“When Jesus calls a man, He bids him come and die.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer
If you’re not willing to die to self in general, than dying to a “really big sin” is good, but not enough. Because ultimately it’s Self which gets in the way of God’s purposes, the impure thing in particular being just a symptom.
So Jesus bids, as Bonhoeffer said above, “Come and die.” No getting around that. The claims of God on our lives are as unmistakable as His grace – unmerited favor with a death sentence attached. The Lord said as much when He declared “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. (Matthew 16:24)
But given the fact I’m no Messiah and the world’s sins will hardly be expunged by any crucifixion I go through, I’m left to ponder exactly what sort of cross I’m to carry, and how my execution is to be played out. Here Paul steps in, reminding us that the follower of Jesus dies not once, but regularly, to self:
“Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:4)
Certainly a physical martyrdom might come. We’ve got sisters and brothers in other parts of the world paying for their testimony in blood, and history’s rife with examples of women and men who’ve been honored to literally die for His name. But for most of us, the cross is less dramatic; more mundane. It shows itself in our willingness to deny self when Self wails for some illicit gratification, or for revenge, or any one of a thousand indulgences. For the person struggling to keep it clean, this takes on a daily, critical meaning.
I used to pray for a change in feelings. That is, I wanted to stop being tempted, by reaching a point of victory in which I could say, “I don’t struggle. I’m free and beyond the pull of any form of any unclean sexual thoughts or desires.”
But I wasn’t asking for nearly enough. I just wanted a change. God wanted me
Because there’s so much to die to! If He had relieved me of every wrong sexual desire, making me immune to lust in any form, how radical a change would that really have been? My big mouth would still shoot out at times; my pride would kick in regularly; my selfishness would be intact. It was – and here I don’t think we can be too emphatic – self, not just selfish lust, that I was called to turn from.
Still is. That old nature is stubborn, all encompassing, a beast not to be tamed, but annihilated. That’s where the cross is applied, not just to the sin but the sin nature itself, the root of the problem calling for no solution but the final one.
Which isn’t quite the downer it may sound like. When singing one of my favorite hymns, I’m reminded of beauty in the midst of suffering:
“See from His head, His hands and feet Sorrow and blood flow, mingled, down.
Did ever such love and sorrow meet?Or thorns compose so rich a crown?”
When love and sorrow meet, there’s a realistic understanding that our willingness to die to what seems precious and even needful to us is, in fact, the way to realizing our greatest goal and deepest fulfillment. Jesus said as much when, after sternly calling us to die, He also reminds us that death is the doorway, not the end:
“For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.” (Matthew 16:25)
I hope to never forget that point. My old nature isn’t some precious Isaac, a beloved, beautiful thing I’m willing to offer in obedience to God. Rather, it’s an ugly old Adam, fallen, corrupt, and corrupting. Dying to it is akin to shedding withered skin which is of no use. No big sacrifice there and, in fact, shedding it is in my own best interest.
So today may we see our old nature as He sees it, our new life as He made it available, and in response live for Him, die to Self, and find both Him and our true selves in the process.