Dying to self and living for the Kingdom (Graziano Crepaldi)
In these days we keep receiving messages and calls from our leaders and disciples around the world telling us countless stories of individuals who are risking everything to bring the Gospel of the Kingdom into unknown places. In time of crisis they sacrificed their comfort, culture, wants, and ultimately, even their lives in order to follow the call of Christ to "make disciples of all nations" (Mt. 28:19). These events constantly reminded us at the words of Paul: "for me, to live is Christ and to die is gain" (Phil. 1:21). He expressed many time in his letters to the early churches the urgency of preaching Christ and living completely for the Kingdom of God in spite of the difficulties and personal challenges. Many believers are convinced that this lifestyle is reserved only to those who work on the mission field or have a special calling from God in suffering and enduring persecutions. This is showing how much we have moved away from a Christ centered lifestyle. The world’s mindset is saying: live for self... but the Bible is teaching: die to self! This is something completely different and therefore we need to better understand the ways of God! Jesus gave his disciples a key for a successful life that brings much fruits: "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me" (Mt. 16:24). Dying to self is never portrayed in the Bible as something "optional" in the life of a believer. As followers of Jesus we are to "take up our cross daily" and follow Him everywhere. Death is the absence of life, therefore when one dies ceases to exist and is no longer concerned with "his own will or happiness“, because he is no longer in the center! Christ said that "dying to self" is actually a positive, not a negative statement:"… whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it!"(Mt 16:25). In dying to the self-life, we discover an "abundant life" by depending on God, who provides much more than we can imagine.
The true disciple of Christ understands that God created him for a reason and that he/she is a valuable part of God’s plan for the world. To be used of God one must understand the core of who he/she now really is, and how it is that God can use him/her. Jesus said: "by this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be my disciples"(John 15:8). This is the desire of our Father – we are saved to bear fruit and "…created in Christ Jesus for good works" (Eph. 2:10). We bear fruit when Christ lives His life in and through us (Jn. 15:5; Gal 2:20). God wants us to live a godly and spiritually productive happy life. Many people were and are amazed at the life of Jesus, but when He asked them to follow Him, most of them turned away because they were not willing to see him as a King that lead them to a complete new life. They could not understand that: "He who loves his father or mother or himself more than Him, he is not worthy of Him" (Mt. 10:37-39). Paul said, "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me" (Gal. 2:20) and even consider himself a "slave of Christ" (1 Cor. 9:16-23). This has nothing to do with a pretentious Christianity, cozy music, a good wage and a cool leadership position. Paul’s style of apostleship was defined by constant danger, risk to die every day (1 Cor. 15:30-31), tons of critics from people and all kind of problems in order to share the Gospel to those who never heard it! How can you be so happy for such life of agony and even boast in being a servant? You can do that only if you are a dead man walking with a great love for Christ…
Most people deny their own self-centeredness and self-interested, but none of us was born good or "others oriented". Since the fall we are "wanting to be like God" (Gen. 3:5). The aspects of pride that characterized the first man are also alive in us. Pride keeps us from receiving God’s love. We are so full of ourselves that we even think that our need for God is not that great. The spiritual tank of our lives stays empty and consequentially we chase after other lovers in order to please ourselves. This is the essence of idolatry and takes many forms: a relationship we value more than God; the desire for material wealth; the desire to draw attention to ourselves rather than help others focus on God. The world is full of idols that move God out from our hearts. Anything that causes one to have a "self-focus" rather than a "God-focus" is a form of pride and is against Him. The two things that keep us from God, and the two main reasons why we need to die to ourselves are: pride (selfish life) and idolatry (desires of the flesh).
Dying to self is no easy task and often involves a real fight when we try to surrender our will to the will of God. "For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want" (Gal 5:17). The good news is that God gives grace to those who fight the good fight. In my personal experience I have discovered that I need to get desperate if I want to see a change. We need to hate sin and love the work of the Spirit that is in contrast to the flesh (Mt. 6:24) and become totally loyal to the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives. Ask God to show you the areas of your life that you need to submit to Him and ask Him for the grace to help you surrender those areas of our life and be confident that He will deliver you from your unbelief (Mk 9:24).
We are in a constant fight against the flesh in this world and Paul explains that: "when we were in the realm of the flesh, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in us, so that we bore fruit for death. But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code". (Rom. 7:5-6). The flesh is a destroyer, and if we will continue to listen to it, follow it, and serve, it will rule over us. The real question is: Do we really hate the flesh? Paul was very honest about this problem and the evil result coming from serving his own self. The flesh always brings about death because it is hostile to God (Rom. 8). The good news is that we do not need to live "self-centered" lives.
The life of a disciple is based on humility. When we are willing to humble ourselves and recognize the complete rebellious nature of the flesh we will stop feeding our old self and our spiritual growth will take place by the power of the Spirit.
Jesus was able to stand against the flesh because he had a "consistent prayer life" that kept Him in tune with God. The Holy Spirit led him into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil (Matt. 4:1-16) but He knew that the only way to stand against the enemy was with prayer, fasting & scripture. These key ingredients are perfect to crucify the flesh so that the spirit within might live. Jesus fought against Satan and demons when He was on earth, and we are fighting against them today. The "weapons" He used are the same ones we must use (Eph. 6:10-18).
The Bible is teaching us that we need to: "train ourselves to be godly" (1 Tim 4:7) and "sanctify Christ as Lord in our heart" (1 Pet 3:15). In this phase of Church history is so important that we direct our hearts and desire back to God, and away from earthly sources. Jesus said:"Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit" (Jn. 12:24). This moves us away from "self-centeredness" and makes us more open to being a follower of Christ who cares deeply for others. It’s easier to pay attention to the concerns, interests and needs of other people (Phil. 2:3-4) and make disciples when we are no longer obsessed with our own interests.