Rom. 12:1). As Christ ministered to the needs of others and then laid down His life for all, we are to follow in His humble example of self-sacrifice for the good of others as led by the Holy Spirit. In Christ, living for self comes to an end and the joy of living for God begins. With this in mind, I have been able to focus on four areas of reasonable service in which we can draw closer into the will of our God and live a Christ-centered relationship during our temporary sojourn here on the earth.
Love God and Christ
Our Lord declared that the greatest commandment was to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. In order to do this, it is absolutely necessary that we put God first in our lives. And it is only through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit whom God has sent to us that we can really love God. If we love God, we will be devoted to Him and the good pleasure of His will. We cannot serve both God and ourselves, but must make a choice for one or the other.
I remember once witnessing to a man and telling him about the joy of a life in Christ, to which he responded, “What is God going to do for me today”? Sadly, this is the same message I often hear from within the church, but much more subtle and indirect. To expect anything more than what He has already given in the greatness of His love, is to lack appreciation for His great sacrifice through which we have the assurance of eternal life with Christ in His glory. When blessings do come our way, it is but the grace of a loving God upon our lives. We need to learn to be content with our lives in Christ without the demand or pursuit for the fading treasures and experiences of the world. It is by loving God and resting entirely in Him that we achieve true fulfillment, peace and joy.
If we are loving God, then we will also love our neighbors as ourselves. Whenever I ponder on what it means to love others, I am reminded of a movie I once watched called “The Fourth Wise Man.” In this story, a fictitious wise man sells all that he has, purchases three precious stones and leaves his country to find the Messiah with the intention on giving Him these precious gifts. From the very beginning, he arrives late at the planned meeting place with the other wise men and is left behind. The rest of his life is spent seeking for the Messiah and unselfishly helping others in love along the way. His precious stones are eventually exchanged one at a time for the well-being of others. The wise man at last sees the risen Lord as he is dying, and he apologizes to Jesus, telling Him that he no longer has anything to give to Him. Jesus replies by telling the dying wise man that all his acts of kindness to others were already received by Him as the gifts that really matter.
When I watched this movie it helped me to understand that unselfishly loving others means giving our time and finances with sincere compassion and concern as led by the Spirit. Often, we give to others out of the abundance of our resources, which are of little sacrifice to ourselves. What God requires is the helping of others even at the expense of our own comfort and rest rather than just when we have something to spare. When Christ humbled Himself to wash the feet of His disciples, He commanded that they do for others as he had done for them. It is when we really let the Holy Spirit love others through us that they can see Christ in our lives.
Spread the good news
When we love God and we love others, we should have the same desire of our Creator: that all men and women would come to repentance and that no one would perish (2 Pet. 3:9). The greatest gift that we can give to others is the message of salvation of Jesus Christ confirmed by our love for them. I first heard the gospel when I was 17 years old, at a time in my life when I was very confused and lost. A Pastor told me about salvation through the work of Jesus, I then accepted the Son of God into my heart, and from that moment on my life was never the same. I had passed from certain death to eternal life. I now know who I am in Jesus Christ and my eternal destiny with God. There is nothing greater that we can do for others as servants of a God who desires the salvation of all than to point the way through Jesus Christ.
I was able to watch the Holy Spirit pass this wonderful experience of salvation onto a young child recently. After hearing the message of Jesus Christ, he understood and accepted Jesus into his heart. We then explained to this child how God was now dwelling in him forever. “You mean that God will always be with me now?” he asked, excited that he could now have a secure relationship with God. I believe that one of the great joys in heaven is going to be sharing moments with those who we have helped by allowing the Holy Spirit to speak through us to them about the message of salvation.
Watch, wait and stay awake
When I was preparing to marry the woman who is now my wife, we continued in fellowship daily while planning for the wedding and smoothing out all the arrangements. We selected the guests together and sent out the invitations. My parents also worked with us to coordinate the special day when we would become one in Christ. We were excited about the upcoming marriage and looked forward to serving God together while here on the earth.
Though we do not know the day or hour when Christ will return, we do know that we are waiting for the Marriage Supper of the Lamb as His bride. This expectation should be the longing of our heart, for we are to be joined with Christ in a spiritual marriage forever. In the meantime, we need to be working together with our Lord and preparing for this great event with the rest of the Church. Our marriage to Christ is the hope of our faith for which we are to be waiting and watching, but often we get sidetracked on other issues or fall asleep altogether.
When Christ was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane for the cup of suffering to pass from Him, Peter and the other disciples fell asleep even though Jesus asked them to watch and pray with Him (Matt. 26:36-45). Often, I find myself caught up in the thoughts of my daily life as I work and go about my business, planning for tomorrow with little expectation of coming face to face with the Lord that day. Are we ready to face Jesus in spirit if He calls us home today, or for our gathering together to Him if He comes tomorrow? “Watch therefore,” said Christ, “for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming” (Matt. 25:13).
John the Baptist came to prepare the people for the coming of the Messiah. John’s entire life here on earth was dedicated to the service of God and he was used in a mighty way to further the Kingdom of Heaven. His life was one of absolute sacrifice of self for God and for others. John the Baptist was not seeking after health and prosperity, or spiritual experiences to make himself feel good. It is when we cast aside our self-centered philosophy and enter into a Christ-centered relationship, that we will agree with John on what it means to be living in Jesus Christ. Like the Baptist, we too will recognize that “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).
© Robert Alan King BibleCommentator.com, previously published in Vista (May 1997), The Church Herald & Holiness Banner (January 1997), and Pulpit Helps (October 1996). All rights reserved.