“What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?” ~Luke 9:25 (NIV – click HERE for context)
In other words, no matter what I have in this life; it is only when I lay down my own life, take up the cross he’s chosen me to bear, and follow Jesus, that I will become the Self I was created to be – unique, beautiful, and necessary.
At least, that’s how it struck me when it was read in church yesterday morning.
On the surface, if you’ve never really read this passage, it feels a little contradictory, doesn’t it? How does one “deny yourself” and not “lose your very self?”
As this verse struck me, scriptures about the body of Christ, spiritual gifts, and the love of God for individuals all began to come to mind. Luke 9:25 tied them all together in my head, making a neat and tidy package of thought, where once I simply saw different words about different things. Of course, I knew they were all linked, but until now, it hadn’t really sunk in.
God didn’t create one kind of person. He created many – all with unique everything. No two of us are just alike, not even identical twins. Why on earth would a God of such diversity in the physical realm expect us to be the same as one another in the spiritual realm?
We all, as widely diverse disciples of Christ, have only one thing truly in common: The Holy Spirit to guide, teach, and convict us. He indwells us individually, yet knits us all together, in one accord, before the throne of God. We all stand as equals, wearing clean linen, washed in the same blood from the same God-man: Jesus. Yet, we all stand before him in glorious individuality! An individuality that we cannot fully reach until we have laid down what we think is ours, to follow him.
God doesn’t expect, or want, all us Christians to look and sound just like each other. We are not supposed to be uniformly alike. He only asks that we be unified in our faith, linking arms with people vastly different than us in every other way possible, loving each other, and marching together as soldiers ready to die for something far bigger than ourselves.
It is only when we fulfill this desire, so close to God’s heart, that we become our truest selves, the selves Creator God made us to be. It brings to mind a passage in The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis, that has always stood out to me very distinctly. If you have never read it, you need to know that the following quote is from the point of view of a sort of “mentor demon” to his “pupil” regarding his pupil’s “patient” – the human he is responsible for tempting.
“Remember always, that He really likes the little vermin, and sets an absurd value on the distinctness of every one of them. When He talks of their losing their selves, He only means abandoning the clamor of self-will; once they have done that, He really gives them back all their personality, and boasts (I am afraid, sincerely) that when they are wholly His they will be more themselves than ever. Hence, while He is delighted to see them sacrificing even their innocent wills to His, He hates to see them drifting away from their own nature for any other reason.”
Now, it all makes sense.
“Be yourself” and “Deny yourself” are not contradictory terms, in Christ Jesus. As long as I am laying down the burden of my own fleshly desires, to take up the daily cross I’ve been given, I will always be more myself than I ever could otherwise.
How did this strike you? How much “you” are you being? Are you trying to mold yourself into the “ideal” Christian? Well – stop. I promise, you will be much more comfortable in the “you-shaped” mold you were designed for, and much better able to reach people around you in sincerity and truth. After all, isn’t that what we all want most? To draw people to Jesus?
Deny yourself. Be yourself. In Jesus.
Grace, Peace, and Learning Everyday,