March 08, 2019 by John Maurice
What does it mean to be a follower of Christ? Dying to self daily . . . to be raised into what Christ has created us to be.
What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus? That’s a pretty significant question to ponder. In fact, before you move to the next sentence give this question some thought.
I must admit that one of the first places I go when I contemplate this question is to statements of faith about doctrinal beliefs. Doctrinal and theological beliefs are extremely important. After all, if Jesus is not the Divine Son of God, crucified, buried and raised from the dead, there is no basis for Christianity (I Cor. 15:11-17). But is there more to being a follower of Jesus than the statements about what we believe? Does being a follower of Jesus bring deeper meaning than going to church, making doctrinal statements about the authority of scripture, or having an intellectual understanding about the nature of the Christ?
While statements of faith are important, it seems like a Christianity that influences the world and changes lives is built upon more than I believe proclamations. The late Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said that “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” If we think through the process of salvation, the Christian life begins with our death. Paul, writing to Christians in Rome, reminds them that “we have been buried with Him through baptism into death” (Romans 6:4). He then goes on to explain that “our old self was crucified with Him” (Romans 6:6).
This idea of death to self runs through the very heart of the gospel. Jesus said that “If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9:23). The Apostle Paul boldly exclaimed that his new life and spiritual power in Christ was the result of having been crucified with Christ (Galatians 2:20). Our following Jesus and having new life begins with death to self.
In my years of ministry, I have observed that the church is at its very worst when those who claim to follow Jesus demand their own way, seek to have power over others, are self-promoting and self-serving, and show contempt and disregard for those in the church as well as those outside the church. Sinfulness, disunity, anger, strife, judgmental attitudes, and pride indicate our failure to take up our cross and die to self daily. It causes the world to see a caricature of Jesus and miss the Jesus who gave his life for all on a cross. In contrast, I find that the church is at its very best when Christ-followers love others the way Jesus loved them, offering grace and friendship to those enslaved by sin. I see the gospel most powerfully at work when people die to self and seek the very best for others rather than themselves. And in these glimpses of grace, the gospel transforms, liberates, and restores the broken and the brokenhearted.
The gospel builds bridges to people we would often overlook, marginalize, or ignore. Jesus’ gospel is freely offered to adulterers, liars, addicts, prostitutes, pimps, and preachers. When Jesus went to his hometown of Nazareth and read scripture from Isaiah at that synagogue service, he declared that The Gospel is good news for everyone! Jesus says that the good news is for the poor, captives, blind, enslaved, and downtrodden (Luke 4:18).
The cost of discipleship is this: We must each give up our old selves in order to embrace and be raised into the men and women that Christ has created us to be. When this happens, our lives can be used by God to impact everyone with good news.
The only way that we can find this life is through death to self. But we resist dying to self. Our sin nature wants to fulfill our wants and desires.
I began with the question: What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus? Perhaps being a follower of Jesus is to continually seek to die to self so that we can live for Jesus. None of us can escape the words of Jesus - “If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9:23). There is no way we can be a Christ-follower without death to self . . . daily.
Bonhoeffer wrote: “Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life” (The Cost of Discipleship).
I leave you with these words from an unknown author:
When you are forgotten, neglected, or purposely ignored and you don’t sting and hurt with the insult of the oversight, but your heart is happy, being counted worthy to suffer for Christ, THAT IS DYING TO SELF.
When your good is spoken of as evil, your wishes are crossed, your advice disregarded, your opinion ridiculed, and you refuse to let anger rise in your heart, or even defend yourself, but take it all in patient, loving silence, THAT IS DYING TO SELF.
When you lovingly and patiently bear any disorder and irregularity, or any annoyance; when you stand face to face with waste, folly, extravagance, spiritual insensibility, and endure it as Jesus endured, THAT IS DYING TO SELF.
When you are content with any food, any offering, any climate, any society, any clothing, and any interruption by the will of God, THAT IS DYING TO SELF.
When you never care to refer to yourself in conversation, or to record your own good works or itch after praise; when you can truly love to be unknown, THAT IS DYING TO SELF.
When you can see your brother prosper and have his needs met and can honestly rejoice with him in spirit and feel no envy, nor question God, while your own needs are far greater and in desperate circumstances. THAT IS DYING TO SELF.
When you can receive correction and reproof from one of less stature than yourself and can humbly submit inwardly as well as outwardly, finding no rebellion or resentment rising up within your heart, THAT IS DYING TO SELF.
ARE YOU DEAD YET?
Take up your cross and build a bridge!