How can we overcome self-centeredness? Part 4

“And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.” John 12:32

All human beings are born with a sin nature that wants its own way (cf. Isaiah 53:6). Like the child when being disciplined said to his father, “I’m not bad. I just want my own way.” All of us are self-centered creatures. We demand our own way. Life revolves around self. “It’s all about me!”

This is very evident as we approach our presidential elections in the USA. Our country is extremely polarized right now because individuals and political parties are demanding their own way. There is a lack of unity and cooperation with one another because of this sinful nature that insists on “my way or no way.”

We are learning how to overcome self-centeredness in our study of John 12:20-33. So far we have discovered that the way to overcome our self-centeredness is through…

– Seeking Jesus (John 12:20-22).

– Self-denying service to Christ (John 12:23-26).

– Surrendering to God’s control in prayer (John 12:27-30).

Today we will look at the fourth and final way to overcome self-centeredness in this passage. It is STAYING FOCUSED ON THE ONE WHO DEFEATED THE DEVIL AND DRAWS ALL PEOPLE TO HIMSELF (John 12:31-33). After God the Father spoke from heaven to affirm that He would glorify His name through His Son’s death, Jesus said, “Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out.” (John 12:31). While the death of Christ makes all people savable (Romans 5:18; 2 Corinthians 5:15; 1 Timothy 2:6; 1 John 2:2), it also means those who reject Christ will be judged or condemned.

Jesus had said, “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (John 3:18). Constable states, “The Jews thought they were judging Jesus when they decided to believe or disbelieve on Him. In reality, their decisions brought divine judgment on themselves. By crucifying Jesus, they were condemning themselves. Jesus was not saying that this would be the last judgment on the world. He meant that because of humankind’s rejection of Him, God was about to pass ‘judgment’ on the world for rejecting His Son (cf. Acts 17:30-31).” 1

Satan, “the ruler of this world will be cast out” (John 12:31b; cf. 14:30; 16:11; 2 Corinthians 4:4), because the cross will deprive him of power and influence. In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve were given the responsibility to rule the world on God’s behalf (cf. Genesis 1:26-28). Instead, they chose to sin against God (Genesis 3:1-6) and thereby granted rule of the world to Satan (see 2 Corinthians 4:4; Ephesians 2:2; 1 John 5:19). So the Son of God, Jesus Christ, became a Man without ceasing to be God (John 1:1, 14; Titus 2:13; I John 5:20), to defeat the devil. The cross guarantees the enemy’s defeat because Satan achieves victory through accusing sinners. But through the cross, Jesus Christ would deal with sin once and for all (see Colossians 2:13-15; Hebrews 7:26-27; 9:12; 10:10) so Satan can no longer successfully accuse or oppose those who believe in Jesus (Romans 8:31-39).2

Look in Hebrews 2:14-15: “14 Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.” Satan’s power was destroyed, not Satan himself. He had the power of death and used peoples’ fear of death to enslave them to his will. But through the cross, Jesus defeated death and now His children can live for Him and face death with confidence! Satan opposes Jesus so much because he knows what Jesus’ death means. When Jesus said Satan would “be cast out” (John 12:31b), He is referring to His ultimate victory over Satan which, though still future, was initiated at the cross. This victory will be finalized when the devil is cast into his permanent home in the lake of fire where he “will be tormented day and night forever and ever.” (Revelation 20:10).

Satan often appeals to our self-centeredness to lead us away from God to serve his deceitful schemes which are opposed to the Lord. He did this in the Garden of Eden when he said to Eve,4bYou will not surely die. 5 For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:4b-5). God had told Adam, who told Eve, that they could eat from any tree in the garden except one – the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:16-17a). God promised that if they ate from that tree they “shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17b).

