Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? (Mat 16:24-26)
In my toddler years as a believer I pondered the importance of the doctrine of dying to self. Why would Jesus demand such a radical position of people in order to follow him? Self isn’t all that bad. We make mistakes, but surely God doesn’t demand for us to throw away our inherent goodness in word, thought and deed in order to be called a true disciple of Christ. After all, God loves us just as we are, right? I puzzled over it for years without coming to any fruitful conclusions. I classified these verses as hyperbole. After I embraced the doctrines of Grace or Calvinism I came to fully understand man’s desperate natural condition. Man is radically corrupt in all his character and nature. Not one part of his being seeks to glorify God in any manner whatsoever.
I now realize why Jesus demanded self abandonment.
Self is no good. The flesh profits nothing. We are like a bruised apple. Peel the skin away and you find the spoiled flesh reaches to the very core. We can do nothing of ourselves or for God’s kingdom. We can’t improve the flesh no matter how many self-help seminars we attend, or Joel Osteen books we read. It is a rotten, stinking, decaying corpse that is corrupt all the way through to our very souls.
We must be renewed in mind and Spirit, our eyes made open to the glories of God’s kingdom. We must be given a new heart in order to conform to the image of Christ. We are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. We must love God with all our strength, mind and heart and we must love others as ourselves. We cannot be followers of Christ without these things. We must deny our natural inclinations toward selfishness in order to fulfill Christ’s demands. We must die to self. Not only that, we must take up our cross, which represents the sufferings and tribulations all believers experience as pilgrims traveling through a hostile world. I understand that. I know in my mind all this is true. Yet, I’m holding on to self, refusing to surrender this formless lump of clay to the potter’s hand. My sanctification is thwarted by my own efforts.
The worst part of it all is, it doesn’t make an ounce of sense for me to do so. I have too much pride. And that is utterly absurd when I consider what a weak and useless person I am after the flesh. Let me describe myself to those who may not know me, personally. I am by nature very lazy and unmotivated. Very little moves me to action unless I find it beneficial or self-gratifying. I’m not a very good employee. I do what I need to do and little else. My work at home fails inspection and my wife’s standards. I don’t do house repair and maintenance very well, nor do I try very hard. I avoid housework as much as possible, despite the fact my wife works and goes to school. I am irresponsible and immature. I can be grumpy and cynical at times. I don’t take the spiritual or fatherly authority at my house, tending to avoid conflict and strife at all costs. I have done an extremely poor job of raising up Christian children. I am forgetful and absent minded. I have selective hearing and selective understanding. My mind is muddled and full of fog. I’m not very bright, as I’m constantly reminded of daily. I don’t have much charm or charisma about me whatsoever. I’m not witty or funny. I’m somewhat of a loner and hermit. And I don’t have any giftings or talents that I can discern. I have no ambitions or aspirations for greatness. I am sluggish and slow of speech. I continually suffer from fits of despondency and discouragement. I am up and down like a yo-yo. All it takes is a single word of criticism and I crash like a beta version of Windows.
I have no quality of character that any person on this earth would envy. Yet, God has delivered me from the Kingdom of darkness into the Kingdom of Light. God saved me, the chief of sinners, a despised, weak and worthless vessel, even by the world’s standards, by His good pleasure and for His eternal purposes. I can’t understand it. I can’t fathom why God would choose to save a wretched soul like me, but He has. Yet, for reasons that completely escape me I sometimes serve God in my own strength and abilities. Why would I not want to die to my flesh since it is so worthless? The world rejects such as me, why do I think that God would approve of my works of the flesh? Maybe I fear the loss of identity. I like me too much. Instead of having my identity fully realized in Christ I want to share some of His glory by retaining the qualities within me that make me unique, that make me me. This pride hinders my sanctification. Honestly, it hinders all of us in our walk with God.
I must die completely to myself once and for all, but God’s grace must deliver me. Instead of self-righteously saying to my heavenly Father, ‘I will change and crucify my flesh for you O’ God’, I simply must be broken of heart and shattered in pride. I have discovered salvation is not born of my strivings or desires. What makes me think that sanctification and holiness spring from those same poisoned wells? I must decrease that He may increase!
Lord, I cry out to you, ‘God of peace, sanctify me completely. Keep my soul, spirit and body blameless before you. (1Th 5:23) Sanctify me in truth, for your word is truth. (Jn 17:17) Make me holy as you are Holy, O God. Purify my conscience of dead works that I may serve you, the Living God. (Heb 9:14) Grant unto me the giftings you have called me to operate in, that your name may be exalted and glorified. Any excellence the world sees in me will astonish them, and they cannot deny that it is the Lord who works in me. Smash my strongholds of pride, smite my self-righteousness into powder. Swing your mighty sword and divide me asunder. Slay self once and for all, Almighty God and Savior of my soul. Amen’.