Most of us have asked God in a thousand ways, “What is your will for my life?” Bottom line: God cares more about who you are than He does about what you’re doing. But you may be asking yourself, what about all the good and bad things I’ve done in my life? And what about all the good and bad things that have been done to me? Don’t they matter? Does He not care? Do they not count?
They matter only to the degree to which they’re moving you closer in your relationship with Jesus. From this perspective, there really aren’t bad things in life. There are just things; every one of them an incredible opportunity to experience the unconditional, undeserved, unending love of Jesus, and to be transformed by that love to where it becomes who you are!
Jesus wants to walk with you into the painful memories and the shaming words, experiences, and emotions that have caused brokenness in your soul. Every one of them is a doorway to encounter Him in deeper and more intimate ways. The more fully you expose the ache within you – to yourself, to God, and to another human being – the more profoundly you’ll encounter His love and grace. He’s the only one who can fully know you yet still fully love you! And that is where the healing occurs.
The Truth None of Us Likes to Hear
The most pivotal aspect of Jesus’s design for His children to experience this healing transformation goes very much against our human nature. What many Christians – including myself for many years – fail to consider (or possibly do consider, but decline to implement because of what is required) is found in the words of the gospel writers as they recorded some of Jesus’s most important spoken words:
“For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.” (Matthew 16:25 NIV)
Jesus surely isn’t telling us, is He, that in order to discover the life of meaning and wholeness and purpose He intends for us, we have to actually give up life as we’ve come to know it? Well, I do believe that is what He is saying. It seems counterintuitive, doesn’t it? Even contradictory. Many who are reading this can’t imagine how it could ever work. We are to willingly make ourselves less and make Him more. He’s calling each of us to intentionally put to death all that makes us who we are in this world – our past, our present, our future – both joyous and hurtful. And He promises to redefine who we are in His eyes. Even though we know He promises to give our life more meaning and purpose and joy, and less shame and stress and fear, it still seems really scary, doesn’t it? Can I trust Jesus? Does He really know what’s best for me?
Many of us still have a white-knuckle grip on the three biggest obstacles to fully trusting Jesus: CONTROL, CONTROL, and CONTROL.
A Paradox: Dying in Order to Live
God is not speaking in this passage of a physical dying, even though there were times in my life when the pain within me was so great that I had wished I could die. The dying that God wants us to submit to is a dying of our flesh – our fallen human nature. Some refer to this as the sin nature, while others contend the sin nature went away when we placed our faith in Jesus Christ. Either way, for the purposes of this writing – and to avoid any contention that might cause some to miss the forest for the trees – I’m just going to refer to this as our “flesh.”
I did an online keyword search for words in the Bible that are synonymous with this concept of this “dying” we’re talking about:
- Surrender (46 occurrences in the Bible)
- Self-denial (54 occurrences in the Bible)
- Flesh / sinful nature (6,166 occurrences in the Bible)
It would seem that God has a lot to say about this topic! Here are several passages from the Bible that I often turn to as a reminder of where my confidence should lie:
“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.” (Galatians 2:20)
“And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)
“And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” (Galatians 5:24)
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:24)
“For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” (Mark 8:35)
“And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” (Matthew 10:38)
“He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.” (1 Peter 2:24)
“Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 2:3-4)
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” (Romans 12:1)
“He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30)
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:1-2)
“So, you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 6:11)
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