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  • Writer's pictureW. Austin Gardner


Self-obsession leads to the practice of toxic faith, religious addiction, and all other addictions. Poisoned by their constant focus on their own needs, hurts, and desire for relief, the self-obsessed have little room left for worshiping God or meeting the needs of others. It is no wonder that people living in such a selfish state have sky-high expectations of God.

Yet Christ is quoted as telling Peter to show his love by feeding his sheep (i.e., meeting the needs of others). The self-obsessed are not interested in feeding anyone else’s sheep or helping others in any way. They concentrate on how others can meet their needs, especially how God can relieve them of their burdens.

Of course, God does relieve burdens. He does bless. He meets needs in miraculous ways. He brings babies to infertile couples. At times he will heal or reverse a terminal disease. Evidences of divine intervention abound; we call them miracles. But the reason they are called miracles is that they rarely happen. To have faith in God because he is bound to perform miracles is to have faith in miracles more than in God. True faith in God is not focused only on what God can miraculously do or provide; it is focused on what the individual can do for God. Additionally, the individual must make an effort to care for those God loves, his sheep, one’s neighbors.

In a discussion with a psychiatrist friend on how faith can become self-serving, he described another friend’s habits, the qualities of a person after God’s heart. He said the man’s motivation for everything he did was to please God and serve him. He worked with people not to make money but to serve God. He was dedicated to the needs of others and derived joy from meeting those needs. This selfless man had a faith that went beyond his own needs and self-obsession.

It is a rare faith. More often today people proclaim faith in God as long as that faith will increase the bottom line and make life better. There is no greater sin than self-obsession, and no greater poison of faith.

Stephen Arterburn, Toxic Faith

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