Years ago, I found myself involved in a boundary-centered religious setting. The premise of this type of group is boundaries keep us “in” and the bad “out.” It is possible to know who is “in” by observing external behaviors. I am the perfect candidate for this setting because I am also a recovering approval addict. I want to do whatever it takes to make you happy and keep myself in good standing.
I adopted some private mantras that helped to convince me this association was for my best. One of them was this:
“If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me.” Luke 9:23
In my twisted thinking, I read it like this: “If you want to be pleasing to me, you will give up who you are, take up hard rules, and be my follower.”
From this vantage point, I know that isn’t what Jesus meant. If you read my post yesterday on self-preservation, you might recognize this passage. Jesus goes on to say:
If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but are yourself lost or destroyed? If anyone is ashamed of me and my message, the Son of Man will be ashamed of that person when he returns in his glory and in the glory of the Father and the holy angels. Luke 9:24-26
When I try to gain right standing with God by following specific rules designed to control sinful behavior, I nullify the work of Jesus on the cross. He came and inhabited a human body, taking on a shameful and humiliating death to restore me into relationship with him. If I can do that by good behavior, he died for nothing.
Taking up my cross must mean something else. So, what does it mean and how does self-sacrifice fit into following Christ?
Self-sacrifice is the opposite side of the self-preservation coin. Following Jesus means I give up what the world can give me in the way of acceptance and promotion based on accomplishments, leaving that to Father. Rather, I live out of who I am created to BE – a daughter of the King. Knowing I am deeply loved, chosen, and protected through my relationship with Jesus, I sacrifically live for Jesus. It means I abandon my own selfish desires and ways of thinking to become like him. Loving God and others deeply because I know I am deeply loved, I sacrifice myself to him.
Paul writes about this very concept in Romans 12. He says it like this:
And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. THEN you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. (emphasis mine)Romans 12:1-2
God is concerned with the way I think! He transforms me by changing the way I think about Him, myself and others. When I value what he values, my behaviors will change. I will be more loving, kind and generous. I will be less angry, judgmental and harsh. I will see others as God sees them, created with value and dignity no matter what they may look like on the outside.
Sacrificing who I am is not what Jesus meant when he said I should die to myself. Taking up his cross daily does not mean following a list of rules made for me by muself or others. That isn’t a living and holy sacrifice. It’s slavery.
Self-sacrifice is a pivotal part of following Jesus. As I am transformed into his likeness, I am less concerned about me and what others might think and more concerned with Him and what he thinks. I spend less time promoting myself and more time promoting Him. In the gospels, Jesus often said that he did what His Father told him to do. He wasn’t concerned with what the religious leaders thought of him or if he offended them. He went out of his way to show “sinful” people the way to life. He touched people no one else touched, he talked to people no one else talked to, he stopped for people others passed by. He lived sacrificially.
Have you bought into the idea that who you are isn’t okay and that you need to die to that person? Is self-sacrifice an act of sacrificing who you are to become what you think others want? Jesus loves who you are and accepts you exactly that way. As you come close to him, he will help change the way you think if it needs to be done. As your thinking changes, his will for you and the way forward will open up like the morning sunrise!