Is it possible to seek holiness in a selfish way? If one does seek holiness for a totally selfish reason, will it necessarily abort the effort? I want to say that one can certainly seek sanctification for selfish reasons, that was are not sanctified for self only, and that even if we seek holiness for a selfish reason, it may not necessarily ruin the pursuit.
When I say that one is seeking holiness or sanctification, I mean that one is seeking to become more like God would have us be. We often say that someone is "godly", and by that we generally mean that they remind us of what God would have us be, or even that this person reminds us of what we know of God. Sometimes, I believe we think that becoming holy, sanctified, godly, or Christ-like means becoming more like God, and this is true. However, there are ways in which we cannot be like God, and we were never meant to be God at all, but rather servants of God who seek to exalt God.
This is precisely part of the process of becoming holy. It is finding out, by God's grace, the places in our hearts where we are seeking to act like God when we shouldn't, and when we aren't being like God when we should. Then, after becoming painfully aware of our failures in both areas, we seek for God to change us for the better in both categories so that we don't have to try and be godly. That is, we want it to be our natural character.
Here is how we might seek holiness selfishly. A man might, for example, read in the book of Ephesians that a man is to be the head of his wife, and that wives ought to submit to their husbands. Armed with this revelation and determined to be godly, he sets off to become the boss of his house, to wear the pants, and gets busy trying to rule his wife and home. To this end, he might even force his wife to listen to him pray for her, have patronizing "family Bible studies", and generally be a very foolish man in all of his attempts to get her to knuckle under to his manliness. He may become dismayed that his wife seems resistant to his leadership, and even seems to have grown resentful of his person.
Now, this fellow might imagine that his wife is resistant because she is recalcitrant. Or, by God's grace, he may realize that he has been an utter buffoon, has completely botched his attempts to lead in a Christ-like manner, and may heartily seek the Lord's forgiveness and that of his wife. She might even grant it, and Christ certainly will. As he reflects upon his stupid behavior, he may even be sickened by it. His wife, no doubt, will be delighted. He will not be trying at all to quit being a jerk. He is genuinely changed because God, by His grace, has shown him what an idiot he is.
And so, his seeking to be a good leader in his home has resulted in him finally becoming a good leader, even though he began as an imbecile. This epiphany came to me, not only by being an idiot at home, but also through pastoral duties. There was a time when I was impressed with my own self and my gifts of elocution. But as I began to listen to my own sermons, a terrible sense of my own ridiculousness began to overwhelm me. Not only that, people sometimes repeated things I had said, and this frightened me greatly. So, I began to pray that God would somehow, someway, bless me to stop being an idiot preacher, and for the sake of His beloved flock, not for the sake of the jackanape in the pulpit, would he please, please, please bless the sermon that His sheep would live and not die. As for myself, I would be content to die, or landscape, if it meant the growth of his people who He had taught me to love. Then, by God's grace, I think I began to be a better preacher and pastor.
So yes, I am convinced that we often set out to become holy for purely selfish reasons, and we often execute our intentions with fleshly means to our great shame. Yet, God uses it all for our good, and he molds us by our own folly. He does this because, in the end, he is sanctifying us, not for ourselves only, but for Himself and for His glory.
I am a pastor serving in my hometown of Albertville, Alabama. The greatest evidence of God's grace in my life are my wife, son, and daughter. One look at me and then my wife will tell you that her "yes" was a modern day miracle. Otherwise, I am almost completely mundane.