So what does Satan do? He tells Eve that she will not die. The devil says there is no penalty to sin. And all of us have believed that lie ever since. Satan tells Eve (and us) that God just told her that because He is selfish. He does not want anyone to be like Him and take His place. Satan explains, God “knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Satan is saying, “God doesn’t want anyone to become like Him by knowing good and evil… He doesn’t want you to reach your full potential. If you obey God, you will be limited and unfulfilled.” But Satan knew no one could be like God. How did he know? Because he tried it himself and got kicked out of heaven (cf. Isaiah 14:12-15)!

Jesus then says, “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.” (John 12:32). The words “lifted up”refer to Christ’s crucifixion (cf. John 3:14; 8:28; 12:33). Why? Because He must be lifted up on the cross to draw “all”(the word “peoples” is not in the Greek) to Himself. This refers to “all”people, not just Jews, but all people including the Greeks or Gentiles. Jesus’ love is not exclusive. This drawing or pulling is universal regardless of one’s past, nationality, political party, or skin color.

Because of the cross, God does the drawing work that impacts every individual in some way. No one can come to Christ in faith apart from God’s drawing (cf. John 6:44). Jesus does not tell us how long God will draw people to Himself. He may draw them for a brief time or thirty years (cf. Acts 13:46; Romans 1:18-32). That this drawing can be resisted is seen in the life of Judas.3 Judas said “no” to God’s intense drawing for over three years but Judas rejected that drawing and never believed in Christ (cf. 6:64, 70-71; 13:10-11; 17:12). 

John 12:32 does not mean all people will be saved, but that all people will be impacted by the cross in some way and have an opportunity to believe in Christ. But it is still each person’s choice to believe in Christ. John informs us, “This He said, signifying by what death He would die.” (John 12:33). Crucifixion was the kind of death Jesus was destined to die.

The January 10, 2006 Daily Bread reads, “Towering above New York Harbor is the Statue of Liberty. That stately lady, with freedom’s torch held high, has beckoned millions of people who were choking from the stifling air of tyranny or oppression. They’ve been drawn to what that monument symbolizes – freedom. Inscribed on Lady Liberty’s pedestal are these words by Emma Lazarus from her poem ‘The New Colossus’:

            “Give me your tired, your poor,

            Your huddled masses

            yearning to breathe free,

            The wretched refuse

            of your teeming shore;

            Send these, the homeless,

            tempest-tossed, to me:

            I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

“A different monument towers over history, offering spiritual freedom to enslaved peoples everywhere. It’s the cross where Jesus hung 2,000 years ago. At first the scene repels us. Then we see the sinless Son of God dying in our place for our sins. From the cross we hear the words ‘Father, forgive them’ (Luke 23:34) and ‘It is finished!’ (John 19:30). As we trust in Christ as our Savior, the heavy burden of guilt rolls from our sin-weary souls. We are free for all eternity.” 4

Remember Mrs. Lot’s philosophy – “There’s no need to take God seriously”? That could have been etched on her salt-block tombstone. When you have a chance, lick some salt today and ask yourself, “What are some things in my life that God has asked me to leave behind? Things that keep me from following Christ?” 5 After receiving Christ by believing in Him alone for His eternal freedom (John 1:12), you can begin to experience freedom from sin’s bondage in your Christian life by purposing in your heart not to be like Mrs. Lot. You can daily overcome self-centeredness through …

– Seeking Jesus (John 12:20-22).

– Self-denying service to Christ (John 12:23-26).

– Surrendering to God’s control in prayer (John 12:27-30).

– Staying focused on the One who defeated the devil and draws all people to Himself (John 12:31-33).

When you do, you can experience the quality of Christ’s life now (John 12:24-25b; cf. John 8:31-36; 10:10) and be honored by the Father in the future (John 12:25b-26; cf. Matthew 19:29-30; Mark 10:29-30; Luke 18:29-30; John 4:36; 12:25; Romans 2:7; Galatians 6:7-9; I Timothy 6:12, 19). Only Jesus can unite all people everywhere because only He can transform our selfish, sinful hearts into selfless, loving hearts. Let’s stay focused on Him – the Prince of Peace.

