Hello my friends!
Last month, I sent the following out as a reply to a question about dying to self. As I considered what I might write for a long-overdue Spoonful, I came across this and decided it would make a good letter.
Regarding death to self, I do know what you mean. There are many who view Christian living as a matter of constantly battling self in the attempt to keep it or make it dead. This view takes as its premise or starting point the words of Jesus:
Summoning the crowd along with His disciples, He said to them, “If anyone wants to be My follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me.” Mark 8:34, HCSB
What many overlook in this reference is how it connects to the rest of what Jesus said at the same time:
Jesus went out with His disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the road He asked His disciples, “Who do people say that I am? ” They answered Him, “John the Baptist; others, Elijah; still others, one of the prophets.” “But you,” He asked them again, “who do you say that I am? ” Peter answered Him, “You are the Messiah! ” And He strictly warned them to tell no one about Him. Then He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, be killed, and rise after three days. He was openly talking about this. So Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him. But turning around and looking at His disciples, He rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind Me, Satan, because you’re not thinking about God’s concerns, but man’s! ” Summoning the crowd along with His disciples, He said to them, “If anyone wants to be My follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me and the gospel will save it. For what does it benefit a man to gain the whole world yet lose his life? What can a man give in exchange for his life? For whoever is ashamed of Me and of My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.” Mark 8:27-38, HCSB
Jesus spoke of a man denying himself and taking up his cross as a reply to Peter’s rebuke, which was his reaction to Jesus’ foretelling of his own impending rejection and death. We have to realize that, as followers, the disciples pinned their hopes upon a Messiah who was going to deliver them into something glorious. Jesus’ matter-of-fact pronouncements of rejection and death by the religious system of Israel dashed any possibility of ruling with him. To them, it stated very clearly that Jesus would be declared as a cursed man, not only by man but also by God. So Jesus lays out that following him entails the loss of life in this world.
A short time later, after more statements regarding his upcoming death and resurrection, a situation arises when James and John ask Jesus for a favor of sitting on his right and left hand in the kingdom:
But Jesus said to them, “You don’t know what you’re asking. Are you able to drink the cup I drink or to be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with? ” “We are able,” they told Him. Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink, and you will be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with. But to sit at My right or left is not Mine to give; instead, it is for those it has been prepared for.” Mark 10:38-40, HCSB
You see, they thought they were able to do whatever Jesus meant by this, but we know that when the time came, they all forsook him. Notice how after the two disciples answered Jesus in the affirmative, Jesus agreed that they would indeed drink his cup and be baptized with his baptism. It just didn’t happen according to their abilities or understanding, but according to his. He took them down into his death so that he could also raise them up with him to new life. It turns out that the selves they thought able to drink the cup or to sit at either Jesus’ right or left hand did not play into the picture at all. That self would die. Jesus’ words do rightly declare the necessity of death to the old self. It’s just that it took Christ to bring it about for us. We have indeed followed him, we have been crucified with him, our old self has died.
When Paul speaks of putting the old self to death, it is not stated as some kind of program or process to follow. His words are intricately connected to our recognition of Christ in having already accomplished our new life out of the old. We put off the deeds of the old man by shedding the lie that we are still bound by them. We are not under obligation to the flesh, but we often find ourselves giving into the lie of the world around us.