I’ve been a Christian for a long time, but one truth I’ve learned is that life doesn’t get easier and I’m still self-centered and proud. At times, even more than I realize. Some days, this truth grips my heart with guilt and remorse. But most times, I simply pat myself on the back and reassure myself that “I’m not that bad”.
I hate to admit it, but I struggle daily to put God first in my life even after knowing how much He loves me (Romans 8:31-39), how faithful He is despite my sin (Hosea 2:14-15), and how He has made me His child (John 1:12-13).
Of course, there have been moments when I’ve tried to make my life “more about God and less about me” after being convicted by a Bible study or teaching. But those moments are usually fleeting; I settle back in the driving seat not long after and relegate the boot (yes, not even the backseat) to God.
So these four signs come from a place of “experience”—one that I’m not proud of. And I invite you to join me in critically evaluating whether you’ve knowingly (or unknowingly) done the same.
1. You care about following the Bible . . . but more about following societal norms
Every day, we’re faced with hundreds of decisions—from minor ones like what outfit to wear to work, to life-changing ones like who to tie the knot with. Though we know at the back of our minds that we ought to do all things for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31), we allow our lives to be governed by the same considerations society has: Will this major land me a good job? Will marrying this person give me financial security? Will aligning myself with this person improve my job prospects? Because of the questions we ask, we gravitate towards the same self-actualizing decisions the rest of the world makes.
But if we truly understand the gospel, we see a completely different picture of what and whom God deems as important. The world glorifies the rich, the famous, the powerful, the proud, and those who come first. But God blesses the poor, includes the outcast, cares for the weak, exalts the humble, and recognizes those who are last. The gospel turns everything we know on its head.
If we truly believe in Jesus’ upside-down kingdom, the way we live must necessarily be different from the rest of the world. Will we make decisions according to what God values? Will we give generously to the poor, reach out to the marginalized, help the needy and sick, shine the spotlight on the humble, and affirm the last—even if it sets us back financially, emotionally, and physically?
2. You care about what God thinks . . . but not as much as what others think
The first few years into my job, I worked hard, and felt good whenever my work was recognized by my boss or colleagues. I didn’t mind the long hours, but got extremely affected if my work was not recognized or if my boss was unhappy with me. Frustration and self-doubt occupied my mind even after working hours and I couldn’t concentrate on anything else.
Though I knew in my mind that I should be working for the Lord (Colossians 3:22-25), my heart was far more concerned about gaining the approval of my earthly master. For some of us, it may not be our bosses we’re trying to please, but our partners, spouses, or even friends. Whoever our “earthly master” may be, let us remember that ultimately, it is God’s opinion—not theirs—that matters. After all, He is the one who owns every one of us: He made us, loved us, saved us, and finally, will judge us.
Recently, I’ve been reading a book called Not Yet Married by writer and managing editor at DesiringGod.org, Marshall Segal, which has challenged me to reframe my perspective about work. In his suggested “Eight Aims for Every Job”, his very first point is that we should “aspire to make God look great”. Instead of seeking the affirmation and approval of our earthly masters, we should be more concerned about God’s glory (1 Corinthians 10:31, Matthew 5:16).
And that means rethinking what work (or life in general) is all about and what constitutes success. So what if we didn’t get the recognition or response we wanted from our hard labor? If we had the opportunity to lead another person to Christ in the course of our daily activity, we have achieved something of far greater value and eternal worth.
3. You care about others . . . but more about your personal time and space
After a long hard day at work, the tendency to be fiercely protective of our “me-time” is a real one. Because I’ve worked so hard today, I deserve to pamper myself. For some of us, this could be binge-watching the latest Netflix show, hitting the gym to keep our bodies trim and fit, or simply sitting on our couch scrolling through our social media feeds.
We know that reading the Bible is the key to helping us know God intimately and that we are called to serve the church and care for the needy (Matthew 25:31-40). But we tell ourselves that those things can come after we’ve tended to our own needs. Our hearts are grieved not because of the social injustice in the world, but because someone has infringed our personal space and inconvenienced us.
I have been guilty of pushing back or rescheduling appointments with friends who are going through difficult patches because I knew it would be time-consuming and emotionally-draining to meet them, and I just didn’t feel like going through it at that moment.
But Jesus clearly demonstrates through His action and words that this life we live is not about us. One of the key evidences of a follower of Christ is that he would be willing to deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Christ (Matthew 16:24-26). We are called to live sacrificially, valuing others above ourselves, not looking to our own interests but to the interests of others (Philippians 2:1-4). After all, God’s love for us empowers us to love others (1 John 4:7). And if we all lived by that truth, I daresay that we will never need to worry about our own needs.
4. You care about many sins . . . but not your own sin
Since the start of this year, my Bible study class has been studying the book of Hosea together and learning that our disobedience towards God is equivalent to adultery. But if we’re being honest, we usually don’t think of ourselves as that bad. I mean, how can covetousness be as bad as infidelity? What’s a white lie in comparison to sleeping with someone else’s spouse? One of the biggest dangers we as Christians face, is to think of ourselves as more righteous or more worthy of salvation than some of our non-Christian friends.
There have been countless times that I’ve frowned upon someone’s actions, or felt shock and anger about a crime I’ve read in the papers or even written off someone else as “hopeless”. In those moments, I had put myself on a pedestal and evaluated another person based on my own standards, forgetting that I’m equally sinful and equally in need of grace and mercy. I forget that God is the ultimate judge and every one of us is directly accountable to Him for our own lives—not the lives of others.
And because of that, I appreciate it when well-intentioned and close family and friends take time to point out the inconsistencies and sins in my life. Though painful, they remind me of how much I need a Savior, and how gracious and merciful God is to send His son for someone like me.
Penning the above points has helped me realize that the solution to my problem is not to try and get better by my own strength. If not for anything, I’m even more convicted now by the need to pray and ask God to help me grow in comprehending the full magnitude of His beauty, grace, and truth. It is God that gives me sight (John 6:65) and only when I see how glorious He is, that everything else around me will fade in comparison. I pray the same for you too.