When The World Turns You Inward


Text: Ephesians 5:1-9

In the name of Jesus: Amen.

Please listen very carefully to what I am about to say:

The goal of every human should be to embrace their unique self and live for whatever makes them happy. Indeed, you must not give into societal norms and expectations of other people, but instead, you should seek your own fulfillment through being self-empowered. And while you are at it, don’t sweat the small stuff like feeling guilty or wrestling with shame. If you are true to yourself - if you live a fulfilled life on your own terms, well… you can attain true freedom and  self-empowerment. 

Dear friends, what did you just hear? You just heard the main theme and teachings of Anton LaVey’s Satanic Bible. Yes, what you just heard was the main teachings of the Satanic Bible.  

You would think the main teachings of the Satanic Bible would be about stuff like blood, fire, goats, and red pitchforks dipped in Tabasco sauce – spicy! However, to many people’s surprise, the main theme of the Satanic Bible is to reject the idea of a higher power and then live for yourselves.  

Even though Anton LaVey probably is not the official spokesperson of the Devil, this Satanic Bible certainly captures the essence of darkness. Yes, darkness.

In the reading from the Epistle of Ephesians, we hear about the deeds of darkness: greed, fornication, vulgar talk, idolatry, and so forth. Now, I want to point out that darkness has a very clear characteristic, not only in the Satan Bible but also when it is described by the Holy Scriptures. That characteristic is that the deeds of darkness are always inward-focused.  

 An old church theologian named Augustine wrote extensively on the deeds of darkness, what we can simply call - sin. He stated that sin is turning away from God toward oneself – caving in on oneself. And so, sin is about turning inward on ourselves and our desires rather than looking outside ourselves. Darkness encourages you to live inside yourselves, not outside.  

Now take a moment and think about how sin and darkness play out in our society today. If you consider much of social media, advertising, celebrity culture, and politics these days, they all have one thing in common – they are all about turning inward. 

Social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook are breeding grounds for inward thinking and living. Users are encouraged to present an idealized version of themselves to the world, which often leads users to be preoccupied with how they look, how many people Like them, and how many people are following them. 

Celebrity culture also promotes inward messaging by promoting the idea that fame and success are the ultimate goals in life which can only be attained if you prioritize your personal gain over the needs and well-being of other people.  

It is not hard to find this kind of inward thinking in advertising as well, that is to say, in commercials, ads, and marketing campaigns. Most products displayed to us appeal to the human desire for personal status, power, and admiration.  

And who can forget politics! When was the last time that the Democrats did a kind act to the Republicans? And when was the last time the Republicans laid down their agenda for the Democrats? In fact, when was the last time that congressional leadership prioritized the needs and well-being of their constituents over their own personal power and status?  

The point is darkness focuses on the individual. Sin turns you, all our neighbors, and me inward on ourselves.  

But if this is the case, how does everyone function within the realm of darkness? In other words, how can anything get done if everyone lives for their own self-importance and entitlement?  

Dear friends, here is the kicker. When people walk in the darkness of sins, hell breaks loose. If you have ever seen two toddlers fighting over a toy, that is exactly what happens when the sinful nature of one person squares off with another person’s sinful nature. You see, if everyone is living for themselves – if everyone is turned inward, nobody wins. Hell and conflict break loose. But as you may already know, a society cannot exist if every single person lives for themselves. And so, what often happens is that power and force are the only ways the kingdom of darkness can even begin to function. That is to say, whoever has the most power is able to solve a conflict through force. Furthermore, lying, cheating, and stealing all become tools of darkness – ways in which a person turned inward can get while the getting is still good.  

Unfortunately, we would like to believe that churches and Christians would be free from inward thinking and acting. After all, we do not support the Satanic Bible. However, we often hear of churches, and we see members in our own church that turn inward. In fact, if we are honest with ourselves, we would realize as well that we often turn inward. For example, take any conflict in your life, look at any church conflict, or consider any problems at work – isn’t there always some person or group of people that are turned inward on their wants, desires, and dreams, raising hell for everyone? How often do you get pulled into inward thinking as well?  

Tragically, we must all be honest right now, for we have all turned inward. 

In fact, we sin daily – we collapse inward on our desires, wants, and dreams.

But there is a catch to all of this. There is another way. You see, during Jesus’ earthly ministry, He never lived inwardly. He never turned inward on Himself. He came to serve, not to be served. Indeed, everything that Jesus did and said was not for Himself but for you. So great was the love of Christ for you that He delivered Himself into death. His shed blood, His resurrection, His ascension, and His coming back someday are all for you, for you, for you, for you. 

The nature of Christ was that He lived outside of Himself for you.  

And so, while darkness turns mankind inward, the Kingdom of Light is all about being turned outward. We actually confess this every Sunday here at St. Paul’s. Think about the prayer that we will pray after communion today! We thank the Lord for strengthening our willpower, faith in Him, and love for our neighbors.  

And so the point is, when the shadows of darkness and sneaky sin slowly twist you inward, stirring up discontentment, and greed, remember this – you do not belong to darkness. Not now, and never again. You are baptized; you belong to Christ. And so, repent boldly of inward thinking. Repent boldly of inward talking. And repent boldly of inward living, for this is not who you are! You neither belong to darkness nor belong inside yourself, but you belong to the One who bled, died, and rose for you – Christ! Repent and hear the good news that Christ did all things well for you so that you might be freed from yourself, to live by faith in Jesus and in loving service to your neighbor.  

Baptized Saints, your ego and pride are no more. They have been crucified with Christ. Your desires, status, and every other item of darkness are dead to you. You have been snatched from the Devil – and yourselves – and are placed outside of yourselves into Christ by faith.   

And so, hear this again! You no longer live, but you live in Christ, and you live for your neighbor. You do not live inwardly imprisoned to yourselves, but you live outwardly free in Christ by faith and outwardly to your neighbor in love.  

May the Lord strengthen your faith as you rest in Christ, and may He grant you love to love beneath yourself to your neighbor.  

In the name of Jesus: Amen.

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