What is the role of the Christian in this world? We are to be representatives of Christ; signposts to point others to Him. God has offered us forgiveness, and the promise to change us; to heal our wounds, and to transform us gradually into the image of His Son. We are, in turn, to be salt and light in the world; to commit ourselves to Him and to practice kindness, forgiveness, and to love our enemies. None of these things is easy or without various kinds of risk. So, how do we learn to reflect Christ in this world? What does it mean to die to self in today’s culture? I suggest that it means the same today as it did in the times of Christ.
Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. (Philippians 2:1-8 NKJV)
We are to be obedient followers of Christ and He was prepared to die for us. If we are to be faithful followers, we also need to be prepared to die to self ~ relinquish the desire to put ourselves first, so that we may be filled with the fruit of the spirit. We are to decrease so that He may increase in us.
Our spirits are like any container. If you have a jug filled with sour milk, and you want to use that jug to hold sweet milk, you must first empty out the jug so that there is room. Our old nature is the sour milk; our new nature in Christ is the sweet. (2 Corinthians 5:17) We must be emptied of our old nature in order to become filled with the new nature. (Galatians 2:20) This can be a slow process, but God is patient; we only need to be willing. (Ephesians 2:10)
Each time we submit to God in trust, we pour out a little of that old nature. Each time we genuinely forgive, or sacrifice for others in a spirit of love (not dragging our feet reluctantly), or can give someone else first place with joy ~ we are dying to self. When we can learn to see others through the eyes of Christ and find compassion ~ even when they are being insufferable ~ then we are beginning to learn wisdom. When we give up being defensive and angry whenever we are challenged, or are able to stop seeking our own way in everything, then we are slowly emptying our vessels of the sour milk to make room for the sweet.
We can’t always make these changes on our own just by wanting them. (Romans 7:15-25) The spirit may be willing, but the flesh is undeniably weak (Matthew 26:41; Mark 14:38), and we often blind ourselves to our own selfishness and willfulness. We need to pray that the Lord will give us wisdom (James 1:5); that He will reveal to us those things about ourselves that we need to submit to Him. If we pray for His leading, then He will undoubtedly let us see the truth of who we are. Seeing ourselves objectively can be painful, and each gradual revelation has a consequence. When He shows us something about ourselves that we know is not pleasing to Him, then we must make a choice: will we continue to demand our own way, or will we repent of our willfulness and let this thing go to Him in submission and trust? By putting His will first, we gradually will be changed. (Matt. 10:39, 16:25; Mark 8:35; Luke 9:24,17:33; John 12:25)
Life becomes a series of challenges and choices. We may stop at any time, and stay static at that point of our spiritual development. With each choice to surrender willingly to Christ, we move forward a little farther toward the goal of being made like Him.
(Rom. 8:29) However, we should know in advance that we never get to the end of challenges.
God also has a way of being able to strip us of every mask, of every bit of camouflage we adopt in order to hide from ourselves. It is hard sometimes to accept what may be uncovered. It isn’t easy to acknowledge that what we have thought were “good” lives have also harbored ugly things like unresolved anger, bitterness or self-righteousness.
He does not force us to relinquish our own wills, and this is why some Christians remain at the beginning of the journey. He is a Gentleman. He will offer us the choices, and may nudge us a bit initially ~ but we always have the option of choosing whether or not to submit. The Holy Spirit may prod from time to time, but if we persist in ignoring Him, eventually there may come a time when He stops prodding and leaves us to our choice to be self-ruling. He does not stop loving us, but spiritually we will not grow much from that time.
The world today is obsessed with elevating the self and asserting one’s own desires and beliefs above everything else. This is the opposite of the Christian goal which is to be in subjection to the will of God in all things. How do we as Christians living in the world reconcile these two purposes? It is a difficult choice to refuse to be drawn into the philosophy of the world, yet that is what we are called to do.
Will all those who seriously pursue Him end up with comfortable lives and having few problems because of their faith? Absolutely not; in fact, often quite the opposite. If human comfort of varying kinds is what is most wanted, then our energy will go into pursuing that comfort, and we well may find it. God will not necessarily stand in our way.
However, if to be like Christ is what we want, God may take us through many deep valleys and rocky paths. (Psalm 23:4) It is by our faith in Him through these difficult times that we learn patience, kindness, self-control, and the rest of the spiritual fruit. Rare and precious metals are purified through the process of burning away the dross in a crucible. Trials are the crucible of the spirit. We are told to take up our crosses, deny ourselves and follow Him. His cross took Him to death in my place, the ultimate obedience to the will of the Father. Our crosses will take us to the death of self and to the growth of Christ in us if we follow faithfully. Our hope is in trusting Him, and letting ourselves be led by the Good Shepherd (John 10), step by step along a path which may be difficult. God wants us to succeed. (Rom. 8:31; 1 John 3:20) Will we continue to live lives driven by self-will or will we choose submission to God over self?