How to fight a spirit of self-satisfaction?

Introduction

There are many reasons Christians might find themselves with a spirit of self-satisfaction—anytime God permits them to participate in a great achievement. This month we celebrate the first anniversary of Trinity Reformed Church. In our wish to stay humble and give God the credit, we don’t deny that the planting of this church is a great achievement. God will build his church. As Christians, we become accustomed to our great God doing great things. But we do deny that we should be self-satisfied, or that we are the cause, or that God is finished with his work.

We’d be wise to strategically fight a spirit of self-satisfaction, which is when someone is too pleased with themselves and their accomplishments. Self-satisfaction seeks fulfillment independent from God. It manifests as smug complacency. In addressing this question, the application is broader than Trinity Reformed Church. The temptation toward self-satisfaction comes in many shapes and sizes: When parents raise godly children, when entrepreneurs start successful businesses, or when young athletes win victory.

Three facts to review

There are three facts to review that make God’s work of planting Trinity Reformed Church (TRC) a remarkable achievement.

First, God planted TRC in an expanding secular age. By “secular” we mean a view of life in which God is not referenced. The secular world is framed by immanence rather than transcendence. In this frame, tall and thick walls are built around the human imagination such that the natural world points to nothing more than nature, and human rulers are grounded in nothing more than social sciences. The world is closed and self-sufficient. Meaning is relocated from the external to the internal. Secular society is a collection of individuals free to believe the promises of their private lusts. The good life is reduced to wellness, equity, and endless entertainment. It is a milieu where the expectation of eternity and God are disappearing. People everywhere are discharged of reverence for transcendent things. Such an ideal is the exact opposite of Christianity.

Second, God planted TRC in a world that has played fast and loose with the definition of sin. This expanding secular age has a convenient scapegoat. People are now preoccupied with the sins of others. Entire ideologies now seek to whip up the masses into a fervor of white-hot indignation against the so-called injustice of statistical inequalities among groups. By peddling invented sins, and then ascribing those sins to everyone else, people have lost sight of, first, the definition of actual sins, and second, the presence of those sins in their own lives. This is how people miss the glory of the Gospel. If only their sin earns punishment, then I don’t need a savior.

Third, God planted TRC in a “pandemic” and the church grew while many others shrank. We may be tricked into thinking we are responsible for great achievement. We may neglect to thank the Lord for the favor he has shown. Churches everywhere put down their weapons (Eph. 6:11-20), forsook gathering for Lord’s Day worship (Heb. 10:25), and unwittingly made common cause with the world. When they finally began worshipping again, in many cases, they were fewer in number. Because of God’s favor, TRC had the courage and faithfulness to continue worshipping (John 9:31). This fact alone may be enough to tempt the members of TRC into self-satisfaction.

How do we fight the spirit of self-satisfaction?

First, remember who we are and who God is

Self-satisfaction is the result of a deadly combination where man thinks more highly of himself and less highly of God than he ought. This deadly combination needs to be replaced with a living one where we see the majesty of Jesus Christ and the sinfulness of man. The deadly combination produces self-congratulatory pomp. The living combination produces the conviction of sin. The deadly combination is such because it makes one forget his dependence on the Savior Jesus Christ. The living combination is such because it reinforces dependence on Jesus.

Second, remember the nature of the Kingdom

Since another characteristic of self-satisfaction is a sense of completion, we would do well to remember that God’s work carries on for a thousand generations (Dt. 7:9; 1 Ch. 16:15). He is not done growing his church or his kingdom. It starts small and grows big (Mark 4:30-32). God’s been expanding his Kingdom for two thousand years. As TRC looks back upon our first year with thankfulness, we turn eagerly to the future. As we look back, we pray with gratitude for what God has started. As we look forward, we pray with anticipation for an outburst of the Spirit’s power, confident of the continued expansion of the influence of Christ’s church in North Alabama.

What will that influence look like? That part of the story is yet to be written. In the meantime, we must not fritter away what God has built. We encourage you to use the depth of your sanctified imagination to ask God to expand Christ’s influence in North Alabama. As you pray, don’t forget that you pray to a God who “is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen” (Eph. 3:20f).

Jason Cherry is an elder at Trinity Reformed Church, as well as a teacher and lecturer of literature, American history, and economics at Providence Classical School in Huntsville, Alabama. He graduated from Reformed Theological Seminary with an MA in Religion and is the author of the book The Culture of Conversionism and the History of the Altar Call, now available on Amazon.