FamilyLife Today®

Living Beyond Yourself: The Discipline of Selflessness

with Gary Thomas | April 11, 2006
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Today on the broadcast, Gary Thomas, author of the book Authentic Faith, encourages those who know Christ to live unselfishly for Him.

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  • Today on the broadcast, Gary Thomas, author of the book Authentic Faith, encourages those who know Christ to live unselfishly for Him.

Gary Thomas encourages those who know Christ to live unselfishly for Him.

Living Beyond Yourself: The Discipline of Selflessness

With Gary Thomas
April 11, 2006
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Gary: This culture doesn't respect the power of loyalty like it should.  We want the excitement of newfound infatuation; we want the exhilaration of a new romance.  But you know what?  There's something much more profound about that sense of wanting to be that loyal one that somebody can count on that I don't think anything else matches.  That's what I want to be as a man – I want, out of all the people in the world – my wife to know if somebody is going to come for me, it's going to be Gary.

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, April 11th.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  Loyalty may not be listed among the fruit of the spirit, but it is a hallmark of authentic faith.

 And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us.  You know, there are times in the course of talking with guests here on the program, somebody will say something, and it will stick with you.  I remember when John Piper was here, he was telling the story about how around their house somebody will start acting selfish.

Dennis: Yes, that's a problem at Piper's house.  Not at yours or mine, though, is it?

Bob: He said when that happens somebody in the family – there's a song that they sing at their church where it's [sings] "It's all about you, Jesus."  He said, "But at our house when that happens, somebody will start singing, [sings] "It's all about you, Johnny," as a way to kind of wake up the selfish person from his slumber.  And there have been a number of times at our house when I've cracked out that song and wanted to sing it to one of my kids or to my wife, or there have been plenty of times when I've needed to have it sung to me.  Because selfishness is so core, it's so rooted in our souls – in fact, if you were to point to one thing that disrupts marriages today; that interferes with families, I don't think you could find anything that would be close to selfishness, do you?

Dennis: No.  In fact, I'm just smiling listening to you soapbox.  You must have had some encounters with selfishness to feel this strongly about it.  No, no, I mean – haven't we all?

Bob: Yes.

Dennis: But you gave a message, Bob, to a graduating high school class one time, and it was seven …

Bob: "Seven Irrefutable Truths of Life."

Dennis: That's right, and if you want to see all seven, you can go to, but give them the one that deals with this.

Bob: Well, irrefutable truth number one is there is a God, and it's not you.  And then there's irrefutable truth number – I think it's number five, which says, "Life is all about God not about you."  I mean, if we can wake up to those two truths, we're on the right path, I think.

Dennis: I think you're right, and I think most of us want to sing a song about ourselves.  We don't want …

Bob: [sings] "It's all about me" …

Dennis: We live life that way, and we make those kinds of choices.  Well, if you missed an earlier broadcast, you need to go back to the Web at, and listen to a program we did with Gary Thomas on authentic faith, because this week we're talking with Gary Thomas, and I want to welcome you back, even if you are convicting, and you're causing us to have to deal with stuff here on – not only with our listeners but the hosts are having to deal with stuff.

Gary: Well, thank you.

Dennis: It's good to have you back.  Gary is a popular author of a number of books.  He's been on FamilyLife Today.  We've talked about "Sacred Marriage."  Our listeners loved those series of broadcasts.

Bob: That's a great book.  I remember a friend of mine calling me and saying, "Can you recommend a book for our small group to go through?  We want to do something on marriage," and they'd been through a lot of your books and a lot of …

Dennis: Oh, I'm glad you said that.

Bob: … [inaudible] that FamilyLife had created.  I said, "You ought to go through Gary Thomas's book, "Sacred Marriage," and I didn't hear from them for a while and about six months later they called back and said that was a great choice.  It really forced them to wrestle with some things that all of them needed to wrestle with.

Dennis: Yes, and he's written a number of other books – "Sacred Parenting," and this book, "Authentic Faith," and, Gary, what Bob's talking about today is at the core of authentic faith – selflessness versus selfishness.  It's not even easy to say, but we're geared to be totally selfish.  In fact, as I was getting ready to talk with you about this, I thought about James, chapter 1, verse 27 where the Apostle James says, "This is pure and undefiled religion; to visit the orphan and the widow in their distress."  And you think about it – those two groups of people, if you go visit them, demand selflessness, and if we're going to meet their needs, we have to deny ourselves, and they can't repay us.  I think that is what God's after in our lives, is for us to deny ourselves and find those great moments when we truly have denied ourselves.

