In Luke 9:23 Jesus reveals a lurking and powerful enemy, which seeks to undermine the purposes of God, by undermining the blood bought saints of God. This enemy is SELF.
“If any man desires to come after me, let him deny himSELF (caps. added by me for emphasis), take up his cross and follow Me”
Being that Jesus statement is so well know among the saints, it is easy to gloss over its depth. Jesus is declaring that if we want to be His, we must choose what is most contrary to our humanity: We must refuse to propagate, provide for and protect SELF life. The reason denying self is so difficult is that it leads us to place all that is inherent in fallen humanity on the cross. Let’s face facts, to propagate or promote SELF is in our best human interest. To provide for oneself is in our best human interest. To protect oneself is also in our best human interest, but these three base SELF interests, are contrary to our calling in Christ. This is why self is the most prevalent and powerful enemy against the saints.
I realize some may conjecture with this assessment, even suggest the devil is our chief adversary, but scripture bears out in favor our my previous statement. Consider James 1:14 relays that we are tempted when drawn away by our own lust and enticed. In simple terms, Satan temps us by dangling something before us that will satisfy SELF, when we are called to deny ourselves. To build upon this reality we understand Satan does this by using the lust of the eyes, of the lusts of the flesh and the pride of life. What do those three lusts appeal to? All three appeal to the propagation, provision and protection of our SELF life.
Therefore the greatest enemy to the completion of the Great Commission in our sphere of influence, to our being holy as He is holy and to being led by the Holy Spirit, is giving in to SELF.
Show me an individual, who shares the message of Jesus Christ freely, because of his love for the Savior and I will show you a man beset with temptations of greater and greater intensity. This one will be tempted to please himself in hours of “down time”. This one will be tempted to promote himself rather than Christ, and tempted to worry about losing provision or favor for spending to much time on Jesus. This dear one will be tempted to save the image of SELF that family and friends have, by choosing their voice and expectations over those of God. These temptations to feed SELF will come in wave after wave, like surf pounding a lone man on a beach in a hurricane. If he gives in once to the pounding, he is weakened, allowing the next wave to exert greater force to keep him submitting to SELF. Should he choose when battered to lean against the weight of the waves of SELF, he gains strength in denying to deny it more, by God’s grace and the Spirit’s empowerment.
For this dear saint, life can begin to feel being a boxer staggering to his feet, only to be hit with another body blow. Being stunned in those moments we may get up and swing blindly, or cover up to protect ourselves, only to get knocked over again. Let us remember there is no harm in staying down until the 8th count, collecting ourselves and clearing out the cobwebs. In these moments where temptations invites us to give attention to the “cares of this life, the deceitfulness of riches and other things” (Mark 4:19), we collect ourselves by disciplining our minds to see Christ (Isaiah 26:3) and waiting on Him for power and direction (Isaiah 40:31).
Should this individual overcome these temptations to propagate, and provide for the SELF-life, new temptations with greater intensity will pound their soul. These new temptations will threaten the individual’s livelihood, health and even their lives. Through persecution the enemy will pound away at the faith, with the intent of turning us away from faith in Christ and the blessed hope that we would focus on protecting SELF. Once more we must fix our faith on Christ (Isaiah 26:3), wait for His leading (Isaiah 40:31), and move to where our hope is settled on seeing Christ face to face in glory (The Blessed Hope: Titus 2:11-14; I John 3:1-3).
Show men a church, in decline for decades and see a fellowship in danger of no longer being able to be moved by the mission of Christ, a desire for His glory or His burden to reach the lost. I realize this sounds harsh, and its not to say that there is never any thought of these things, but Christ and His mission is not what is usually leading these declining churches. What is one may ask? Simply put: Whatever they see will fix their numeric decline. These fellowships become SELF focused often trying to recapture the prestige of the good days long gone. In these situations there is a diagnosis of decline and a prescription of what will heal that state of being. Perhaps a new pastor or musical direction for the worship team? Perhaps a remodel at the facility or a new small group program? Perhaps a new outreach or website to increase our exposure? The focus in these cases is not on God, but on how we can fix our situation, one which makes us feel inadequate. This is to be focused with SELF.
