Saturday, June 19, 2010

Word of the Week for June 22, 2010

What affects our Faith? Self-interest

It was difficult choosing the phrase “self-interest” because “selfishness, self-centered-ness, sinful nature, self-esteem, ego, the flesh” all are terms that overlap and describe various aspects of our own self-serving nature.

Of course popular society and those stongly affected by popular society don’t want to think of this as a problem. But on the night He was betrayed to be crucified, Christ said: “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” (John 15:13) And He both suffered and died to demonstrate that love for you. But most of America and Europe would rather side with Whitney Houston when she sang “I found the greatest love of all Inside of me. The greatest love of all is easy to achieve. Learning to love yourself: It is the greatest love of all ”.

So why is it that we should go to Church? Most go to Church for Whitney Houston’s reasons: self-interest, selfishness, a self-serving desire to feel that we are better than others for some reason or another, or at least, better than we were before. In being better, perhaps, somehow God will be more pleased with us.

But self-interest is exactly the wrong reason. We do not go to Church to get things from God based on our self-interest. Professor Daniel Deutschlander rightly says:

“We do not come to church to do our own thing, anymore than we go to the emergency room in the hospital to do our own thing. We go to both places wounded, in need of help that only comes from another. We go to both places for healing, where our opinion and preference is of no consequence; only that of the healer matters.” (p. 6)

Our own sinful natures crave self-satisfaction from any experience, especially religious experience. But Christ pomises the Cross.

“Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:34–38)

What do we seek from worship? Is it genuine or merely counterfeit Christianity? Again, Prof. Deutshlander points out:

“We see on every hand a desire to make Christianity fun and happy-go-lucky. Some churches and their leaders go so far as to claim that God really wants Christians always to be healthy, wealthy, and wise. Others turn worship services into hours of self-discovery; the goal is to give the Christian personal fulfillment and better character. If the individual can learn to get along better with himself, then he will get along better with everyone else too, and God should be happy about that. Still others are obsessed with the notion that the true church should be successful, big, and influential in the world and national politics. Within the church, no matter what denominational label the particular church may wear, many members want to be their own bible; they want the freedom to pick and choose what doctrines to believe and what behavior to praise or blame. Their choices change with their circumstances of the moment, and woe betide any preacher who tells them on the basis of Scriptures that they are wrong and their choices damnable in theeyes of God. All of that is a theology of glory, a theology which lets man be his own god and turns the God of the Bible into a creature subject to personal whims of the moment.” (p. vi)

But the Son of God and Son of Man, Jesus Christ, did not come to be served, but to serve (Mark 10:45). The Son of God “made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.” (Philippians 2:7–8)

Christ did not go to the cross for His own self-interest. He went to the cross for the benefit of those who hate Him by their own natures. He went to the cross for sinners. And we are those sinners. He served us! God served us!

So Church should not be a place where we look for something relevant to our needs and desires. It should be a gathering around God’s Word where we confess our sin and utter inadequacy to satisfy His justice. Church should be a place where we depend upon His Word to forgive our sins in the ways He has established: through the Bible, through the Absolution, through Baptism, through the Lord’s Supper.

Many years ago a friend accused me of depending upon Christ and my religion as a Christian as a “crutch” to get me through life. I replied, “No, Christ is not a crutch. He’s the whole life support system of someone who cannot live without medical intervention. He is the operating table, the anesthesiologist, the doctor, the recovery: He is all that we need in this body and life. Because He has given us His own body and life for us, so that we will rise again at the last day to live forever with Him as He originally created us.

It is not our self-interest, but Christ’s love for us.

Prof. Deutschlander’s book is called “The Theology of the Cross” from Northwestern Publishing House, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 2008.