Gary: I think that's the greatest movement of Christianity, to be honest.  Most people, if you would go to a mall or the city center and stop 100 people and say, "What's Christianity all about?"  Most of them will give you some moral do's and don't's.  Now, morality is important, I don't want to deny that, but morality isn't what changed in Paul's life when he became a Christian.  When you think about it, Paul couldn't have been any more holy from a human righteousness perspective as a Christian than he was as a Pharisee, because Pharisees didn't rob widows; Pharisees didn't commit murder; Pharisees didn't log onto the Internet and download pornography, and yet Paul says even in that state, he was apart from the grace of God, cut off from God's mercy, he didn't know the light, he was bathed in darkness.  So what did change in his life?

 Well, it's interesting – there was a prayer that Paul prayed every day as a Pharisee, and I don't want to offend any listeners with this prayer.  I certainly don't pray the prayer, but Paul did.  Every day as a Pharisee he would say, "Dear Lord, thank you that I'm not a Gentile, thank you that I'm not a woman, and thank you that I'm not a slave."  So every day he wakes up glorying in the fact he's not a slave.  Then he meets Jesus Christ and later he would write to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 9:19, "Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone to win as many as possible."

 Now, he's not just your common, everyday slave.  That slave would have to be accountable to a master or a mistress.  Paul says he'll make himself a slave to anyone if doing that will bring them into the Gospel, and he takes it to an extreme that I think a lot of modern therapists would try to cure him of.  I'm thinking of Romans 9:3, I'm paraphrasing here, but essentially Paul says, "I wish that I could be damned if in my damnation Israel could be saved."  And when Paul writes that, he knows the full horrors of hell; the emotional separation from those that he's come to know and love; the physical torture; the pain.  Instead of being surrounded by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness – all that good stuff – he'd be surrounded by bitterness and jealousy and malice for all eternity.  And yet he says still, "If, in the twilight of going down to hell, I could look over my shoulder and see the nation of Israel marching into heaven, I would make that choice." 

 And so he's saying, "I not only will sacrifice my life on this earth, I would sacrifice my destiny for this group of people."  It's a tremendous shift.  In Paul's life as Pharisee it was all about him – is he righteous from a human perspective?  Is he respected as a learned teacher?  Is he faultless in upholding the law?  That's religion.  When Paul met Jesus Christ, suddenly it wasn't about him, it was about lifting up Jesus, and, I'm telling you, this will change your life, it will change how you act as a husband or wife, it will change how you act as a parent and what you expect your family to be as well.

Dennis: You know, what you're talking about here, I've just been sitting back listening – this is one of Christianity's greatest achievements, humanly speaking – to call selfish men and women, like Bob was talking about earlier, to call them out of their selfishness to care for the needs of others.  Paul also went on in Romans 15:1 to say, "Let us not merely please ourselves but let us please our neighbor."  Now, the question is, who is your neighbor?  Is it just the one next door?

 Well, I'll tell you where you start pleasing your neighbor – it's under your own roof.  Christianity's power is that it takes selfish, barbaric men, and it calls them to love their wives as Christ loved the church.  He died on behalf of the church.  He calls us, as men, to do nothing less.  He calls us to love our families, to lead them.  And if you think about Christianity and its great contributions to society, there are the visible ones of hospitals, of great humanitarian efforts of feeding the hungry, but there are also those private contributions to a culture and to a nation that will never get the applause of men, but where a man who is strapped on with selfishness, and he's got all this baggage from his dysfunctional family he's come from – or a woman – and he meets the Savior, and in the process of meeting the Savior, he calls them to take up that cross, deny himself, and come after Christ for a lifetime.  And you know what?  That's when you begin to see Christian marriages and Christian families – authentic, real, living out the life of Christ in those homes.  In my opinion, that's where the care for others really begins to occur first.

Gary: Well, and there's great satisfaction in doing that.  There is a story from World War I that has transfixed me.  It's really the model of what I want to be as a husband and a father.  In that war, two American soldiers became very fast friends.  They talked about the dreams they had when they got out of the service; the girls they'd left behind; the jobs they hoped that they would one day hold, and then the inevitable order came for them to attack the German forces, so they got out of the trench and in the melee of the battle, they were separated and, of course, the call came for them to retreat a couple of hours later, so one of the soldiers crawls back into the trench.  The first thing he does is ask about his friend, has anybody seen him?  Nobody had.  So finally another soldier speaks up and say, "Yeah, he was hit.  He's about 50 yards out."

 Without even thinking, the soldier said, "I'm going after him."  But his commanding officer was right there saying, "Absolutely not, Private.  I've lost another man already.  It's a suicide mission to go out there.  You're to stay right where you are."  So he waited until the commanding officer's back was turned, and then crawled out of the ditch.  He knew nobody would go after him.  It was a suicide mission, and so the German guns are trained right on him, which means he has to hug that ground as carefully as he can, and I don't want to get too explicit here, but this is a piece of ground on which a war had been fought, but he is climbing through the muck and the gore, finally reaches his friend, turns him over, they have just a couple of seconds to share some words, and then he starts to drag him back to the trench.

