Self-preservation?

I once saw a TV show set in Great Britain during the early part of World War II. The Nazis had defeated France, and the British expected imminent invasion. For some, the uncertainty, the fear of the future, and the feeling that they needed to take care of their own led them to act in ways they wouldn’t have in their normal day-to-day lives. They showed less concern for others, many hoarded, others stole, and some even committed murder!

Other people, in contrast, reacted in a completely different manner. They weren’t heroic because they performed great deeds; they were heroic because they performed small deeds selflessly. They faced their difficulties with dignity. They helped one another. They banded together as a community, looking out for the welfare of their neighbors and sharing what they had with those in need.

Seeing the contrast between the two types of responses brought home the challenges we face when we are in uncertain times or difficult situations. In times of disorientation, it’s natural for people to feel concerned for themselves. While everyone won’t respond in the same way, the selfish human instinct for self-preservation takes a more prominent role for some people.

When all around us is unstable, it’s natural to become destabilized ourselves. When what felt like solid ground begins to feel like shifting sand, the fear can be gripping.—Fear of the future, fear of the changes being, or about to be, thrust upon us. If we allow fear to overpower faith, our trust in God’s care tends to diminish. Once that happens, then the feeling that we must take control of events and take matters into our own hands becomes more prominent. This isn’t necessarily bad, since the “fight or flight” instinct is built into our nature, and we automatically respond to perceived danger with self-preserving moves.

The challenge we face, though, is finding the right balance between our human nature and our spiritual nature. As Christians we are “new creatures” who possess more than just human nature.1 We have God’s Spirit dwelling within us.2 We abide in Jesus and He abides in us.3 So, our responses to circumstances and events should be influenced by that indwelling. While we may feel naturally driven toward self-preservation, the Spirit can temper that reaction, so that we can find the balanced response—one which is compatible with Christ’s nature.4

This isn’t easy, because our human nature is so … well, human. It’s our default setting. Being concerned for someone else or their need, situation, or struggle isn’t naturally our first priority. Because of this, there is the danger that we will minimize or even completely ignore someone else’s needs in favor of our own. Taking care of your needs and the needs of your loved ones isn’t wrong. But as disciples of Jesus, filled with the Spirit of Jesus, we should step back from focusing on our own needs and look also to the needs of others.

Philippians 2:4–5 says: “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.”5

  1. See 2 Corinthians 5:17.
  2. See 1 Corinthians 3:16.
  3. See John 15:4.
  4. See Galatians 5:22–23.
  5. NIV

Peter Amsterdam

Peter Amsterdam has been active in Christian service since 1971. In 1995 he became co-director (together with his wife, Maria Fontaine) of the Christian community of faith known as the Family International. He has authored a variety of articles on Christian faith and theology. (Articles by Peter Amsterdam used in Activated are adapted.)