Talk to enough Christians and it’s apparent that whatever is wrong with the world is also wrong with believers. Not a person reading this doesn’t know a dozen Christians who struggle constantly with their Faith, staggering from one ditch into another.
For years, I used to be on a team at church who prayed for folks who came up after the service. The stories I’ve heard…more hair-curling than a beauty salon. What I’ve learned in those times makes for discernment that never fails and a word of wisdom that always applies.
What did I learn? It’s in these words of Jesus:
For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.
The reason many Christians suffer needlessly is because we don’t know what it means to die to self. Nearly every problem we make for ourselves we make because we’ve skirted the cross and gone on our own merry way.
Consider any issue facing the American Church today. Below the surface, the crux of that issue goes back to one thing: not enough dead-to-self Christians.
Take the phrase “not enough are dead to self ” and see how remarkably it answers the following questions:
Why aren’t Christians more interested in evangelism?
Why do so few Christians know the Bible?
Why are Christians so prayerless?
Why do so few Christians serve their neighbors?
Why do so many Christians look just like the world?
Why do so many Christians get divorces?
Why do our Christian youth apostasize in such large numbers while in college?
Why are Christians making so little impact on our society and culture?
The number of such questions that can be answered with “not enough are dead to self ” accumulates rapidly.
A chilling verse:
For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ.
I’m sure each of us could draw up a list packed with names of people or groups we would deem enemies of Christ.
But notice Paul’s phraseology. He chooses his words carefully. He did NOT say “enemies of Christ” but “enemies of the CROSS of Christ.”
That hits harder because it hits closer to home. In fact, such enemies may populate our churches. Worse yet, they may be you and me.
Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.
Sounds like America 2009, doesn’t it?
What else explains the crossless preaching from our pulpits that tickles so many ears? What else explains Christians who can’t seem to abide even the lightest correction or systematic discipleship? What else explains Christians who look just like the world?
Simple: They haven’t been to the cross.
Perhaps one Christian in 1,000 can say the following without risk of perjury:
But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith– that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
Jesus makes the the dividing line even more obvious:
So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.
And that dividing line is the cross. The cross is death to anyone who lays hold of it with both hands:
But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.
Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
But for those who die at the cross, a new hope exists:
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
—2 Corinthians 5:17
The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with him, we will also live with him…
—2 Timothy 2:11
Here’s one of the strongest spiritual truths: People who aren’t dead to self are nigh unto useless for the Kingdom. Most of what they do for God will be of the flesh, and that junk neither lasts nor produces genuine fruit.
But a man or woman dead to self and alive to Christ is unbounded. You can’t shame such people because you can’t shame the dead. You can’t hurt the dead because they feel no pain. You don’t have to dance around the willfulness of the dead because, hey, no will of their own; they pretty much do whatever you tell them.
And that’s the kind of person God will use immensely.
If we want to talk about equipping the saints, we also have to talk about de-equipping them of themselves.
Too few Christian leaders are bold enough to tell people to their faces that the sole reason for the majority of their annoyances is that they aren’t dead to self. Too few Christian leaders have the cajones to go up to lingerers at church and say, “The reason you’re useless for God is because you have no idea what it means to be dead to self. Maybe if you stopped crawling off the altar God would use you to fix the problems in His church that you’ve been griping about for decades.” Or something to that effect.
If people get offended, too bad. It’s one of the signs they’re not dead to self. Sadly, the cemeteries are filled with the bodies of those who walked away from God because He didn’t fulfill their expectations. And each one of those people left because they couldn’t get past the cross and dying to self. Isaiah, in one of the most potent verses in Scripture, describes such people vividly:
“Woe to him who strives with him who formed him, a pot among earthen pots! Does the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’ or ‘Your work has no handles’?
You can tell when someone isn’t dead. While a dead body reeks of decay, a person not dead to self reeks of something far worse: pride. Meanwhile, the sweet aroma of the Christian who is dead to self is that of humility, the first fruit of the image of Christ.
If we aren’t getting people to the cross, then all the equipping in the world will be worthless. If the raw material we’re hoping to see molded into the image of Jesus isn’t dead first, we might as reevaluate our fancy-dancy educational programming until it is.
Will that be hard? Heck, yeah! But it’s the only way that achieves great results for the Kingdom.