 Unfortunately, the friend had been mortally wounded, and he died sometime on that trip back to the ditch.  The commanding officer was right there, furious that his orders had been disobeyed, and he comes right up into the soldier's face and says, "Tell me, soldier, was it worth it for you to risk your life to bring back a dead man that we could have gotten in a couple of hours?"

 And the soldier shocked him by saying, "Absolutely, sir, it was worth it."  He said, "What could possibly make it worth it for you to take that risk?"  And he said, "Sir, when I turned him over, he looked at me, and he said, "I knew you'd come."

 That's what I want to be as a man.  I want, out of all the people in the world, my wife to know if somebody is going to come for me, it's going to be Gary.  I want my kids to know everybody else may forsake me, I can count on that man.  This culture doesn't respect the power of loyalty like it should.  We want the excitement of newfound infatuation; we want the exhilaration of a new romance.  But you know what?  There's something much more profound about that sense of wanting to be that loyal one that somebody can count on that I don't think anything else matches.

Dennis: The thing that hits me as you tell that story is that is the message of Christ – to get outside of ourselves and to care about other people.  And, Gary, one of the things that you write about in your book, "Authentic Faith," and it was a unique approach that I really liked.  You said, "The ancients have some significant things to say to us."  But one of the ancients you quoted was not a man who lived hundreds of years ago but a man who lived in the previous century, C.S. Lewis.  And you quote him as saying, "Keep nothing back."  That's his call to us.

 But you quote a larger section around that, and I want to read this to our listeners, because I found this really good.  "The principle runs through all of life from top to bottom.  Give up yourself and you'll find your real self.  Lose your life, and you'll save it.  Submit to death – death of your ambitions and favorite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end, submit with every fiber of your being, and you will find eternal life.  Keep nothing back.  Nothing that you have not given away will ever be really yours.  Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead.  Look for yourself, and you will find, in the long run, only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay.  But look for Christ, and you'll find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in."

 C.S. Lewis was a man who lived what he wrote about.  You told a story about how he rescued orphans or children who had been really pushed out of London?

Gary: Yes, during the Second World War there existed a number of what they called "war orphans."  They weren't completely orphans, but their dad was fighting the war, their moms were out doing what needed to be done for the sake of industry, and so there was nobody there to watch after the kids.  So C.S. Lewis and his brother took in a number of young children in The Kilns and, being a writer, I can understand the sacrifice he was making in doing that.  That's where he worked, that's where he prepared his talks, that's where he was working on his books, and to bring a bunch of noisy children running around the house, and you would think that would be a huge impediment to his work but, actually, it gave birth to what many consider his greatest work.

 Because one afternoon a young girl came up to him, and she said, "Dr. Lewis, I notice there is a big wardrobe in one of the rooms upstairs.  I wonder if you can go behind it or if there is anything in it?"  And that, of course, gave him the seed of thought for "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe," and it's interesting how often you might think that you're giving up opportunities of ministry, but it's those interruptions, those inconveniences, that God often uses for our greatest ministry.

Bob: In fact, you say that it is our holy self-forgetfulness that is the most genuine mark of our true faith.

Gary: Jesus said very clearly, "The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve," and Christianity is about being conformed into the image of Jesus Christ, which means literally being conformed into the image of a servant.  Now, what's exciting to me about this, being a married man with children, is that I have found being married and being a parent are the two most effective disciplines to teach me to be selfless.  That's when I have to truly die to myself and no longer do I wake up and say, "What do I want to do today?"  It's "What does my family need me to do today?"  And mothers are doing that every day.  They're waking up, and they're saying, "What about my needs?  What about my desires?"  And what I want to say is, there is great spiritual benefit in being in a relationship that calls you to die to yourself daily.  It's not easy, but it's what Christianity is all about.

Dennis: Philippians, chapter 2, makes it clear.  We should have no selfish ambition.  We should not seek our own rights but instead seek to serve other people.  And as you've been talking here, Gary, I've just been thinking, "Where do we start?"  If someone is listening to this today, and they are challenged by Paul's words and some of the things we've said and illustrated here where do they start?

Bob: Is there an arsenic for our selfishness – some way that we can poison it?

Dennis: Well, there really is.  It's the cross of Christ, and we pick up that cross and come after Christ.  And I remember one of the most tangible ways Barbara and I did this when we started out our marriage.  We signed a title deed of our lives to Christ, where we gave Him complete ownership of our lives, and I still think that was one of the most important things we've ever done in terms of answering this call right here – to selflessness.  Because if you haven't ever done that, how do you live from that? 