Prayer: Father God, I am so thankful to live in America which was birthed to provide freedom for those who were oppressed. But because of human self-centeredness, that freedom is often limited and redefined to serve one’s selfish interests. There is a much greater freedom that is offered to the world today through Jesus Christ. This freedom that Jesus offers is spiritual,  eternal, and absolutely free to anyone who receives it by faith in Christ alone because His sacrifice on the cross paid for it in full (John John 3:16; 19:30). No politician or government can grant this spiritual freedom. Only Jesus can. Please use me to share this good news of Jesus with the entire world so they can be set free from the penalty of sin (eternal death) and Satan’s counterfeit kingdom of darkness! And Lord, please grant me the desire and the power to abide in Your Word daily so Your truth can set me free from the bondage of self-centeredness that can so easily cripple my walk with You. In the liberating name of Jesus Christ I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Dr. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2015 Edition, pg. 223.

2. Dr. Tony Evans, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.), pg. 1796.

3. Dr. Robert Wilkin, “The Gospel According to John,” The Grace New Testament Commentary, Vol. 1: Matthew – Acts (Denton, TX: Grace Evangelical Society, 2010), pp. 396, 434,435.

4. https://odb.org/2006/01/10/drawn-by-the-cross/

5. Charles R. Swindoll, Growing Strong in the Seasons of Life (Portland: Multanomah Press, 1983), pp. 438-439.

How can we overcome self-centeredness? Part 2

“Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain.” John 12:24

We are learning from John 12:20-33 how to overcome self-centeredness in our lives. The first way is to seek Jesus (John 12:20-22) and grow closer to Him. As we grow closer to Jesus, we will be more motivated to apply the second way to overcome self-centeredness which is SELF-DENYING SERVICE TO CHRIST (John 12:23-26). The coming of the Greeks (John 12:20-22) stirred Jesus’ heart to its depths. But Jesus answered them, saying, “The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified.” (John 12;23). Their coming confirmed that it was time (“the hour has come”) for “the Son of Man” to “be glorified” through the cross. The cross must come before the Greeks can “really come” to Jesus in a spiritual sense. We see interest in Christ extending beyond Jewish circles now as news of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead spreads. When Jesus speaks of being glorified He is referring to His death. To Him, His death would be a triumph, not a tragedy. This is not a kingly glory from people; this is the glory of the cross from the Father. The world views death by crucifixion as a humiliating defeat, but Jesus sees it as a means of glorification.

What about us? Do we see suffering for Jesus as a shameful thing to be avoided or as a God-honoring thing which expresses the power of God working in us (cf. I Corinthians 1:18)? God wants us to set our sights on Christ and His calling in our lives which includes suffering for His sake (cf. Philippians 1:29).

“Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain.” (John 12:24). That Jesus’ death is in view here can be seen in the grain of wheat analogy. A grain of wheat must fall into the ground and die to produce many seeds (fruit). So, until a kernel of wheat died, it could not multiply itself. Jesus is the grain of wheat. The word “alone” refers to Christ dealing with Jews alone. It was necessary for Jesus to die to produce life in many others – both Jews and Gentiles in one body. Death was necessary for life and fruitfulness. This idea was foreign to the Greeks.

In the Encyclopedia Britannica, there is an account of a notable experiment at Wolverhampton, England. One grain of wheat was planted and produced several distinct stalks with ears of wheat. Each grain was transplanted. The grains produced by each were again separated and transplanted. In two years, 32,500 grains of wheat were produced from one single “grain of wheat.” Christ’s death would produce a tremendous harvest of Jews and Gentiles!

Why does Jesus use this grain of wheat analogy? I believe one reason is because He wants to address the obstacle that hinders our spiritual growth. Every seed has a shell and a grain inside that shell – an inner and outer nature. A grain of wheat has the potential to produce thousands of other grains on one condition, if the shell “dies” and releases the life that is inside which can produce more plants that will produce other grains. 

