It was years ago now, but I still remember a certain Sunday morning when one of the elders of our church was preaching. He was a very colourful brother who was addressing in his own unique way some issue that lay heavy on his heart. What that issue was, I have long since forgotten, but I cannot forget how, at the crucial moment he descended from the platform, grabbed a full-length mirror that he had hidden behind the piano, and walked up and down the aisle holding it up before the congregation, assuring those who saw their reflection that they were now looking at the cause of the problem! He was not mistaken: It is me; it is you.
The apostle John reduces all of mankind’s sins to three categories: “The lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.” (I Jn.2:16) This is a description of man’s self-centred heart concerning what he wants to do, what he wants to possess and what he wants to be respectively. Fallen man believes that if he could only gratify these desires he would be happy. This is a lie.
The reason for this is that those desires is that they are simply the manifestation of chronic selfishness. For example, he may be consumed with desire for a red sports car. However, once he has it, that same desire continues, except that now it fastens on something else. Now he feels sorry for himself because he doesn’t have a new boat. It is for this reason that attaining what the flesh desires is like the thirst caused by diabetes; the cravings continue because the problem is not that he doesn’t have a red Corvette; the problem is that his soul is diseased.
It is these cravings that are the root of most of our unhappiness. We indulge them in the pursuit of contentment, even when we know intellectually that they don’t work. We tell a lie even though we know we will feel ashamed anddegraded for doing so. We get into debt so that we can have an iphone 6 for the very reason that our iphone 5 did not make us happy! We demand respect, knowing that such demands make us look pathetic. Yet outside of Christ, we plough on because “self” is too strong for our brain to control.
How then can a person escape from themselves? The answer is to lose our life in Jesus Christ. He said, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. “ (Matt.16:24) “Taking up our cross” pictures a man purposefully shouldering the instrument of his death. The world and all it offers means nothing to him now, for he is going out to die; he knows he is not coming back. There is no other way to escape from self other than to crucify it, and give your life wholly to Christ. And so Jesus says in the next verse, “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.” It is in dying to self for Jesus’ sake that we find true life and freedom at last. Thus Paul said, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. “ Paul was not perfect; he saw himself as a “work in progress” just like you and me (Phil.3:12), but nevertheless, he had discovered that contentment means being ruled by Christ and not self: “I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content, for . . . . . I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” (Phil.4:11 & 13) The happiness which the flesh promised but never delivered is found at last in Christ who came to give us life in its fullness (Jn.10:10), for we are complete in Him. (Col.2:10).
Now, it is sometimes said that we must “crucify self daily”, which is not a Biblical idea. No, self was crucified when we first came to saving faith in Christ. It was there that we abandoned ourself for love of Him. That is what is pictured in our baptism: that we have died with Christ, and are now risen with Him. This is is our current status if we are saved. Our problem is that the remaining corruption in us keeps trying to reassert itself, and so we must constantly remember who and what we are in Christ. This is one of the major functions of both Christian fellowship and personal Bible study: that we may be constantly reminded of our position in Christ, so that we are conscious of it as we step into each new day. “Mortifying sin” (putting sin to death) which we wrote about in the last Matters of Faith is what we do when we realize that this sinful thought or act has no place in the life of someone who is dead to self and alive unto Christ, and so we cast it out. “Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God.” – Rom.6:11-13
May God help us to enjoy the freedom of living for the Master.