I think I understand why we cling to who we are. We believe we are good. There is this incessant snare of self-aggrandizement that we are pulled into believing from a young age. Disney and our school counselors have beat the drums of self-esteem so long and so loud that it’s difficult to hear anything other than our dreams and awesome sense of amazement at who we are. “Follow your dreams!” they croon. You are a special and unique flower whose feelings and thoughts are valid. While I don’t believe that we should be looking for depression, or looking to be self-deprecating at all, there is a sense that without a realistic vision of who we are in this world, we can never truly grow. The real danger here is that woven into all this flowery talk is a hidden message; “you are never wrong”.
It is this message that creates in us a sense of acceptableness. That who we are (no matter what) is okay and right. There is no need to change if who you are is already fine. For that matter, if who you are is fine and good, what need is there for a savior? None of us is truly good. Romans 3:23 tells us that, “…all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” But very few of us believe that. My local pastor, Kent Estep said a while back in one of his sermons that we often replace the word “sin” with the word “mistake” and doing that should be seen as a big mistake. When you make a mistake, it’s no big deal. It’s just something you slightly think about so that you don’t make that mistake again, but hey, if you do then no big deal.
However, if we start to understand the gravity of our sinful nature, we can start to unravel our own need for Jesus and his forgiveness. When all you have are “mistakes” you do not need to be saved from your “sins”. The gravity of our situation is that we have convinced ourselves that we do not need to be saved. It’s like swimming with sharks with an open and bleeding gash on our foot. You might be fine with that cut on your foot, but the reality of your situation will soon come up to bite you. Let’s get to the heart of the matter, none of us are okay. None of us are good. Even if we would like to be, we aren’t. We are all flawed. We are all sinful. We are all in need of Jesus. The reality is that Adam’s sin falls heavily upon us all. Humanity is desperately in need of saving. We have to open our eyes to that reality and start to understand that for us to survive, we have to start losing our natural selves and taking on the mantle of Jesus for others.
So, what does that mean? What does it mean to “take up your cross” and follow after Jesus? I believe that a large part of this has to do with how we view who we are, what it means to be human, and where our priorities lie. When we start to understand who we are, we can begin to live according to a new set of rules and ideas. So, let’s begin talking about that. What does it mean to be alive here on earth? Who are you as a human being? I’ve argued with people about purpose. People were created by God for His pleasure and His glory. God didn’t need to create people. He was whole and complete within Himself. In Acts 17:24-25 we see it says, “The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things.” The bold text reveals to us His needs; nothing. However, he chose to make us anyway.
In Isaiah 43:7 we see God saying, “everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.” Again, the bold text gives us insight into why God created us; for His glory. Not that he needed that glory, but that by doing so, He would exalt Himself. This speaks directly to our purpose here on earth, above all else. We are meant to bring God glory. Our priority here on earth above all else is to Glorify God. If nothing else, understanding that purpose can point us in the right direction. However, there is more to unpack in this idea that just this overarching idea. What does it mean to glorify God?
The Apostle Paul offers us one of the best ways to look at this idea of dying to self and glorifying God. He observes that no amount of sin can overcome God’s grace. That as sin increases, God’s grace will always be more powerful and overcome it. So, he makes the logical leap to ask if we should continue sinning so that grace will continue to get more powerful. Of course, he says no way. So, Paul lays it out for us in a way that is very easy to comprehend, but hard to live.
What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin – because anyone who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once and for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore, do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. For sin, shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace. – Romans 6:1-14
At the start of things, Paul argues that just because God’s grace will always be able to cover whatever multitude of sins we may have, it doesn’t mean we should continue to sin just to see God’s grace increase to cover it. Then he hits hard! He says that because we are now dead to our sinful nature if that is truly what has happened, how could we ever live in sin again? We are brought back to life as a new creation, something wholly different and wholly alien. Christ is no longer this unknown entity, but we have become Him for the world. He says not to be a tool for the devil because you have become a tool in the hands of God. You aren’t in charge of your motives or life. You aren’t the master any longer. Jesus is the master of your life, heart, mind, body, and spirit. Your desires are no longer your own. Your purpose is no longer your own. You are a slave to the righteousness that Christ has embedded within you.
Something to consider, this isn’t a mindset that will come about in a single sitting. It isn’t something you should expect from someone who is a new Christian. The path down this road is an ongoing surrender of self. We might call it a slow and painful death. It’s the bleeding out of your own identity.
D. Michl Lowe