When you become a Christian, the Spirit of God comes to live inside you (John 7:38-39; Romans 5:5; 8:9-11; I Corinthians 6:19; Galatians 3:2; Ephesians 1:13-14), but the Spirit is encased in the shell of your “outward man” i.e. your physical body (2 Corinthians 4:16) and sin nature or “old man (self)” (cf. Ephesians 4:22; Colossians 3:8-9). The Spirit of God will never leave you, that’s what the last few verses of Romans 8 guarantees (Romans 8:31-39; cf. Psalm 139:7-10).

But that does not mean that He will be in full control of your life. You have the choice to keep the Spirit of Christ in its shell. It is like pushing the Spirit of Christ into the back seat while you take the steering wheel of your life. In I Corinthians 3:1-3, the apostle Paul gives a name to the believer who is not letting the Spirit of God direct his or her life because the Spirit is still in the seed shell. They are called “carnal”or worldly Christians. How can we let the Spirit take full control of our lives? Christian author Watchman Nee explains:

“As long as this shell does not break open, the grain cannot grow. ‘Unless the grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies’ What is this death? It is the action of the temperature and moisture of the earth upon the grain which results in the breaking of the shell. When the shell breaks, the grain grows. Therefore, it is not a matter of whether or not the grain has life, but whether the outer shell is broken.” 1

“Whether our works are fruitful or not depends upon whether our outward man has been broken by the Lord so that the inward man can pass through that brokenness and come forth. This is the basic problem. The Lord wants to break our outward man in order that the inward may have a way out. When the inward man is released, both unbelievers and Christians will be blessed.” 2

Do you understand what he’s saying? He’s saying that it is possible to live your life as a Christian and even do ministry as a Christian in your own strength and not by the power of the Holy Spirit. But two things will always be true: your ministry won’t be very effective, and your life won’t be very satisfying. It is possible as a Christian to live in the outer person, the shell, and not the inner person, the Spirit. And if you are multi-gifted, you will probably be considered a great success. The church will grow, the money will pour in, the books will sell, but lives will not be changed. And deep inside you won’t feel like a success because the Holy Spirit of God inside of you will be telling you the truth. He will be saying, “This is not My work. It is your work.” That is why it is effective from the world’s viewpoint, but it is not effective from God’s viewpoint and that is why you don’t have any joy.

The Lord Jesus then applies this wheat analogy of death leading to life to discipleship. “He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (John 12:25). The issue here is rewards, not salvation from hell. The believer who “loves his life” by selfishly living for his or herself, “will lose” the fullness of that life both now and in eternity in terms of the loss of rewards. Living a self-centered life results in losing the very thing we are trying to hold on to. If my life is all about me and finding myself, I will not find the “me” I am looking for. To hate my life means not living in a self-centered way but being a servant of others. The one who lives a life of service in the name of the Lord Jesus will be rewarded in this life and in the life to come.3

Christ goes on to say that “he who hates his life in the world” by making his or her love and loyalty to Christ a priority “will keep it for eternal life,” that is, they will enjoy a deeper and fuller experience of eternal life both now and in eternity. 4  So, the issue is not salvation, but the quality of a believer’s life both now and in the world to come.

When Jesus mentions hating one’s life, He is not talking about self-abuse or mutilation. That would be contrary to His other teachings about loving others “as yourself” (Matthew 22:39; Mark 12:31; Luke 10:27; cf. Ephesians 5:29). While self-denial is implied in the phrase, “he who hates his life” (cf. Matthew 16:24-25; Mark 8:34-35; Luke 9:23-24), this does not mean we are to deny our humanity which includes our physical and emotional needs.

