Resisting the Death of Self

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Gal. 2:20

This verse from Galatians was one of the first I remember memorizing in high school, at a Young Life camp, and it seemed like the most profound directives for my life and identity.  My life is no longer about me serving me, but about my identity hidden in Jesus.  Recently reading Tim Keller’s small book about the gift of self forgetfulness, I realized how inflated my ego is, and how the root of much of my anxiety, sadness and frustration is my enslavement to my self-importance.  It occurred to me that all the many ways my ego is attacked and my over-inflated sense of importance is punctured, might just be the intentional means God is using to “kill” me.

I used to love John Baptist’s identifying words to the Pharisees, who were interrogating him and his ministry.  He kept responding with “I am not” as a way of making it clear that God was God and he was not God.  This was the clear call for the Christian, to make it clear to oneself and others that there is a God, He is GOOD, and I am not that God.  I guess the problem is that I don’t really trust that.

The fierce commitment to my self-importance is based upon a deeper belief that I am more important than others and should be honored above others, respected and appreciated above others, looked up to by others.  Its quite the opposite of dying to self but is instead self-preservation and glorification.  It doesn’t trust God’s call that we die to live.  Therefore, my restlessness, anxiety, constantly trying to figure out the plan for my life, how to be happy, how to find my perfect fit, is actually my refusing to die, resisting the death of self, not trusting the life promised on the other side.

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.  John 12:24

The end goal isn’t some horror movie or Kool Aid drinking cult, but instead the end goal is flourishing life that surely isn’t found in self-preservation or self-serving, ego driven glory seeking. But my anxiety about trusting God to be God rather than myself is real.

When I had knee surgery back in 9th grade, I was truly mortified about being undressed under that sheet heading into surgery.  As the anesthesia was pumping through my body, I wouldn’t succumb to its sweet sleep until the nurses assured me the sheet would stay over me during the surgery.  I was so worried about my pride that the work needed on my knee was not my priority.  Fighting the sleep was nauseating and uncomfortable, much like my current fight to preseve my sense of self-importance rather than trusting that God’s purposes are far grander than my own.

Joseph sat in prison for years, certainly not feeling all that special or beloved by God.  But he couldn’t have known that his death of self (his own father convinced he was really dead) would save the nation of Israel and many others.  It comes down to trusting God, and I apparently don’t.  I need to succumb to the sleep of self-glory, trusting His glory will be far better than whatever I am trying to grab for myself.

Racial Injustice and the Gospel

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.  I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. John 10:10-11

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.  By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.   John 13:34-35

Over a decade ago, working at a large church in Atlanta, a colleague and I were told we couldn’t address racial reconciliation issues because we were to preach Christ alone.  As a reformed theologian, I appreciate “Christ alone” when it comes to salvation, justification, and sanctification. It is by His work alone, and our faith that He has completed that work with nothing that we can add to make it more complete, that we are restored to peace with Him and to one another.   But as my current pastor says, that Grace frees us from worry, not from work.

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.  If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.  1 John 3:16-18

We ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.

However I feel about the existence of racial inequities in 2017, there are enough voices of people of color saying that is what they are experiencing that not to listen, not to seek to understand, not to read the stories and thinkers of color, is a deliberate choice not to lay down my life for my brothers and sisters of color.  If I react and make it about me, with an irritation that a burden has been placed on me that I didn’t invite and defensiveness that I am innocent, I am ultimately more concerned with self-preservation than laying down my life.

The truth is, in America and almost every country in the world, people with white skin are treated as superior to people with dark skin.  In Uganda, a country whose citizens were originally 100% dark skinned and today continue to be predominantly so, in every clothing shop we passed, we only saw white mannequins, because white mannequins sell more clothes.  The amount of money spent and long term damage caused in the process of straightening naturally tightly curled or kinky hair is often done in response to a standard of beauty that diminishes one ethnicity for the escalation of another.  These are daily experiences that don’t even touch upon the criminalization and therefore dehumanization of dark skinned people, the sense that they are inherently more likely to be dangerous or licentious.

And who has perpetuated these biases and who has the opportunity to change the narrative?

The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted…Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.  You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel! Matthew 23:11-12, 23-24

This isn’t a pet cause, something that some people are into but all don’t need to be.  This is what God’s people are called to work for…dying to self so that others may live, giving up our comfort so others may find relief, being quiet a moment so others can speak, sitting down so others can stand up.  God’s body is equal parts of all His people, created in His image, to image Him.  That is not how the world has distributed dignity, honor, resources, power or respect, but it is the way God calls His people to image Him.

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” Rev. 7:9-10

This is the very heart of Christ alone.