 Now, just because we did it, does that mean we whipped selfishness?  Absolutely not.  But if you've got a point in your where you can look back and say you know what?  I have irrevocably given God everything I've dreamed of, everything I wish to have, my ego, my desires, my lusts and said, "Here, they're Yours."  From that, I think we can make some other decisions.

 And then a second thing I'd encourage people to do is to give up their rights.  Paul said he was a slave to how many?  All.  A slave has what?  No rights.  If you're going to be a great husband, a great wife, mom, dad, grandparent, or child, you're going to do it as God designed you to do it, then that means you have to become a slave, and a slave has no rights.  You give up those rights and follow Christ.

 And then, finally, third, I think to live as we've talked about today demands sacrifice, and sometimes I don't want to get up out of my easy chair and go help Barbara bring in the groceries.  Now, that sounds like a very small matter, but you know what?  It's real easy to be selfish right there.  And that's a small sacrifice on behalf of my wife, but you know what?  For me it is an act of honoring her and being selfless rather than selfish, and I think that's what Christ calls us to do.

Bob: And, you know, you stop and think, if we don't address this, can we really walk out into the world and say, "We are followers of Christ, and we love Jesus."  If we're not attacking sin at its root – I remember asking someone once, "How would you define the basics of what the Christian life is?"  And he said, "I asked somebody, 'Do you love God?' and the second thing is 'Do you hate sin?' and the third is, 'Are you willing to follow Jesus?'"  He said, "If they can answer positively to those three questions," he said, "then I think they've made the appropriate confession."

 And I think Gary's book, "Authentic Faith," is instructive in helping us get to the root of what it means to be a Christ follower and how that's going to play out in our marriage and how it's going to play out in our family and how we can be radically transformed by the power of the Gospel.  We've got copies of Gary's book in our FamilyLife Resource Center.  I wish I could get a copy of this in the hands of everybody who is listening to FamilyLife Today, and I wish we could all read through it together, but the next-best thing is to invite you to go to our website at, click on the "Go" button that you find in the center of the screen, and that will take you right to the page where you can get more information about the book, "Authentic Faith, the Power of a Fire-Tested Life," by Gary Thomas. 

 You'll also find additional resources listed in our website including a book by our friend, Elisabeth Elliott.  It's a small book called "Faith That Does Not Falter," and it really reinforces a lot of the themes that you talk about in your book, Gary.  If any of our listeners are interested in ordering both of these books from our website at, we will send along at no additional cost, the CD audio of the conversation we've been having this week with Gary Thomas.  Again, all the details are on our website at, or you can call 1-800-FLTODAY for more information about how to receive these resources; 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY.  These are books that will help you wrestle with the reality of your own faith and will help strengthen you in your relationship with Christ.  And we want to encourage you to either go online or call us and get copies of these books.

 And, of course, with this being Holy Week, with Easter being this Sunday, all of us are spending time remembering the final week of Jesus's life on earth – the celebration of the Last Supper, His Crucifixion, and His Resurrection, which we will celebrate on Sunday.  One of the ways that the life of Christ has been dramatically portrayed for billions of people worldwide is through the Jesus film, and I know many of our listeners have had a chance to see that film.  Recently, it has been digitally remastered and made available on DVD, and one of the great things about DVD technology is you can select which audio track you'd like, and you can view the movie in English or with Spanish dubbed in, German, Arabic, Korean, Vietnamese, Tagalog, which means this DVD is a great gift that you can give to someone for whom English is not a first language. 

 And this week we wanted to make the DVD available to any of our listeners who would be willing to make a donation to the ministry of FamilyLife Today.  We are listener-supported, which means that we depend on folks like you to help with donations in order to continue this radio ministry.  And as you are able to help us with those financial needs, we are happy to say thank you to you with practical resources to help strengthen your marriage, your family, and your faith.  So as you make a donation this week, I want to encourage you – just mention that you'd like the Jesus DVD, and we'll be happy to send it to you.

 You can make a donation over the phone by calling 1-800-FLTODAY and, again, mention you'd like the DVD on the life of Jesus, and we'll send that to you.  Or donate online, and as you fill out your donation form, when you come to the keycode box, just write the name "Jesus" in there, and we'll know you'd like the DVD and, again, we'll get it out to you and thanks for your partnership with us.  We really do appreciate the financial support.

 Well, tomorrow Gary Thomas is going to be back with us.  We're going to continue to look at the evidence of authentic faith in the life of a believer, and I hope you can be here with us for that conversation.

 I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine.  We'll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

 FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas, a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ.

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Episodes in this Series

Growing In Your Faith Day 3
The Discipline of Suffering
with Gary Thomas April 12, 2006
Gary Thomas helps us sharpen our view of suffering.
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Growing In Your Faith Day 1
Fire-Testing from a Loving Father
with Gary Thomas April 10, 2006
Gary Thomas explains the difference between authentic faith and cultural Christianity.
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