For example, in a helpful article, Amie Patrick talks about when we go through stressful seasons of life, we may have a greater need for sleep, nutrition, exercise, and emotional refreshment. Denying self does not mean we overlook these needs. She emphasizes that it is important to accept our God-given limits and receive the Lord’s gifts of rest, food, recreation, and solitude which are also acts of worship and obedience. While Jesus was fully human and fully God—He often set aside time in His ministry to be alone or enjoy meals with friends. 5

The expression “he who hates his life” refers to Jesus being a priority in your life over self and the material things “in this world.” Our devotion to the Lord Jesus makes our interests in the material affairs of this life appear by comparison as hatred. Those who are dedicated to Christ will “keep” or preserve that lifestyle for eternal rewards. Our earthly experience becomes a part of “eternal life”in that it contributes to the quality of our future life in eternity. If we put our material things and selfish ambitions ahead of Christ, we will decrease the quality of our life in the world to come.

The Bible teaches that eternal life as a future acquisition is always a reward that is based upon works (cf. Matthew 19:29-30; Mark 10:29-30; Luke 18:29-30; John 4:36; 12:25; Romans 2:7; Galatians 6:7-9; I Timothy 6:12, 19), but when eternal life is presented as a present possession it is always received as a free gift by faith alone in Christ alone (John 3:16; 4:10-14; 5:24; 6:40, 47; Romans 6:23; Ephesians 2:8-9; Revelation 22:17). 6  If we die to self and make Jesus a priority in our lives, we can also experience His quality of life now. So, the way to truly live is to die to self and live to Christ.

Jesus explains further what it means to “hate” one’s life. “If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor.” (John 12:26). He is referring to self-denying service to Christ. If you want to serve Christ, you must follow Him. He is to be the number one priority in your life. Just as Jesus denied Himself and died for the world (John 12:27-28a), His disciples are to deny themselves and serve Him. When Christ says, “and where I am, there My servant will be also”in glory and honor is the main idea here as confirmed in the next part of the verse. “If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor.” The verb “will honor” (timēsei) refers to honoring faithful Christians with rewards. If you serve Jesus, you will receive “honor” or reward from His heavenly Father. If you want to be rewarded in the future, you must earn it by serving Christ now. Rewards are not a free gift. We must work for them to receive them in the future.

Jesus chose the way of the cross because of His desire to please His Father (cf. Philippians 2:5-11). Likewise, every follower of Christ must face a similar choice of taking the way of the cross. For example, a woman was told that the baby in her womb would be mentally impaired, but she refused the early abortion recommended by her doctors because she believed this would be wrong. An investment salesman lost his job because he insisted on being honest about the risks. And before the revolution in Romania, a lawyer lost his professional status and had to do menial labor because he openly confessed Christ as his Savior. These three Christians chose to take the way of the cross. They took seriously the words of Jesus, “If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me.” These two verbs, “serves” (diakonē) and “follow” (akoloutheitō) are in the present tense and convey the idea of “keep on serving Me” and “keep on following Me.” 8  Disciples of Christ who faithfully serve Him are promised His companionship (“where I am, there My servant will be also”)and those who faithfully serve Him are promised the Father’s “honor.”

The world says to put your material things or earthly life and self, first. It says, “There’s no need to take God seriously.” But if you don’t take God seriously, then there’s no need to take your marriage seriously, or the rearing of your children seriously, or such character traits as submission, faithfulness, sexual purity, humility, repentance, and honesty seriously either. If we don’t take God seriously, if we don’t make Jesus Christ our #1 priority now, it will cost us in the future. Oh, we will go to heaven, but the quality of our life there will be less than it could have been if we took Christ seriously. You see, the things we do now will prepare us for what we do in eternity. How I live on earth now will contribute to the quality of my life in heaven. If I live for Christ now by His grace, death will not interrupt that lifestyle. It will continue in eternity without interruption.

