The Gospel Breaks the Chains of Self-centeredness

by Paul Tautges | September 29, 2011 4:55 am

Sin is not only willful independence from the Creator, but it is also utter self-centeredness. The human heart demands its own way and demands it now, regardless of the consequences its choices may bring on itself or on others. But it is not merely inconsiderate of others; sin also makes the sinner cruel. For example, once Adam and Eve dethroned God, it was not long before sin displayed its ugliness. Their firstborn son, Cain, envied his brother’s righteousness and his acceptance with God and, in anger against God and man, first murdered Abel in his heart, and then carried out his desire by literally taking his brother’s life (Gen. 4:4–8). This explains why the Apostle John used Cain’s sin as a contrast to biblical love, which leads us not to hate others, but to lay down our lives sacrificially for their good (1 John 3:11–16). It also explains why Jesus exalted the two “love commandments” above all others when he answered the inquiring lawyer, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 22:37–40). There is a sense in which we may say that, if we would always love God and others perfectly, we would never sin. “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (Rom. 13:10).

Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky realistically paints the depth of man’s depravity in The Brothers Karamazov, the story of the murder of a despicable father by one of his four sons. While musing to his younger brother about the deeper questions of life, Ivan, the intellectual son, correctly observes the violent nature of man. “People talk sometimes of bestial cruelty, but that’s a great injustice and insult to the beasts; a beast can never be so cruel as a man, so artistically cruel. The tiger only tears and gnaws, that’s all he can do. He would never think of nailing people by the ears, even if he were able to do it.” The reason man’s inhumane behavior remains more cruel than that of a wild animal tearing apart its victim is that an animal kills instinctively for survival, but man kills for self-exaltation, and since he is made in the image of God, his conscience condemns him.

The image of God stamped upon man sets him apart from the rest of creation and makes him morally accountable to his Creator. Being made in the image of God also establishes a permanent connection between man’s actions toward man and man’s actions toward God. In other words, an attack on man is an attack on God, his Creator. This is the theological underpinning of capital punishment. “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man” (Gen. 9:6). James built on this theology when he reasoned regarding the tongue, “With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God” (James 3:9). Therefore, the effects of sin are not only spiritual, in the sense of impacting one’s relationship with God, but they are relational on the human level as well. Sin disturbs human relationships and, as it does so, it disrupts the relation of the image-bearer with his Creator. When man’s selfishness attacks other image-bearers, God is rightly offended.

As we counsel one another we must continually be aware of the utter self-centeredness of sin and point each other back to the message of the cross and the empty tomb. For Jesus died and rose again to free us from enslavement to our innate selfishness: “that they who live should no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf” (2 Cor. 5:15). Glory!

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