Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Fighting Temptations to Believe What We Want to Believe

When the Lord Jesus came to earth, He performed the most amazingly selfless act that this world has ever seen. He voluntarily chose to take the sins of humankind upon Himself at the cross. Nor were His sufferings in crucifixion merely physical and mental. In some way that we are not able to properly understand, He also suffered spiritually for sinful and doomed humanity.

Called to follow Christ in His unselfishness

As Christians, we are called to follow in Christ’s unselfish footsteps. In Philippians 2:5-11, for example, Paul instructs the Christians at Philippi to imitate His self-giving for others. This is a command that certainly also applies to every Christian today.

Unlike some sinful tendencies which badly affect only some people, selfishness is something that strongly affects every human being. Even after we are saved and receive the Holy Spirit, and He rolls up His sleeves and gets to work purifying us morally, it is surely true that before death not one of us will ever be free of a significant tendency to be selfish. The problem is too deep seated for that.

To be unselfish is also to act very differently from the average man or woman on the street. It is to put the interests of God and others before our own interests, and the world simply doesn’t act in that way very much. Even when people do things for others, the motive usually includes a large selfish component. People’s main motivation for helping others is often, for example, to be noticed by others or to feel good about themselves.

For Christians to act genuinely unselfishly, then, is to swim not only against a strong current inside ourselves that is pulling us in the opposite direction, but also against another parallel current that consists of the example of most of the people around us.

Nevertheless, we are commanded to be perfect (Matthew 5:48). So, impossible though that goal may be to reach, we must pursue it as far as we are able. And that includes pursuing perfect unselfishness.

Tempted to believe what we want to believe

One way in which we are all tempted to be selfish is by believing what we want to believe.

I write articles on a range of Christian topics, and I often look on the internet and elsewhere to see what views Christians hold on various things. I am frequently pained, and not infrequently appalled, by the shallow, simplistic arguments that professing Christians so often make to support some case or other. Time and time again I am left with the strong impression that people claiming to be Christians – and I am sure some of them will be genuinely born again – are just believing what they want to believe on a topic.

We are all under obligation to put everything to the test to the best of our ability (1 Thessalonians 5:21). And whenever we find that we believe something we want to believe, that is the time to be especially careful. That is the time to examine our hearts to see if we might have fallen into the trap of simply selfishly believing what we want to. That is the time to make as sure as we can that the reasons we believe what we do about the issue in question are strong and well grounded. Or, if we think that God has spoken to us in some way, that is the time to ask ourselves if we are sure it was the voice of God we heard and not something else.

I think many Christians show a real lack of fear of God in this area. There is a sense in which everything we do should be done in fear and trembling before almighty God (Philippians 2:12; Hebrews 10:26-31 etc.). We should be keenly aware that He sees what is going on in our hearts at the deepest level. And we need to realise too that we will have to give an account to Him for every single thing we do (Matthew 12:36).

People of the world often just believe what they want to about things, and provide unconvincing arguments to make their case. Christians need to be very different in this respect. If we are really wrestling with issues unselfishly, we can expect to find that the conclusions we reach are often uncomfortable or even painful. They will frequently be ones that go against what we want.

Imitating the Lord

In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus, in agony, prayed to God that, if it were possible, He might not have to go through the sufferings of the cross (Mark 14:32-36 etc.). However, unselfishly He submitted His situation to His Father and reached the conclusion that He did indeed have to choose to suffer what was coming. Despite the enormous cost, He didn’t choose just to believe what He wanted to believe about the will of God for Himself at that time, but said, “Not My will but Yours be done.”

Let us all, in some weak imitation of what the Lord did at Gethsemane, resolve never simply to believe what we want to believe about a decision we need to take, a controversial issue, or anything else. Rather, let us do everything we can to believe what is true, regardless of whether it is or is not what we want to hear.

See also:

Christians Need to Put Everything to the Test