First John 2:17 says, “And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.”  John reminds us that the world is passing away and therefore, it is a totally unworthy object of our sinful lusts and longings. If I am a laborer on earth, an architect, a musician, a secretary, a farmer, a teacher, a scientist, a physician – however skilled I may be at any of these activities – none of these designations will survive the present age. The term “abides” (menō) is a fellowship term. The believer who is doing God’s will possesses a lifestyle that will not be interrupted by the passing away of this world. He experiences uninterrupted fellowship with God. He will experience “boldness” at the Judgment Seat of Christ (I John 2:28; 4:17) where the eternal worth of his earthly Christian life will be evaluated (I Corinthians 3:11-15; 2 Corinthians 5:10). But the believer who lives out of fellowship with the Lord does not “abide”forever in that his worldly lifestyle will be radically interrupted when he goes to heaven. His worldly lifestyle will not abide forever. It stops at heaven’s gates. But a dedicated lifestyle to Christ really has no ending. 

Prayer: Father God, thank You for bringing me back to Your eternal perspective in these verses today. As the Lord Jesus approached the time of His sufferings and death on the cross, He began to focus on the outcome of His death. Like a grain of wheat that must fall into the ground and die to produce many seeds, so Jesus had to die to produce life in untold millions of people, including both Jews and Gentiles. In the same way, Father, I need to focus beyond this life to the life to come. Envisioning that future life motivates me to serve You faithfully as a disciple or follower of Christ. As Your disciple, You call me to deny my selfish desires so I may sacrificially serve You by serving others. Instead of living a self-centered life, I am to live a Christ-centered life that will honor both You, Father, and Jesus. And Jesus promises that You will reward such sacrificial service both now and in eternity. As missionary C.T. Studd once said, “Only one life, twill soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last.” By Your grace, Lord, I want to invest in what lasts forever – You and the works You have prepared for me to walk in (Ephesians 2:10). In Jesus’ life-giving name I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Watchman Nee, The Breaking of the Outer Man and the Release of the Spirit, (Anaheim: Living Stream Ministry, 1997), pp. 8-9.

2. Watchman Nee, The Release of the Spirit (Cloverdale: Sure Foundation Publishers, 1965), pg. 11.

3. Dr. Tony Evans, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (pg. 1795). B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

4. See EvanTell’s The Evangelism Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2014), pg. 1180; Robert N. Wilkin, “The Gospel According to John,” The Grace New Testament Commentary [TGNTC], Vol. 1: Matthew – Acts (Denton, TX: Grace Evangelical Society, 2010), pp. 433-434.

5. Amie Patrick, “Self-care and Self-Denial,” The Gospel Coalition at https://www.thegospel coalition.org/article/ self-care-and-self-denial.

6. See Zane C. Hodges, Grace in Eclipse: A Study on Eternal Rewards, (Dallas: Redencion Viva, 1985), pp. 35-56; see Jody C. Dillow, The Reign of the Servant Kings: A Study of Eternal Security and the Final Significance of Man, (Hayesville: Schoettle Publishing Co., 1992), pp. 135-145.

7. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature [BAGD], compiled by Walter Bauer, trans. and adapted by William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, 2nd ed., rev. and augmented by F. Wilbur Gingrich and Frederick W. Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), pg. 817.

8. J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 228.

How can we overcome self-centeredness? Part 1

“Then they came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida of Galilee, and asked him, saying, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’ ” John 12:21

The Lord Jesus told us to “remember Lot’s wife” in Luke 17:32. You remember the story. Lot, Abraham’s nephew, lived in the city of Sodom with his wife, two daughters and their husbands. The people of Sodom were so wicked in the eyes of God that He planned to destroy the city. But Abraham interceded for Lot until God sent two angels to lead him out of there (Genesis 18:16-19:11). As Lot and his family were led out of Sodom, the Lord rained brimstone and fire on Sodom and Gomorrah. The angels had warned them not to look back but to press on to the town of Zoar where they would find refuge. But when Lot’s wife thought about all the pleasurable things she had left behind in Sodom, she turned to look back and she became a pillar of salt (Genesis 19:12-26).

Jesus then said, “Whoever seeks to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it.” (Luke 17:33). Lot’s wife sought to save her worldly lifestyle. She loved her earthly things so much that she could not leave them all behind. They were more valuable to her than her own life. The bottom line was she did not take God seriously! She was bent on doing her own thing rather than what the Lord wanted her to do.

