What Is Christian Individualism?

I advocate Christian Individualism. How can I do that? Many Christians believe Individualism is bad. Many believe it is incompatible with Scripture. Others believe Scripture has little to say on the issue.

It’s a hot topic. In a recent video by The Gospel Coalition, Don Carson said, “The Bible does not go around condemning individualism.” So what does the Bible say?

Relief of men reasoning over a book

A friend of mine asked a helpful question:

“Why do you think the ideas of self-interest and individualism have been taught as ‘bad’ (for lack of a better word) in most congregations? Self-sacrifice and denial of self seem to be the message, particularly of Jesus.”

Here’s my response:

Great question. The Bible does say we should be willing to deny ourselves if needed in order to follow God. It also says we will be rewarded.

But many people feel awkward about doing it for the reward.

They may think morality is primarily a question of how we treat others, so when a person does something for himself, that doesn’t count as a moral act.

Immanuel Kant codified such a viewpoint, and the world has absorbed it.

But this was not always the dominant view.

Most Christian writers of the Middle Ages were were unabashed about the individual reward of the afterlife. Christianity brought a major innovation in strongly emphasizing that an individual should do what is needed to save his own soul. Jesus made it clear that he came to save individuals.

Kant turned the focus toward duty and said that an action is only moral if it is not done with a reward in mind. Now, 200 years later, Christian preachers typically hold this view.

But such a view was never in the Bible.

Jesus endured the cross for the sake of the joy that was set before him (Heb 12:2). Jesus appealed to reward time after time. See the Gospel of Matthew in particular, as I’ve written about here.

Kant’s moral system has turned many Christians into collectivists, both in their own spirits, and in the way they seek to mold society. My goal is to change that.

I advocate Individualism.

It is the view that:

“It is proper and moral for a man to make choices based on the factual needs of his own life. The moral for a man is understood in reference to what is practical for the needs of his own life.”

Since I follow Christ, I more specifically advocate Christian Individualism. It is the view that God’s commands are the means to my own eventual good. I choose to follow God because he is a value to me. He is good for me. That’s why I love him. It is as simple—and as profound—as that.

It is the idea that:

It is proper for me to love God for self-interested reasons. These reasons are sufficient.

Unconvinced?

Are you more accustomed to thinking that self-interest is potentially sinful? I can demonstrate by biblical premises that actual self-interest can never be sinful.

Consider the following argument:

1. It is always in one’s actual self-interest to follow God (Rom 8:28).

2. To follow God always requires us to avoid sin (John 14:15).

_______________________________________

3. Therefore, It is always in one’s actual self-interest to avoid sin.

 

We may rephrase that conclusion as:

“No case of being sinful is a case of following my actual self-interest.”

Here’s where it gets interesting: the logical converse of that is:

“No case of following my actual self-interest is a case of being sinful.”

 If you followed that, you are left with a conclusion which you may not have previously noticed:

By biblical premises, actual self-interest can never be sinful.