"Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it." (Matthew 16: 25)
Christianity begins with a death and ends with a promise of new life. I am sure that many would be glad to do away with the death and dying part. The first disciples of Jesus wanted no part of death or denying themselves for the gospel; Jesus had to rebuke Peter for rejecting death immediately after praising him for his confession of faith in Matthew 16.
Real faith costs something as Peter found out - die to yourself! We would like to forget this part of the good news, but it is too important. It is in every gospel, every letter, every book of the New Testament. Jesus won't let us forget it. From the first, he said leave everything and "follow me," and then to his earthly end, which was death on a cross, Jesus showed his disciples that we must regard God as being more important than our own life.
The Christian life today begins with our death to self and that is when the real living arises. Jesus said that "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it more abundantly" (John 10:10). Unfortunately for many, the thief is winning, and they are losing. Jesus said if you save your life you will lose it. Focus on yourself, ignore God, and you have entered a path that leads to self-destruction and death. Try to live for yourself, satisfy yourself, and you will live a life of self destruction.
Even an atheist like Sigmund Freud saw that our desires never are fully satisfied, which leads to frustration, neurosis and ultimately self destruction and death. That is the way of the world. The Apostle Paul said much the same thing 2,000 years ago. He declared that our self seeking desires are sinful, arousing destructive behaviors and causing spiritual death. All of this happens under the illusion that by focusing on ourselves, we can find happiness; or that we really know what is best for us; or that we are equipped to imagine our own best future. In truth, we cannot do any of these things. The road of self-satisfaction leads to death.
Paul's prayer in Ephesians is to know the love of Christ, "who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish far more than all we can ask or imagine" (Eph 3: 20). God knows us better than we know ourselves. If we start with the death to our own desires, then we can really learn to live. When we deny ourselves, Christ comes into our lives more fully and transforms our desires and our lives. We "put on Christ" more easily and live for God more effortlessly.
If you give up trying to get what you want, and place yourself in God's hands, then you can really start to live your best possible life. For then, "it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me" (Gal 2:20).
- Manzinger is the pastor at First Baptist Church, 380 W. Fourth St.