A long time ago a theory had been presented to my husband and me. It wasn’t delivered in full seriousness, but enough to be considered. The idea was this: since salvation means you get to live forever free of all that brings you suffering, it is in your best interest to accept Jesus as your savior. But since doing so means you are really only serving yourself, it is just another sinful act of selfishness. So taking it to the extreme, the act of saving yourself is damning.
Because the ultimate consequence is so excessive it is easy to disregard the entire theory for being ridiculous; still I have pondered the idea off and on over the years. This morning my husband brought it up again. He mentioned an analogy by CS Lewis that would answer the question.
CS Lewis bring the matter straight to the heart—where all things should be considered—and compares it to a military man in battle. If he wins the battle and saves his comrades, he will win medals, a promotion and accolades in both military and civilian circles. Knowing this, he could work to win and save for these ends: glory and fame. But he may also genuinely work to protect his brothers (and sisters) in arms during battle for the greater good of protecting family, friends and citizens back home. Glory and fame will come his way, but his goal was to serve bravely and truly to his sworn duty.
I think this is a fine idea and targets motive, which I agree to be God’s primary concern. If we live life to serve ourselves, even in doing the right thing, our hearts have turned inward and we worship self. This is what the Pharisees were accused of doing. It is legalism at its best and God sees right through it.
But there is another point that is missed if we stop there. Up to the moment of salvation, we are doomed creatures, drowning in our own sin. Another analogy could be that we are parched with sins numbering more than grains of sand in the greatest desert. You know you can’t make water—you’ve tried. You know you can’t find water—you’ve tried that, too. You can only make more sand… and the sand is killing you. Your skin is raw from its rubbing. The sand is in your hair and between your toes grating at you with even the slightest movement.
Jesus offers living water. Is it selfish to take the water handed to you freely? Well…sure! You are serving yourself, saving yourself, by accepting help from the only One able to give it. It is a selfish act to drink, to do whatever needed to stay alive. But we had that written on our hearts by God—seek Life. We must remember the heart that accepts salvation is already dead. How can we expect nobility from it?
It is God who transforms us after we have had that life-giving drink into a new creation who can grow in maturity and act with a servant’s motivations. He makes us noble. To think we can do it ourselves lands us back to works-based salvation, which is utterly hopeless.