Today’s culture is selling you something. It’s written all over the commercials you see on TV. It’s in books, it’s in songs; it’s in movies and shows. It is the driving force behind almost every popular movement that springs up, dominates the airwaves, and then dies down again. It saturates our academics and forms the foundation of our commerce.
It is all-reaching, and no matter who you are or where you live, there is no escaping it.
Do you know what it is?
We live in what is perhaps the most self-centered culture the world has ever known. Commercials bombard us on a daily basis with the promise that we can “have it all.” Self-help books peddle the idea that the only way to be happy is to ‘learn to love yourself.’ Business ethics have largely gone by the wayside, and the preferred method to get ahead is to be the one who pushes everyone else down in a ruthless climb up the corporate ladder.
The phrase used to be, “Nice guys finish first.” But in recent times, that’s been replaced by the far more sinister, “Nice guys finish last.”
Indeed, the world’s teaching is that the one sure way of getting ahead in life is to focus entirely on you. How often have you heard people say that they’re “going to focus more on me?” How often have you been told that you must “love yourself, no matter what?” Or what about this one: “Your only responsibility is to yourself?”
Let me ask another question: is this a right way to go about life, or is it dreadfully wrong? If we go to the Bible, we’ll see the answer provided to us as clear as day.
We will start with a visit to 2 Timothy 3, concentrating on verses 1 through 5.
“But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. 2 People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, 4 treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.”
That’s quite an indictment on these men and women. Nearly twenty different words and phrases are used to describe their conduct, not one of which is positive. Now, note also that verse 1 contains within it the phrase, “in the last days.” On this topic, the MacArthur Study Bible commentary states,
“The word for “times” had to do with epochs, rather than clock or calendar time. Such savage, dangerous eras or epochs will increase in frequency and severity as the return of Christ approaches. The church age is fraught with these dangerous movements accumulating strength as the end nears. The last days. This phrase refers to this age, the time since the first coming of the Lord Jesus.”
Following from this, it’s clear that we are indeed living “in the last days,” and have been for nearly two thousand years. However, as the time of Christ’s return draws nearer, the severity of sinfulness and deceit will increase, giving rise to an era marked by increasingly selfish, dominating, calloused, and unloving individuals.
Moving on, James 3:16 gives us another (much shorter) passage on the vices of selfishness.
“For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.”
Once more, we see another fundamental force of our culture outlined in this text. How many times have you felt a hot surge of anger when someone else got what you thought you deserved? We all feel this way at times – I certainly have – but many people in today’s world are allowing this type of behavior to define them. We are taught by prevailing cultural wisdom that jealousy is good, and that it’s perfectly healthy – even expected – to have selfish desires that nearly control your life.
Yet the Bible tells us that wherever jealousy, wherever hardness of heart, wherever self-seeking, self-centered ambitions exist, there will be consequences. Such is our society today – a culture filled with selfishness and envy, a culture where revenge is looked upon as a virtue. It’s a society wherein parents are subservient to children, abusive spouses are ubiquitous, and minor disagreements are met with furious retaliation.
It’s all the horror and darkness in this world that causes many an idealist to look out the window and muse something like, ‘We humans are terrible. We ruin everything we touch. We wreck the environment and oppress the weak, and we just carry on like nothing is wrong.’
Indeed, to the one without Christ, there is no hope. We live in a dark world, a world filled with selfishness and injustice and sin, and that’s not going to change, at least not for now. But for those who have Jesus, there is hope. There is hope overflowing, hope that never ends, hope that abounds to the ends of the earth.
You see, God is not mocked. He is not caught by surprise. He knows our predicaments – every one of them – and yet He chose to send His only Son to die for us that we might have life, and that in that life He might have the ultimate glory.
He came to testify; He came to die, He came to be buried and then triumphantly rise again to the glory of God, having dealt sin a mortal blow. On that cross, Jesus Christ gained a resounding victory over death. He put Satan to utter shame. He destroyed the works of the devil. When He arose, He got up with every bit of power He possessed – which is to say, all the power there ever has been or ever will be – and He spread His arms wide.
He told us, in John 14:6,
“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”
What a promise we have in our God! What an amazing Lord He is, that He would leave His place in heaven to humble Himself to the point of death on a cross.
With His sacrifice, God opened the door to Himself. He opened the door to eternal life in Him, to peace in this life, to abundant love in our hearts. But what He also said was this, in Luke 9:23 –
“…If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”
Today, most are familiar with the idea of salvation by faith alone – this is known by the Latin term Sola Fide – but comparatively rarer in teaching is the material found in Luke 9:23. Quite simply, to follow Jesus, we must deny ourselves, take up our cross day-by-day, and follow after Him. This isn’t optional. It isn’t an add-on, or a side activity. Following Christ requires one thing – your entire life. All you are, all your dreams, desires, faults, flaws, failings, and talents, belong to Him if you wish to follow Him.
Thus, I ask you: who do you live for? Modern culture teaches us that the highest purpose of life is to live for you. The Bible, on the other hand, teaches the exact opposite: to truly live, you must live for Christ. In Galatians 2:20, the Apostle Paul makes an incredible declaration of faith and surrender to the Lord,
“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
These are not the words of a man who begrudgingly served the Lord Jesus. Paul speaks his praises without reservation, without inhibition. His writings are full of reverent obedience and heartfelt joy towards God, and towards the Son who brought him out of a life of sin and into a life of eternal significance.
Paul was content wherever he went. His joy and faith lied in Jesus, and Jesus Christ never failed him. Jesus never failed any of His apostles. He never failed any of His followers. He is the great shepherd who lays down His life for the flock, and who came to earth to serve the lowest of the low, that He might ascend to the highest of the high.
Christ, the suffering servant, the one who paid it all, now sits at the right hand of God. And He will never fail. He cannot fail! It is no more possible for Him to lose than it is for fire to become ice, or for the sun to become the moon.
But to truly know Him, to truly receive Him, we must surrender to Him. We must abide in Him. We must “take up our cross” and follow Him.
This will mean forsaking some of our own desires. It will mean giving up some of our perceived “freedom” to act in whatever way we want.
It will mean that we no longer live for us, but for Him. All those ideas about “focusing on me” or “being responsible only for myself” will be thrown out the window. Our idols, whatever they may have been or are, must be exchanged in favor of the One who is truly worthy of our worship and admiration.
Lay down your life and live for Christ. He is the only One who cannot fail, and the only One worthy of all praise and glory. He is the greatest friend you can ever have, the strongest king, and the closest of all brothers.