“For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.” (Philippians 3:18-19)
Paul speaks of some people who live as enemies of the cross of Christ, and from his description, we learn that their offense is that they (gasp!) live for themselves.
In a God-centered world, rejecting or ignoring God is the heart of evil. A life lived singularly for self, following after every desire and passion, giving only lip-service to God, is a fundamental wrong, and, Paul says, will end in destruction.
This goes against so much literature and blogging and teaching that presents itself as Christian. There is an abundance of messages telling you to live ultimately for yourself, wrapped in a thin veil of Christianity: “That’s what God wants for you.”
Here are six of these (unbiblical) messages:
1. Your sin is not that bad. If you say sin is bad, you make people feel shameful and guilty. And there is perhaps no greater sin in our culture than to make someone feel shameful or guilty. If you do that, you should feel shameful or guilty!
2. God is not righteously angry towards you. We want a god who is all love, and no anger. But the truth is, that’s impossible. It’s impossible for love to exist without anger. Because if you love someone or something, you hate whatever hurts that person or thing.
For God to love what is good, he must hate what is evil. For God to love his own glory—and he does—he must hate what minimizes his glory. For God to love his people—and he does—he must hate what hurts his people.
And so apart from Jesus, God is righteously angry towards us. Apart from Jesus, things will not ultimately go well for us.
It is this one that perhaps we most want to ignore or sanitize. And it is understandable, but when we do it leads to the rest of these statements…
3. Your need is not that great. What you need from God is just a little help, as a kind of therapist, or advisor, or wise grandpa figure. But you don’t need him to save you. And you certainly don’t need him to save you from his just wrath and judgment. The situation is not that dire.
Actually, most of your life you probably don’t even really need God. He’s just there for the times when things go really bad.
4. The cross is nice but not necessary. If it is merely a little help that we need, rather than saving, the cross is certainly a nice example of selfless love, but that’s all it is. It’s not the assurance that our sins have been atoned for, once for all. It’s not Jesus bearing the wrath of God meant for us. It’s not the central component of God’s plan of salvation.
5. God’s love is expected and unmotivating. The intent of those who want to downplay sin and God’s just anger is certainly not to lessen God’s love. But that’s the necessary effect.
If we are pretty darn awesome just as we are, only needing a little guidance here and there, we expect God to love us. I mean, look at us. And when he does, we’re unmoved and unmotivated by it. We even demand it.
6. God is small and insignificant. And then finally, the result of this process is a god who is small and insignificant. Not to be worshipped. Not to be feared. Not to be obeyed and loved. Not to devote your whole life to because of who he is and what he has done for you.
And of course, in our sinful state, apart from the reality-changing confrontation of God’s word, this is what we want. We want a small and insignificant god. Because then we can live for ourselves. We can follow our belly, build our own kingdoms.
Let me suggest that the whole of the Bible pushes back clearly against all of these teachings. Turn anywhere in your Bibles and you will find a God who is great and powerful and to be feared; a God whose love is unexpected, and yet real and great and motivating; a cross that is not only necessary, but displays God’s perfect power and wisdom and love.