My Daily Death – Part Two
Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me. We’ve looked at the denying and the cost of following, but how about the second? How do we live out “taking up your cross?” Well, a true disciple counts the cost. Some people think their cross is bearing with rude relatives or being cut off in traffic or having sore feet from going door to door. That’s just losing comfort. Taking up the cross is taking up the shame and agony and ugliness of humankind against Christ and His ways. We deny our wants and ways, we are willing to take upon ourselves the world’s hatred and mistreatment-all to follow the way of our Master. Taking up our cross is celebrating death. We celebrate the death of Christ because it is our only way to truly live.
But truly the depth of this is seen in that this is impossible in ourselves. As a song says, “The cross will never ask for more than I can give, for it’s not my strength but His, there’s no greater sacrifice, for I am crucified with Christ and yet I live.” God calls us to sacrifice our very lives as He did, yet, knowing we have no power within ourselves to do so, He gives us the indwelling Holy Spirit to compel us. We must be that open conduit pipe channeling His agape love from Him, through our hearts and out to others. Recognizing His deep love and sacrifice for us compels our love for Him! May we say with the songwriter: “May the vision of you be the death of me.”
The battle against the flesh begins with the power of the Holy Spirit and as Romans 12:1-2 states: in the mind—
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
So, how far do we take this dying? Do we hate ourselves? Many have run towards this practice and we call it Asceticism. Asceticism is the practice of self-denial in an attempt to draw closer to God. It may include such disciplines as fasting, celibacy, wearing simple or uncomfortable clothing, poverty, sleep deprivation, and in extreme forms, flagellation and self-mutilation. Men have been known to live on pillars in exposure to the elements where others had to climb ladders to feed and serve their needs. monasteries and abbeys were also created for this purpose of getting away from “normal life” in attempts to deny earthliness and worship God better. Paul confronts this notion head-on:
But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron, men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude; for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer. In pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following. But have nothing to do with worldly fables fit only for old women. On the other hand, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. (1 Tim. 4:1-8)
Asceticism is not how God called us to live. Our bodies are called temples. Should we burn God’s temple down with mistreatment?
We are to be in the world but not of it.
We are to be serving in a functioning body of Christ.
We are to be spurring one another on towards love and good deeds. It’s really hard to do that on a pillar in the wilderness.
I also want to point out that dying to self does not necessitate a giving in to others every want and desire, either. People want many things and they will, in their sinfulness, demand for you to meet their desires. Dying to self is a dying to what your flesh longs for above God, and having a heavenly and eternal focus in light of Christ’s regenerating you to be His slave. He did not regenerate you to live in slavery to others, though He does call you to sacrifice for others needs to sacrifice yourself in any case in which God’s name can be honored.
Compare to these examples from Scripture on how we are called to live for others:
Who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame. For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong. For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit. (1 Pet. 3:13-18)
In our Matthew passage we read “They say the man that finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” This is self-denial, cross bearing and obedience. Where self rears up ugly head in each area of life we must find the God-hate and self-love and dig up the root to kill it.
Consider the following description of people in the end times:
People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people. (2 Tim. 3:2-5)
All of these sins sit atop the foundation of “lovers of themselves.” Those who love themselves want more. They boast about themselves and speak pridefully. They are willing to hurt others, including their parents. They are ungrateful and unloving because they are so inwardly focused. And on and on the list goes. At the heart of God’s perfect love, agape, we find that God is love. Because of His great love for us, He died for us. God tells us, “Greater love has no man than he who lays down his life for his friend.”
So love is death to self, or self-sacrifice. Consider 1 Corinthians 13:4-9 in light of this:
Self-sacrifice is patient, Self-sacrifice is kind and is not jealous; Self-sacrifice does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; Self-sacrifice bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Self-sacrifice never fails.
May I say at this point that this self-sacrificing agape love cannot be manufactured by you. It is God’s love poured through the “conduit pipe” of our hearts and out to others according to Romans 5:5.
Titus 3:3-7 shows us how we die to worldly character and replace it with this self-sacrificing agape love:
For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
Rich Thomson reminds us too, “Don’t just focus just on putting off selfishness, but seek diligently to put on self-sacrificial love. Love is the answer to our selfishness and foundation of our self-sacrifice.”
Richard Baxter has supplied us with a list for self-evaluation in this area of self-denial.
Never be deluded to forget the vanity, the brevity, and the emptiness and insufficiency, of all these earthly things, which self so attaches itself to, so as to neglect the promised life of blessedness. Remind yourself what nothingness this world is-that those of earth revolve their lives around.
To promote your self-denial, consider frequently and seriously, who God is, and to what end He made, redeemed, sustains, and governs the world: And then consider, whether it should ever be that this glorious God should be neglected.
To promote your self-denial, remember what you will get by selfishness: God will have His ends and Honor out of you one way or another, whether you will to or no; He will have your goods from you, and your lives from you; and the faster you hold them, the more you will suffer when he wrings them out of your hands.
If you would promote self-denial, keep with you the continual feeling of your own unworthiness and insufficiency.
If you would live in self-denial, be sure that you keep the mastery of your senses: and do not let them be ungoverned, but shut them up when reason requires it. It is your appetite and senses that feed this carnal selfish vice: but reason and faith are both against it.
It should much promote your self-denial, to study well the self-denying example of Christ, and his eminent servants that have walked in his steps. Christ had no sinful self to deny; nor any corrupted flesh to mortify or subdue. And yet he had a self-denial in which we must imitate him: Rom. 15:3
But the greatest help to self-denial is, To retire from the Creature into God, and live in the love of him, and employ the soul continually upon him. Men will not be frightened from self-love. It must be another more powerful Love that must draw them from it. And that can be none but the Love of God.
*Selected points from Baxter’s Treatise on Self Denial