Selfishness as Sin 27

Luke 6:31 Treat others the same way you want them to treat you. 32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 “If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 “If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners in order to receive back the same amount. 35 “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men.

The selfish love of sinners has no moral goodness in it because it is no obedience to the divine law. The law requires them to love God with all the heart, and to love their fellow men as themselves. But when they love themselves because they are themselves, and love others only because they have received or expect to receive benefit from them, do they obey the divine law? Do they feel towards God as they would that He should feel towards them? Or do they feel towards others as they would that others should feel towards them? Does their selfish affection in the least degree answer the demands of that law which requires pure, disinterested love? It is morally impossible for sinners to love God supremely, and their fellow men impartially, from a selfish heart. Let their love to God or man rise ever so high, it can have no moral goodness in it, because it is not obedience to the divine law which requires nothing but pure, holy, disinterested love. (Nathaniel Emmons, 1745-1840, Selfishness, International Outreach, 2009)

It is vital to understand the nature of selfishness if we are to understand sin and true holiness. It is also vital if we are going to understand what Christ saves sinners from and of the nature of assurance. When sinners have nothing but selfish love in their hearts, which is the case with all unregenerate human beings, they have no moral goodness in them which means they have no love for God or their neighbor and as such they have no obedience to the divine law at all. While it is true that we hear warning of those who only keep the law in the externals of it, apart from understanding the selfishness of the fallen heart a person can keep some aspects of the law out of selfishness and have some selfish love in his or her heart and be deceived into thinking that s/he is keeping the law to some degree.

In the 8th commandment we are commanded not to steal, but the Great Commandments teach us that we are not to steal because we love God and our neighbor. The difference is simply huge and has eternal consequences. It is possible not to steal because we don’t want to go to jail or because we are concerned that if we are caught it will ruin our reputation. It is possible not to steal because we are proud of our self-righteousness and as such we want to consider ourselves as keepers of the law. But all of those reasons can simply be nothing but the products of a selfish heart who does what it does and does not do what it does not do out of love for sinful self. That is without question, then, idolatry. It is not the external refraining from stealing that is at the heart of the 8th commandment, but instead it is love for God and our neighbor. If we do not steal out of love for self and a selfish heart, then we have not kept the commandment out of love for God. Instead, we are stealing the obedience we owe God and the absolute devotion to Him and give it to self.

This is the real issue of the heart. All human beings are born dead in sins and trespasses and their hearts are born in selfishness and self-love. This is a terrible bondage and yet part of that bondage is that sinners are blind to their own bondage. They do on their way in their self-love and selfishness just doing all out of self-love not realizing that they are under the wrath of God and are violating His holy commandments moment after moment. As Emmons notes, it is utterly impossible for those who are in the bondage of selfish hearts to love God supremely (above themselves) and their fellow man impartially (without regard to their own selfishness). Those two things are completely and diametrically opposed to the Greatest Commandments. These people live their whole lives violating and breaking the Greatest Commandments in all they do, even their most religious actions.

When we view things in that light, the enormity of a selfish heart should be clear to all. It should also be clear that a selfish heart cannot be overcome by trying to be better, but instead it must be made new. Why would God save such vile wretches? He will only save them to the glory of His grace. He will only save them for the sake of His own name. In other words, the only thing that can move God to save such wretches is Himself. Sinners are saved by free-grace alone or they will not and cannot be saved. Behold the grace of God in saving such wretches! Behold the fierceness of the proud hearts which oppose Him in saving them. Behold Christ who saves sinners because He loved the Father and went to the cross so that the Father would be glorified in the salvation of sinners.

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