September 9, 2013

Death to the rule of self

Like the disciples, I’ve assumed my faith. The Lord said they would deny Him, but they didn’t believe that they would. Peter even declared, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” And all the disciples said the same. (Matthew 26:35)

Jesus took them to Gethsemane and the tests began. He wrestled in prayer, bleeding drops of blood as the struggle was so fierce, and the disciples? While Jesus was saying “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will,” they were sleeping. Die to self? Not what they wanted.

Jesus said, “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:41) Their problem was not that the flesh needed more strength, but that it needed to be dead. Because of mere weakness, as He predicted, all would fall away that night just as the Old Testament said. “I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.” (Matthew 26:31) Not even for Jesus would they die to self.

Jesus had taught them the reality of self-denial. They heard the words, just as I have heard the words.

And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? (Luke 9:23–25)

It sounds so noble, so beyond average, an ideal that calls me to greater sanctification and holiness. Like Peter, I suppose that I could die for this Jesus who died for me. But when push comes to shove, I have no idea of the power of self. It stubbornly wants to live, not die. Instead of standing with Jesus, I scatter. Instead of praying with Him, I sleep. Instead of saying no to selfishness, I pursue it. I understand the words of Paul, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24)

Of course, Jesus is the deliverer. I am to persevere, to lay aside the weight of self and the clinging sin that goes with it and “run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1-2).

He endured from sinners great hostility against Himself so I would not grow weary or fainthearted. In my struggle against sin I have not yet resisted to the point of shedding my blood. I so easily forget His exhortations and so lightly regard His discipline. I get tired of being reproved, like a brat who persists in trying to put his hand in the cookie jar.

Hebrews 12 goes on to remind me that the Lord disciplines those He loves, not because He is mean but because I am His child. It is for my good, that I might share his holiness. After all, it is only for the moment that this discipline seems painful. He promises that under His training eventually I will experience the “peaceful fruit of righteousness.”

My hands are drooping and my knees are weak. I’m told to make straight paths for my feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. The goal is peace with everyone and holiness so that I will see the Lord. How foolish to pick self-rule over that. 

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