Definition of Flattery: "excessive and insincere praise, especially that is given to further one's own interests."
Definition of Self-Flattery: "convincing self that you shall escape final judgment. There are two results: you put 'that day' far away from your mind; and sin no longer seems to be so toxic or despicable as it once was. On the contrary, in a state of self-flattery sin has never tasted so sweet."
The perfect sermon for our current 'age of the selfie' was surprisingly written way back in 1738 by the famous American Theologian Jonathan Edwards. He is the man who is known for writing two early Christian classics: "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" and "Spiritual Affections." Personally, I think his message on "Self-Flattery " is the most relevant and accessible of his writings for the contemporary ear.
His thesis in this message is based on Psalm 36:2 which states, "For in his own eyes (the wicked man) he flatters himself too much to detect or hate his sin."
Self-flattery is not something Americans give much thought to; in fact, promoting self through social media is now considered one of the best ways to spend your day. Instagram, Face-book and Pinterest is calling for us to post the latest cute selfie and random shot of "me, myself and I." Even "your's truly" is known to flash to the media universe a dazzling self-portrait picture every now and again (see last photo above)! Like the selfie, self-flattery causes a person to have a completely unnatural and inflated opinion of oneself...so much so that the mere mention of final judgment seems more like a punch line of a bad joke than a serious warning from a holy God.
In Edward's sermon, he lists numerous ways people flatter themselves. By spring-boarding off the sentiment that is expressed in Deuteronomy 29:19 ("When a person turns from God and thinks to himself, 'I will be safe, even though I persist in going my own way.'"), he lists very common everyday feelings and thoughts that shield us from the convicting work of the Spirit of God - - who wants you to have hatred toward your sin. I have tweaked some of his insights and have come up with seven common ways we flatter ourselves. Ask yourself this while reading the list, "Do I think like this?" If the answer is yes, you probably think too highly of yourself...
SEVEN ROADS THAT LEAD TO DEATH
(1) THE SECRET HOPE: "This world and the immediate present is all that really matters." (Luke 12:18-20)
People of every stripe these days seem to have a very low view or no view of heaven; and the topic of hell has become especially out of vogue. If you were to mention the word Hades, Damnation or the "Lake of Fire" to the average person, you are more likely to get a smug snicker and an eye-roll than actually being taken for a credible believer. People will see you more as a bull-horn blowing kook than a lover of Christ. Amateur cyber theologians all over the internet love to dismiss the wrath of a God as nothing more than a sign of an emotionally immature and not yet fully evolved deity. They figure God needs to grow up and leave behind his childish 'fits of rage' if he is ever going to attract a strong following. To most modern believers, the court room of heaven has gone on an eternal recess; and God the judge has taken off his robe, put on his best cologne and skinny jeans, and now he is waiting for everyone to join him for the heavenly happy hour that is now in process. Since the sophomoric modern thinker believes he is winning his little one-sided theological debates online, that must mean they are brilliant enough to ignore the scripture that declares "Our God comes and will not be silent; a fire devours before him and all around him a tempest rages. He summons the heavens above, and the earth, that he may judge his people." (Psalm 50:3-4)
(2) THE PERSISTENT BELIEF: "I have plenty of time to make a decision." (Psalm 49:11b)
We have become a nation of control freaks who really believe that since we have written down on our Ipad planner our 5 year &10 year plan - - God will just have to wait his turn with me because he doesn't really come into the picture until we start our 25 year plan. We really believe because we go to the gym our health will hold out, our money is secure in the banks because they are backed by the government, and our collective minds will keep getting smarter and smarter, a cure for cancer will be found and I "will not be moved." So why worry? Especially when it comes to eternity - - it seems like an eternity away.
(3) THE UNIVERSAL CONVICTION: "Everything is relative, and relatively speaking, I am really a good person." (Luke 18:9)
I am not breaking bad, so that must mean I'm breaking pretty good. I deal honestly, I am nice, I smile at the movie "Frozen" with my daughter, I drink Biggby coffee.. so...hey, I can't be all that bad? And come to think of it, there is no good reason for God to be unreasonably angry with me. I am not a part of ISIS, so you can't really expect God to harshly judge me? Right?
(4) THE FALLACY OF ASSOCIATION: "I am definitely am a Christian because I am surrounded by Christians." (John 8:33)
I am an American, and I cry during the Fourth of July parade. I cheer for soldiers. My grandma prays for me. I have a plaque in the living room that says "Live, Laugh, Love" and I know God has to like that? So I must be on God's good side...I even eat apple pie!
(5) GOD KNOWS MY HEART: ("Even if my actions right now don't show it.") (Acts 24:25)
I sincerely am sincere about being sincere. And what happens in Vegas isn't really me doing the happening. You see, when I act out, it isn't me acting out, it is the stress of life. And "so what?" if I have a pet sin that soothes me, someday when I finally get better I will be better. Until that time, God knows all this, and I know he won't judge me...so shouldn't you stop judging me too?
(6) GOD SEES HOW HARD I WORK ("What more could he want?") (Romans 3:23)
Look at the years of service I have given him in the church, or volunteering at my kids kindergarten parties. I have worked harder than most, sang songs louder in church, I cry at "Little House on the Prairie." God has to see all I have done.
(7) NEW INNOVATIVE THEOLOGICAL TREND: "You are in if you haven't opted out."
Wow, the new theologians have redefined grace to be something that you immediately get. Sure you have sinned, but you have been set free without even knowing it. Love always wins. Only those who don't volitionally want his grace and mercy can opt out of receiving it. So salvation isn't a matter of faith as much as it is a matter of not refusing it. Only those who want to go to hell get to go to hell - - the rest of us, even those of us who are ignorant of God, are "in" until we choose to opt "out." One of the main teachers of this new theology is named Rob Bell. Ironically, Rob Bell has a dad who happens to be a judge in Michigan; last week he sentenced a prominent radio host in Grand Rapids to 40 years in prison for sexual exploitation of children and possession of child pornography. But it seems Rob's dad doesn't know God's new justice system because he never gave the convict a chance to opt out. The courts instantly threw the books at him, and he was thrown out and in to prison! So it seems even Rob's dad understands that when you are guilty, condemnation isn't something you can choose, because it already is.
THE DAY WHEN SELF-FLATTERY NO LONGER FLATTERS
Jonathan Edwards ended his sermon with this chilling statement, "If you could have access to the damned, you would hear many of them curse themselves, for these flattering themselves while they lived in this world; and you would have the same doctrine preached to you by their wailings and yellings which is now delivered to you."
In other words, if you were to go to hell and interview those in prison, they would be the first to say they were wrong for thinking so highly of themselves. There is only one who is good, both inside and outside: Jesus Christ of Nazareth. He knew you couldn't work off your condemnation, he knew your guilt was all consuming and he knew sin was killing you. So he let it kill him on the cross. He paid the price the courts of heaven demanded, and he set you free. But you have to accept this payment by faith - it isn't just handed to you - you have to ask for it.
You are out until you opt in by faith, and don't flatter yourself...only Jesus deserves the favor of God. But God is pleased to accept the Son on your behalf. Get over yourself, because only Jesus deserves our praise.