“God’s means of delivering us from sin is not by making us stronger and stronger, but by making us weaker and weaker. That is surely rather a peculiar way of victory, you say; but it is the divine way. God sets us free from the dominion of sin, not by strengthening our old man but by crucifying him; not by helping him to do anything, but by removing him from the scene of action.”
Eugene Peterson said that the essence of the spiritual life is “learning how to die”. “You start losing all your illusions, and you start being capable of true intimacy and love.”
We have a problem. We want to have a vibrant spiritual life with all of God’s blessings … we just don’t want to get there “by way of death”, as Augustine said. Father Raniero was asked by Nicky Gumbel, “How do you grow in your walk with Christ?” He responded, “The ego must die, for Christ to live.” Paul wrote, “I die daily” (1 Corinthians 15:31) and “those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24).
How do you know if your ego is not dead? Have a look at how you respond to trouble. Dan Mohler has said that if we can’t “glory in tribulation” and see the “manifestation of Jesus” in our troubles, then a self-centred, self-pitying force is at work. We cry out, “Why me?” Here we must go back to the secret place with the Father and die to that self-centred thing. It’s not what we are going through that matters, it’s what God is doing in our life at that point that is important. When our ego is put to death, the life of the resurrected Christ can flow out of us.
Dying to self is another unpopular message in our culture of entitlement! Most people want to be happy, but their self-focused pursuit of happiness is fatally flawed. Happiness is only ever a bi-product of seeking something else. True, lasting happiness is a result of dethroning ourselves and seeking first Christ and His kingdom.
The Bible doesn’t teach us that “Blessed is the one who seeks blessedness.” It comes as we prioritise God and His kingdom over our comfort. Paraphrasing Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, “The person who will find happiness is the one who stops trying so hard to be happy.” Without the singular focus of Christ in our lives we will be tempted to put our trust in many other things and the peace of God will elude us.
C.S. Lewis wrote, “There must be a real giving up of the self. You must throw it away blindly, so to speak … Give up your self, and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death, the death of your ambitions and favourite wishes every day, and death of your whole body in the end … submit with every fibre of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing.”
Read and reflect on the challenging words of George Müller: “There was a day when I died; died to self, my opinions, preferences, tastes and will; died to the world, its approval or censure; died to the approval or blame even of my brethren or friends; and since then I have studied only to show myself approved unto God.”
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