I love to read. I generally read Christian non-fiction focused on spiritual growth. There are some very popular books out there on the subject and many of the more recent books focus on discipleship and its cost.
The authors eloquently write about self-denial and carrying your Cross as the pathway of discipleship. The assert that we need to crucify self daily. They state that the way of true discipleship is radical, crazy, sold-out devotion to Jesus.
Make no mistake, I agree. Wholeheartedly. Death of self is the way to true, abundant life.
I facilitated a men’s group which studied a couple of these books. They both had DVD curricula and were well-done. The books were very inspirational and motivational. They spurred us all to more. They encouraged us to examine our relatively plush lives and get our priorities straight. We wanted more Jesus. We wanted lives like we had heard about. But after roughly 16 weeks of striving after a higher calling, we were tired and discouraged. The bar had been set so high that it was unattainable. Was this kind of sold-out devotion really possible? We had tried. We had surrendered. Now we weren’t so sure. Looking back, I may have a hint as to the reason why.
The material focused on death of self. We were concentrating of self-denial, carrying our cross, self-discipline, and counting the cost of discipleship (and the cost of non-discipleship). What these books did… what this material did… was put the focus on self. It was designed to do the opposite, but in actuality, put all the impetus on each of us.
What I have experienced recently is a new revelation of God’s love and His grace. I have a new, fresh encounter with the Cross and all that was accomplished there. I am 55 years old and have been a Christian for nearly 20 years. But I am astounded by what I have found. I am amazed by this discovery. I am totally and completely overwhelmed by it. By focusing on Jesus and His finished work on the Cross, I have found that I am completely surrendered… completely devoted… radically sold-out in a crazy way.
Death of self has taken place, but not through any curriculum or book, not through studying more or praying more or fasting (although those are all good things), and not through trying to deny myself. IT JUST HAPPENED! It was a natural byproduct of this discovery of the supernatural, finished work of Jesus. It is an automatic response to His amazing love for me (and you). I didn’t have to try to surrender. There was no striving. I am just completely, totally in love with Jesus. He’s the first person I think of when I awaken. He consumes my thought during the day. He’s who I think of as I go to bed.
The apostle Paul says:
My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not treat the grace of God as meaningless. For if keeping the law could make us right with God, then there was no need for Christ to die. (Galatians 2:20-21)
I’m not sure Christians treat the grace of God as meaningless as Paul says in verse 21. We certainly sing about it enough and talk about it enough. We read about it and we know we are saved by it. But how is it that it can become fresh and new again to me? How is it that I can be totally changed by it all over again… and seemingly more deeply and profoundly!?! Could it be that each of us need to encounter grace all over again? Could it be that we need to see afresh all that was done on the Cross and experience His grace and love anew?