[b]Self Centredness Leads To Spiritual Death[/b] - [i]Zac Poonen[/i]
We can never enjoy deliverance from our self-life before we
see something of its total corruption. Let us look at the
elder son (in the parable in Luke 15), for he illustrates,
perhaps better than anyone else in the Bible, the utter
rottenness of the self-life. The younger son in the parable
is usually considered the worse of the two boys. But as we
look a little more carefully at the elder brother, we will
discover that in Gods eyes, he was just as bad, if not
worse. True, he did not commit the same sins as his younger
brother. But his heart was crooked and self-centered.
The human heart is basically the same in every individual.
When the Bible describes the human heart as deceitful above
all things and desperately wicked (Jer. 17:9), it refers to
every child of Adam. The refinements of civilization, lack
of opportunity to commit sin and a sheltered upbringing may
perhaps have kept us from falling into the grosser sins that
some others have fallen into. But we cannot, on that count,
consider ourselves better than they. For if we had had the
same pressures they faced, we would have undoubtedly ended
up committing the same sins. This may be a humiliating fact
for us to acknowledge, but it is true. The sooner we
recognize this fact, the sooner we shall experience
deliverance. Paul recognized that no good thing dwelt in his
flesh (Rom. 7:18). That was his first step to freedom (Rom.8:2).
Men look on the outward appearance and call some good and
others bad. But God Who looks at the heart sees all men in
the same condition. The Bible teaches the total depravity of
all men. Consider Romans 3:10-12, for example: "There is
none righteous, (and just in case we think that is an
overstatement, it continues to say), no, not one. There is
none that understands, there is no-one who seeks after God.
They are all gone out of the way, they are together become
unprofitable. There is no-one who does good, no, not one."
Romans 3:10-20 is a summing-up of the guilt of all humanity -
of the irreligious as well as the religious. In Romans 1:18-32
we have a description of "the younger son"-the externally
immoral and godless man. In Romans 2, we have a portrayal
of "the elder son" - the religious man who is just as bad a sinner.
After having described these two categories of people,
the Holy Spirit sums up the case by saying that both groups
are alike guilty. There is no difference between one and the other.
Man is indeed totally depraved; and if God does not reach down
and do something for him, there is certainly no hope for him.
The elder son (Luke 15:25-32) can be taken to symbolize a
Christian worker. If the father in the story is a type of
God, it would be legitimate to consider the son as a type of
an active Christian - for we see him in the parable coming
home after a day's work in his father's fields. Here was no
lazy young man, sitting at home and enjoying his father's
wealth. Here was one who worked hard for his father, one who
apparently loved his father more than his younger brother
did - for after all, he did not leave home and waste his
father's wealth, like the latter. He was apparently more
devoted, but actually, as we shall see, just as selfish as
his younger brother. It is the picture of a believer active
in the Lord's work and apparently full of devotion to his
Lord but still centered in himself.
God created this world with certain laws built into it.
If those laws are violated, there will be some form of loss or
injury. Consider one law for example: God has ordained that
the earth should revolve around the sun. If the earth had a
will of its own and decided one day that it would no longer
be centered in the sun, but would only revolve around
itself, there would be no change of seasons and soon all
life on earth would perish. Death would enter in. In the
same way, Adam was created to be centered in God. The day he
refused God as his Center and chose to be centered in
himself - this is what was implied in his choosing to eat of
the tree that God had forbidden - he died, as God had said he would.
There is a lesson here for us: In the measure in which our
Christian life and service are centered in ourselves, in
that measure we shall experience spiritual death - in spite
of our being born again and in spite of our fundamentalism.
And all unconsciously, we shall be ministering spiritual
death to others too. We may have a reputation as keen and
zealous workers for the Father (as the elder son perhaps had),
but we may still merit the rebuke of the Lord, "I know
your reputation as a live and active (Christian), but you
are dead" (Rev. 3:1-LB). This is a tragic but dangerous
possibility in Christian work. Many a Christian worker lives
on the reputation he has built up for himself. Looked up to
by others, he is often unconscious of the fact, that God
sees him in an altogether different light. Never having been
delivered from self-centeredness himself, he is unable to
deliver others even if he preaches beautifully! And so, a
warning is given for all of us in the story of the elder son.
God often allows times of pressure to come into our lives to
bring up from within us our corrupt self-life, so that we
begin to see ourselves as we really are. It is fairly easy
for us to consider ourselves spiritual when our circumstances
are easy. When we have no problems to tackle, when nobody
is irritating us, when things are going smoothly and our
co-workers are congenial, we can deceive ourselves
concerning the real state of our hearts. But wait till we
get a co-worker who irritates us, or a neighbor who annoys
us all the time, and the veneer of spirituality disappears.
Our self-life will then manifest itself in all its ugliness.
This was what happened to the elder son. When his younger
brother was honored, he got upset. No one would ever have
thought that this elder son could have behaved so peevishly.
He had appeared such a nice person all along. But he hadn't
faced pressure like this before. Now, his real nature was
manifested. It was not the provocation at that moment that
made him evil. No. The provocation merely brought up to the
surface what was within all the time.
Amy Carmichael has said, A cup brimful of sweet water
cannot spill even one drop of bitter water, however suddenly
jolted. If bitter water comes out of our lives and our
lips, it is because it has always been there. It is not the
provocation or the irritation that make us bitter or
unspiritual. They only bring out of us what is already
within. And so it should make us deeply thankful to God that
He allows such times to come upon our lives when we see the
corruption of our own natures. If it were not for such occasions,
we might never realize that there is a fountain of corruption
within us, and that not one good thing dwells in our flesh.
This also teaches us that suppression is not victory. One
person may explode in anger in a trying situation, while
another, (with a little more self-control), in a similar
situation, may only boil inwardly, without any steam
escaping through his lips! In men's eyes, the second person
may have a reputation for meekness. But God Who sees the
hearts knows that both men boiled within and considers them
both equally bad. The difference in their external conduct
was merely a result of different temperaments, which matter
nothing to God. If suppression were victory, then I think
salesmen are among the most Christ-like people that I have
ever met! No matter how much their customers tax their
patience, they still retain a gracious attitude towards
them, for the sake of their business - even though they may
be boiling within! No. Suppression is not victory. God does
not want us merely to appear delivered and spiritual - but
to be actually delivered. Paul said, "It is no longer I, but
Christ Who lives in me" (Gal. 2:20). This is the point to
which God wants to bring us.