When something is given the position of being the center of a space or environment, it’s thought to be given the most importance. In the Garden of Eden, God placed the two most important trees at the center because, well, they were the most important trees. Everything else in the space can be viewed in light of how it’s positioned around the center.
What it means to be an individualist
The same could be said of our lives. What we put at the center, in other words; what we hold as most important, is the source from which everything else in our lives gets arranged.
The choice presented to us at the two trees is who will be most important. One tree chooses to put Jesus Christ the Head and Body at the center. The other tree chooses to put ourselves at the center.
How do you know which one you’re choosing? Examine the decisions you make with your time, money, energy and attention. What can you say is motivating your decisions?
An individualist makes decisions that serve themselves and their welfare first. This doesn’t mean they don’t love and serve others. It means others are secondary. They are positioned around the center just like the other trees in the Garden of Eden. Interaction with others happens in relation to making sure you’re taken care of first.
Whether or not one has believed in Jesus Christ, to make yourself and your needs the center of your life is living an individualistic lifestyle. The center of your life is yourself. Therefore, the source of your life is yourself.
This is eating from the first tree. It’s the tree of elevating yourself to the central place. The center of the Garden was also the highest position in the Garden.
Why this is your default setting
You were born having eaten from the first tree because you were in Adam. The more you advance in your revelation of Christ, the more you understand just how self-centered you are. The more the Light shines in the darkness, the more aware you become of your condition. This was the job of the Law in the Old Testament and the function of the Spirit in the New Testament (Romans 7).
When the first human ate from the first tree, the nature of the evil one penetrated and permeated the whole human race. At the center of the evil one is selfishness. You were born in the same condition. Not only that, you’re surrounded by other people born in that condition and a world that operates according to that condition.
Milt Rodriguez breaks down how deep this goes in his book The Community Life of God…
In the natural, it is impossible for him to even think corporately, let alone live that way. He cannot even think in community terms except how it may benefit him as an individual.
It not only controls the way you think, but also the way you feel and the way you make decisions. It completely saturates your mind, will, and emotions. It is the environment in which you live.
Of course, you have relationships with other individuals but that still is only from the individualistic viewpoint of your own well being. You, as an individual, have relationships with other individuals.
The amount of individualism within God
There is none of this within God. So to be the image of God, there can be none of that within you. But you can’t do that as an individual. Do you see why the image of God is only expressed when more than one is participating in selfless activity?
The deception for the first human was that they could be like God individualistically. This is impossible.
The contrast of the typical Christian’s life
But Rodriguez goes on to point out how this is basically what’s going on in the Christian culture at large upon close examination…
Take a look around at all of the different “Christian Ministries” and you will see what I mean. Virtually all of them are geared toward helping you, as an individual believer, become a better something.
For example, there are ministries to help you become a better prayer warrior, a better Christian parent, a better spouse, a better witness, a better pastor, etc. The bookstores are filled with materials to help you, the individual believer, with your walk with the Lord.
There are seminars, conferences, and workshops to teach and train you, the individual believer, how to use your spiritual gifts and/or how to overcome your deepest fears and live the victorious individual Christian life.
Going to “church” is the same thing. You attend the service, sit in a pew, and then listen to a man tell you how to live the individual Christian life. “Seven steps to a better prayer life.” “How to study the Bible for yourself at home.” And on and on it goes.
Everything is geared toward the individual believer. Nothing is geared toward God’s eternal purpose which is to have a communal man, a communal image! It’s all about your relationship to God. It’s all about how you can become a better Christian.
Are you more self-centered than you realize?
But there’s good news.
If you are in Christ, you were born having eaten from the second tree. You were born again (John 3:3). The life you received comes from the Tree of Life. You have become a partaker of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4), which is in no way individualistic because God is not an individual.
He is many-in-one, which can only happen because none of the Persons in God has a self-centered thought.
This is the Life that’s inside of you and available to be lived by.