Men most joyful or most to be pitied?

Posted: Fri. May, 20 2016

Men most joyful or most to be pitied?

If we meet all the demands that God puts upon us then there will be nothing left over for self. This is Christianity and it is how Christianity differs from ordinary ideas of 'morality' or 'being good.'

In the system of the world, the ordinary or natural always starts with self as first principle, meaning, that it takes as its starting point the ordinary self with its various desires or interests. It then understands that something called 'morality' or 'being good' or 'for the greater good' makes claims on that self. To 'be good' is to give in to those claims. Yet it is always hoping that when all the demands of morality have been met that the natural self can get on with what it really likes; its own desires or interests. It's like having a job that you don't like. You watch the clock in anticipation of the end of your shift so that you can get on with what you really want to do. And in this system, one of two things happens, either it gives up trying to 'be good' or it lives a fairly unhappy and unfulfilling life. The problem is the starting point - self.

At salvation the starting point is Christ and Him alone. Self has 100% depravity and was only ever destined for crucifixion. Only Christ has life and the issue at salvation is that the life of Christ is offered without cost. If it did have cost then self would become the starting point. It is offered only to faith, which puts all the merit in Christ and exactly none in the one who believes. The life is given and at the same time the call is given to follow Him in this gifted, justified, and victorious life. MAR 2:14 And as He passed by, He saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting in the tax office, and He said to him, "Follow Me!" And he rose and followed Him.

LUK 5:11 And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed Him.

ACT 9:15-16 But the Lord said to him, "Go, for he [Paul] is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name's sake."

Again, we are following ONLY the gifted, justified, and victorious life that is Christ and it is never on our terms, meaning the natural self-life is never the starting point.

ROM 5:18 one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men.

ROM 8:6 the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace

ROM 8:11 He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who indwells you.

We see something different in two other men that came into contact with the Lord.

LUK 9:59-62 And He said to another, "Follow Me." But he said, "Permit me first to go and bury my father." But He said to him, "Allow the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God."  And another also said, "I will follow You, Lord; but first permit me to say good-bye to those at home." But Jesus said to him, "No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God."

These men wanted the life on their own terms. That makes self the first principle rather than Christ. Yet all of us who have received the life at salvation struggle to let go of self completely and entrust our entire lives to Him. To receive the life and then ask permission to go back to self as first principle, whether it is to things wicked or innocent, is in complete contradistinction to the new life given. Christ has given His life. He is the starting point. JOH 21:22 "You follow Me!"

This is both easier and harder than trying to go back to making self the starting point. Christ says, LUK 9:23-24 And He was saying to them all, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. "For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it." And He also says, MAT 11:30 "For My yoke is easy, and My load is light." One is like being marched off to a concentration camp and the other seems more like a pleasant walk. Both are true.

The yoke is easy because He has always borne it. The fruit of the life is from the Spirit. The strength of the life is from Christ. The wisdom of the life is from His word. The path of the life is given by the Father and it is guided by walking by the Spirit. Yet the honest truth is each of us holds on to some aspects of the self-life. But Christ doesn't ever compromise in His word. Christ says, "I don't want to pull just the good teeth and leave the rotten, or the rotten and leave the good, I want all the teeth out. I've given you a whole new set."

It is important that we understand that this is not only about the so-called bad things, but all of the self-life being abandoned as a priority or starting point. It's like a child who says, "Can I keep him? I promise he'll be good," about a dog that will not be house trained and chews all the shoes to pieces. Nothing of the self-life can be good, not by God's definition. Drop it all and by faith trust God to fill what you imagine will be a great void left behind - a void you are very afraid of. MAR 10:29-31 Jesus said, "Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms, for My sake and for the gospel's sake, but that he shall receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life. "But many who are first, will be last; and the last, first."

In the above verse, the first are those who strive to keep the self-life as first principle, while the last are those who drop it completely in favor of the new life that is Christ.

In addition to the loss of the self-life are things that seem to be a part of the plan of God for a time that God may take away later. When He takes something away, it is always for His glory in some way. I'm sure that Job's possessions and children and prestige amongst his friends and community seemed to him to be a permanent part of the plan of God for his life. But he had to conclude, JOB 1:21 "Naked I came from my mother's womb, And naked I shall return there. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord." JOB 2:10 Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?" His faith concludes, "If God even wants these things then they are His and I will still follow Him." In all this Job did not sin.

Please notice that Job did not need to know if what happened to him was from the direct hand of God or from the permissive hand of God in allowing Satan to torment him. We don't have to penetrate the problem with a hundred questions about 'why.' Usually the questions can't be answered anyway. We have to trust God.  

If I see the evidence that God may remove something that I love from my life, as Job loved his servants and his children, will I respond like Job or will I sin against God? Whether it happens or not, how I answer that question is to determine whether or not I have picked up His cross and followed Him and not just followed Him on my own terms. If any of us in a similar situation answer as Job answered, then the cross we carry becomes easy and light for we have put all of our trust in Him, the Bearer of loads.

What have we let go of and what is it that we hold? How much do we trust what we now hold in Christ? How much faith do we have in it?

One of the simple questions this boils down to is if God is real? 1CO 15:19 If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied. Paul was addressing the denial of the resurrection of Christ. This question isn't oversimplified in the way that you may think. I think when it is asked by a believer, what he is really asking is, 'How close to me is He really? I find myself having to trust Him for something bigger than I've ever had to, can I count on Him, i.e. is He real?" I like this question as of late, because I conclude that if He is real then He has to be the God of the Bible. All other so-called gods that Satan props up, even the god of self, put self as first principle. They desire works from self, sacrifice by self, and/or gifts from self before they will give anything. But God became a man and gave us Himself as first principle, and since He is resurrected, He has given us His life and crucified the old self-life, and all this, He gave freely. ROM 8:32 He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?

Since, therefore, He is real, and He is love and peace and unfathomably gracious, He demands that I drop my self-life completely and give all my will and affections to Him - to yield to Him, not just in some things, but in all things. If I do, then the cross I pick up becomes the easy and light burden because He is always the one who is bearing the weight. We can only do it for moments at first. But from those moments the new life will be spreading through our entire system since now we are letting Him do the work.

The self-life or natural life in each of us is something self-centered, something that wants to be petted and admired, to take advantage of other lives, to exploit the whole universe. And especially it wants to be left to itself: to keep well away from anything better or stronger or higher than it, anything that might make it feel small. It fights for its life. To reckon it dead, as it truly is through our identification with Christ in His crucifixion, is to find our lives and take hold of that which is life indeed.

This article was greatly influenced by C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity; Dietrich Bonhoeffer's The Cost of Discipleship.

Thank you all for your prayers this past week. Please don't stop. I still need them.  


Love in Christ,

Pastor Joe Sugrue

Grace and Truth Ministries