The same thing can happen to us. The Lord saves us and we begin walking with Him. But as we encounter difficulties, we begin to wonder if our old life would be better. Eventually we can turn to a pillar of salt spiritually. How can we escape this worldly kind of lifestyle? How can we overcome the natural tendency to put self ahead of our Savior? Over the next few days we will discover the answers in John 12:20-33.

In our study of the gospel of John we saw a significant proof that Jesus is the Son of God when He raised Lazarus from the dead (John 11:1-44). As Jesus entered Jerusalem He was presented as the Son of David Who received joyful praises from the multitudes testifying that He was the King of Israel (John 12:12-15). As the Son of David, Jesus is related only to the nation of Israel, but now we see in John 12:20-33 that Jesus is portrayed as the Son of Man Whose coming Kingdom will consist of “all peoples, nations, and languages” (Daniel 7:14). 3 Christ’s love is not exclusive, it is inclusive (cf. John 3:16; 4:4-42) as we shall now see.

The first way we can overcome self-centeredness is by SEEKING JESUS (John 12:20-23). Christ’s popularity was increasing quickly as people heard that He had raised Lazarus from the dead (John 12:9-11). On the Monday before the Passover feast, Jesus triumphantly entered Jerusalem on a donkey (John 12:12-19). People perceived Him to be the Messiah-God and thought He was bringing in a material triumph whereby He subjected the nations to His rule as their King. But Jesus did not come to provide an outward triumph, He came to provide an inward or spiritual triumph through the cross.

“Now there were certain Greeks among those who came up to worship at the feast.” (John 12:20). These “certain Greeks” were not Greek-speaking (Hellenistic) Jews, but authentic Greeks or Gentiles. They were God-fearing Gentiles who worshiped with Jews in the synagogues much like Cornelius (Acts 10:1-2) who attended the Jewish feasts. They believed in the God of Israel but had not become full proselytes, that is, they were not circumcised or purified. They may have come from Galilee or the Decapolis (ten Gentile cities east of Galilee and the Jordan). The word “now” contrasts the religious leaders of Israel who were opposed to Jesus (John 12:11, 19) with these Gentiles who wanted to see Christ.

The Pharisees had said, “the world has gone after Him” (John 12:19), and now we see Gentiles doing that very thing. “Then they came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida of Galilee, and asked him, saying, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’ ” (John 12:21). Why did these Greeks seek out Philip? Perhaps it was because “Philip” (Philippō) is a Greek name meaning “horse-loving” 1 and he was from Bethsaida of Galilee (John 1:43-44), so they may have seen him before. Greeks had probably already “seen” Jesus pass by in the procession, but now they wished to speak with the Lord up close. It is significant that Gentiles were attending a Jewish feast seeking Christ. This symbolizes Gentiles seeking salvation from the Savior of the world (cf. John 4:4-42). 2

Being religious like these Gentile worshippers does not satisfy our inner longings or meet our deepest needs. This is why they sought Jesus. They needed more than a prophet or religious ceremony to find complete forgiveness and eternal life. They needed a Savior Who came to earth to show them what God is like since He Himself is God (John 1:1, 18; 8:58; 20:28). Their spirits needed to connect with the true God of the Bible Who is Spirit (John 4:23-24).

Some of you reading this article may identify with these Gentile worshippers. You may have religion, but your spirit longs for a relationship with the true God and eternal life, Jesus Christ (cf. I John 5:20). Jesus invites you to come to Him just as you are – as a sinner in need of forgiveness and eternal life. Because Jesus paid the penalty for all your sins when He died on the cross and rose from the dead (John 19:30; I Corinthians 15:3-6), He can now freely offer you everlasting life and complete forgiveness if you would believe or trust in Him alone (John 3:16; Acts 10:43). The moment you do, He comes into your life through His Spirit to enable you to experience His abundant life as you learn to abide in Him and His Word (John 15:1-8; Romans 8:1-13; Galatians 2:20).

