When I read the Bible I am struck with the understanding that nothing happens outside of relationship. At the core of our faith is our relationship with God. When we consider the world in which we live, it is all about the relationships we have with our fellow humans. Everything centers around how one relates to someone else.
We must conclude, therefore, that God created us to be in relationship with Him and with each other. His purpose for creating us was that He would have beings, like Himself, with whom to live in relationship. He loves us. Love must have an object. We are that object. His desire is that we, human beings, created by Him, would love Him in return.
So, now we set up a dilemma. In creating us, God could have given us no choice but to love Him. He could have created us to instinctively cherish and dote and obey and comply with His every desire. But He didn’t.
For a long time I wondered about why that might be. Then it occurred to me that, perhaps, in order for our love to be meaningful we needed to choose to love God. God wanted us to be able to make that choice. Therefore, if we are to choose to love God, we also need to be able to choose not to love God. We can decide to love ourselves, instead.
And, that is exactly how it all played out in the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve made a choice to think of themselves first. They made a selfish choice. And, that selfish choice was the inevitable outcome of how we were created. God was not surprised. In fact, He designed the entire system of our world and our existence on this reality: People will choose the love of self, but they will also recognize the unfulfilling nature of that choice and many will want to choose to love God first, instead.
In order to accommodate that choice, God designed the plan of Salvation for us by doing the most altruistic act possible. He came to earth and sacrificed His life for us. This was the plan. It was in the original specs for creation. It wasn’t plan B.
What’s more, the sacrifice of Jesus provides an example of altruism for those who choose to love Him. That example becomes a map for the believer to follow and will lead to the ultimate fulfillment in life: to live selflessly and to live according to one’s purpose.
My spiritual development, therefore, is a journey from the selfish to the altruistic. Once I choose to love God and gratefully accept His sacrifice for me, I enter into a relationship with Him that begins a process of maturity, growth and development. Before I came to Christ, I was only choosing myself. Once I choose to love God, I am now trying to figure out how to consider myself less and how to love Him more. And not just God. I begin the process of learning how to love period. Remember what Jesus said were the greatest commandments of all? First, to love God with everything and second, to love others.
So now my life’s journey in relationship with God is a journey toward fulfilling the purpose of following Christ’s example and giving of myself to positively impact others. That is what living “in the Spirit” is all about. It’s about awareness of God, of being more aware of Him. When I do that things begin to change inside. Growth happens. I discover that I can love others more fully. I experience the joy of living altruistically. I experience my mind being more at peace because I am not concerned about this world as much and my anxiety decreases. I find that I become more patient with others as they struggle along. I find myself being more kind. My desire to do good increases. I become more steadfast and faithful. My temperament shifts and I am less harsh and more gentle. And, I find that I can more easily control myself.
Steve Wright, M.A., LCPC, RDDP, is a therapist at Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center located in the Chicago area. He served for more than 25 years as a minister working in churches with youth, families, and as a senior pastor. As a counselor, he worked in residential treatment as a therapist, supervisor, coordinator, and program director first in the substance abuse field and then in the eating disorder discipline. Steve holds a bachelor’s degree in Biblical Studies from Central Bible College in Springfield, Missouri, as well as a Master of Arts in Teaching from Olivet University and a Master of Arts in Community Counseling from the Illinois School of Professional Psychology in Chicago.