“Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his own soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?” Matthew 16:24-26
What do we do when life happens? When multiple aspects of our life’s circumstances change? What if our paradigm of thinking about life, “The Christian Life” was flawed? What if our paradigm of thinking about Christ’s view of us and His desire for us to follow him was as clear as smeared peanut butter on car windshield? By the way, that’s pretty messy and almost impossible to see through. Basically, the question is, what if our life’s perspective has been faulty for so long that we’ve inadvertently developed an improper view of what it means to follow Jesus and to be devoted to Him in complete surrender as He deeply and unconditionally loves us?
Jesus had a very pointed statement for his disciples here as He speaks to them in the book of Matthew, “If you want to come after me, deny yourself (choose to live according to My teaching – the Word, not according to the world), take up your cross (follow the path I have chosen for you regardless of the pain or suffering you may endure), and follow me (even if it doesn’t make sense.)” I have spent much of my life with a warped view of God’s love for me even having accepted His son Jesus as my Lord and Savior at a young age. I held onto some sins of my past that I deemed “unpardonable,” therefore, I would hold myself in condemnation for many years, even though God had ultimately set me free through confession, forgiveness, and salvation. The problem with not letting go of these “weights of sin” (Hebrews 12:1) of the old self, was that I developed a “works-based mentality,” not for salvation, but for acceptance by God and others. The harder I worked, the more affirmation I received, thus the more accepted I felt by others and by the Lord. When I was excelling at something, I was a good person, a good Christian, a good father, husband, employee, etc. However, you can imagine, when life seemed to happen and things fell apart, “the wheels came flying off” of my proverbial think machine.
The other spiritual catastrophe that took place is that I never learned to see myself as God sees me, and as He loves me unconditionally, which is what unchains us to even begin to follow Him, and take up our cross, and enjoy a fulfilling intimate relationship with Him as Lord of our life in the first place. Jesus furthers his point with the disciples and us, “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his own soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?” This is such a vital element of our Christian faith – the importance of not basing our value and worth on power, possession, position, or passion and success in some grand endeavor, over and above our love and commitment to Jesus. I had over the course of life developed a “cannot, will not, and must not fail” mentality because of my own insecurities and lack of true understanding of my value as a child of God, uniquely created in His image for a purpose.
I was determined to do my best, to be the best, and never fail because in my mind I had to or there was no substance to my life. If I didn’t succeed at what I was doing, in my view I had no worth, no purpose, and at some of the darkest points along the journey, no reason to go on living. When Jesus speaks of being “willing to lose our life for His sake,” he’s not referring to us ending it prematurely, but instead being completely surrendered to Him for His glory and purposes, willing to do whatever he calls us to do, no matter the cost, regardless of the amount of recognition, regardless of what others think, say, or do. We must live daily to fear Him and Him alone above all else, “Seeking first His kingdom and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33) which brings us ultimate fulfillment, purpose, and a sense of everlasting hope. Our lives must continually be more about His glory and purposes for us, otherwise we stand to go our own way “gaining what we think is the whole world, yet forfeiting our own soul.” I am finding out through this journey that the starting point for changing our life’s perspective and truly being able to live in abundant freedom through Christ begins by learning to Fear the Lord. Walking daily in the Fear of the Lord means to be in awe and wonder of Him, setting our gaze upon Him, focusing on His many promises for us, inviting Him into our immediate circumstances, and therefore not being so easily shaken by the things of this world.
Connecting Faith & Life:
Father, I thank You for this day which presents another opportunity to walk a little closer with you step by step in learning to fear You alone. I’m thankful for Your word of truth and its power to change our perspective on living a more vibrant Christian life in You as we hold fast to Your promises to carry us through this journey as we surrender more and more of lives to You. Lord, help us to daily deny ourselves and take up our cross (the purpose and calling you have on our lives), seeking You first in all things, by which “You will increase, but we must decrease.” (John 3:30) May You continue to grant us a more clear and true perspective of who we are in You – saved by grace, completely redeemed, unconditionally loved, and in possession of the greatest source of hope through our Savior, Jesus Christ. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.