John informs us that “Philip came and told Andrew, and in turn Andrew and Philip told Jesus.” (John 12:22). Philip, who was a Jew, appears to have some hesitation about bringing these Gentiles to Jesus. Perhaps he has some racial prejudice. He may have thought, “While it is true that Jesus had said something about “other sheep outside the fold (John 10:16), He has not explained that yet. Maybe Andrew knows what to do.” So, Philip seeks counsel from “Andrew” (Andrea) whose name is also Greek. Andrew was a man of wisdom for a crisis (cf. John 6:8-9), but he too had no solution so together they bring the problem, not the Greeks, to Jesus.

One of my favorite foods in the Philippines was 7/11 convenience stores’ soft ice cream. During some of my mission trips there, I intentionally set aside time and money in advance to make a run to 7/11 to buy some of their delicious ice cream. Why? Because I enjoyed the taste and texture of this ice cream. For the Greeks to seek Jesus at the Passover Feast, they had to set aside time and money to travel to Jerusalem to see the Savior. As children of God who have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ (Ephesians 1:2-14), how much more motivation do we have to prepare to seek Jesus!?

If we are going to overcome self-centeredness in our lives, we must make it our priority to seek Jesus; to know Him more intimately. Do we “wish to see Jesus” in every area of our lives? Or are there some dark places in our lives that we have shut Jesus out? We are too ashamed to invite Jesus into those areas. Please understand that Jesus already knows about those dark places of sin and shame in us. But He will not force His way into them. He is waiting for us to open the door to that part of our lives not so He can condemn us or shame us, but to shine the healing light of His love and grace on them. Christ is not uptight about our sin and shame. He died for them and He wants to set us free from them. He wants to walk through our sin and shame to bring us healing and hope once again. Will we let Him?

Only Jesus has the power to overcome our sinful desires. We must rely on His strength, not ours, to overcome them. But as Christians, our default setting is our sinful flesh (I John 1:8, 10). When we wake up in the morning, our natural bent is to pursue our selfish desires. Hence, we have a choice to make every day – to walk in the flesh or to walk in the Spirit (cf. Romans 8:1-13). Therefore, we must be intentional about walking in the Spirit and setting our minds on the things of the Spirit. We can do this by spending time with Jesus in prayer, asking that God’s will be done instead of our own will (Matthew 26:36-44). Also consistently studying and applying God’s Word (John 15:1-7; 2 Timothy 2:15; 3:16-17; James 1:21-25) and hanging out with other believers to connect with Jesus in them (Hebrews 10:24-25) will retrain our minds to yield to the Holy Spirit instead of our selfish desires.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, all my life I have battled selfishness. Even after becoming a Christian, I still wrestled with my sinful flesh. The world in which we live selfishly indoctrinates people to put their own agenda above all others. Only You, Lord Jesus, can reverse this pattern in our lives and world. It begins with us making it a priority to seek You first above all else. Thank You for the beautiful picture of Gentile worshippers coming to Jerusalem to seek You. You are not only the Savior of the nation of Israel, You are also the Savior of the world which includes all countries, cultures, and colors! For me to become more humble and selfless like You, Jesus, I need to spend time with You, Your Word, and Your followers. I need to invite You into every area of my life, including the dark places where sin and shame have reigned in my life. I want to see You living in my thought life, my motives, my actions and attitudes, and in my words so I can be a life-giving vessel of Yours to a lost world. Thank You for showing me the importance of connecting with You. Please use me to introduce others to You so they also can experience Your transforming love and grace from the inside out. In Your name I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Strong’s Concordance, http://biblehub.com/greek/5376.htm.

2. Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John, NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1971), pg. 592.

3. Arthur W. Pink, Exposition of the Gospel of John, Swengel, Pa.: I. C. Herendeen, 1945; 3 vols. in 1 reprint ed., Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1973, 2:262.