In these churches of decline, the condition may lie in God’s pruning or years of un-confessed sin in leadership or rank and file members, or in being like the church of Ephesus in Revelation 2 (full of good programs, teaching and apologetic, but having left their first love behind). Regardless of what brings a fellowship to SELF-focused effort, the end is the same without refocusing on Christ… DEATH and loss of corporate witness. Therefore churches of SELF sickness need to refuse to play surgeon on their own body. They must remember that the DEAD can only be alive if revived by the One in whom all resurrection life resides… Jesus Christ! In simplicity it is time to refuse the temptation to fix our deficiency, remember our first love and return to Him.
Why is this so important? Because a majority of the Church in the US is in decline, with no real witness of the power of God in our ministry and little manifestation of Christ’s manifest presence when we meet. Turning away from S.E.L.F. (Sensual, Elevated, Lusty, Flesh), means simply waiting on Jesus and re-establishing why we followed Him in the first place. This is often an arduous journey, but when persevered in His praise and joy will return from within. Then we can understand that God inhabits the praise of His people in real time. Then, as He leads and with Living Water flowing, growing in Christ-like maturity becomes our state of being.
Show me a church that has multiplied to where new facilities “need” to be build and people begin to take notice of its ministries, music and programs and I will show you a church that is soon to be tempted by SELF. In these favorable circumstances it seems that more is never enough when it comes to people in the seats, as we must expand our reach (of course for the glory of God). SELF rears its ugly head when attendance numbers become needed weekly records. In this mode, where we need to keep the butts we have in their seats, we plan how we can present our-SELF (our church) to meet the preferences of the people we have. This is also done with an eye on providing relevance to those who may come. Sadly the people in the pews are at risk of not being discipled and being used to propagate the leaders view of the church’s SELF identity.
This temptation to propagate, promote and protect SELF in the venue of supposed successful churches, is insidious. Like with many temptation this one does not present itself as coming from the devil, but from good old common sense and need for the gospel. We convince ourselves we are really trying to present the gospel in relevant ways, that souls can be saved. This sounds great, therefore, we begin to look for creative ways to share the gospel and make it palatable to the lost generations around us. The only problem is that the gospel will never be palatable to the natural man, and we are not to dress it up, or look to present it in ways to tantalize; We are to simply preach Jesus Christ and Him crucified, which is the power of God. When this is forgotten we are more interested in getting more people into the church than glorifying Jesus, while we justify our SELF lust by saying it is for God’s glory.
Therefore the gospel being preached by many “growing” churches, although tinged and flavored with scripture and Christian elements, is not the gospel; Having no power for the transformation of the souls of men. It is for this reason that many pew dwellers are undiscerning, undiscipled, and not filled with the Holy Spirit, as they are taught to work for the vision of SELF the church has. In this environment the potential for the whole congregation to get caught up in the religious error that more is always better is quite high, for if they are coming we must be doing something right, right? Yet we don’t realize we have become like king David when he sinfully numbered his troops; We want to see the explosive numbers as a testimony of our proficiency and power, instead of glorifying God alone.
How do church leaders combat this temptation to SELF? They must remember that more is not always better, by heeding the word of God, “He that loves silver will not be satisfied with silver, nor he that loves abundance with increase. This is vanity. When a mans things are multiplied those that use them multiply; and what good are they to the owner, except to behold them with their eyes?” (Ecclesiastes 5:10-11). They must also remember we are called to make disciples not converts. God calls us to take regenerated souls and raise them up to maturity, not for the purpose of filling a building, but that where ever their feet move may be, they would be sustained and led by the Holy Spirit to glorify Jesus Christ. The last time I checked, even the most devout church goers spend 95% of their time each week, walking outside of their fellowship location. We ought to focus on discipling believers to live maturely in that allotment of time, with 95% of our effort.
I am not saying that all “growing” churches are falling to this temptation to propagate, provide for and protect SELF, but that this is a very defined and general trend among churches in America. Let us be wary of becoming census takers in the fellowship of the saints. Let us become wary of rationalizing the lie that in order to minister the gospel we need to meet preference and proclivity, in order to open a back door where Jesus can step in. Jesus is not a back door man, for behold He stands at the door and knocks, with the bloody cross of His love in full view, that all men and woman would consider submitting SELF to Jesus death on their behalf.
As you ponder these examples today, ask the Holy Spirit to reveal where SELF is exerting influence in your life. When this is known, follow Paul’s example and “die daily” to SELF. Even though it is our greatest enemy, Jesus is undefeated against SELF in anyone, who lives by faith and obedience.