I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. [The Apostle Paul; Galatians 2:20]
Here’s a happy thought – when you become a Christ-follower you die! Not literally of course but in a very real sense by surrendering our will to the will of God Christ-followers are dead to their own lives and their own desires. We’re dead men walking. We live a life of complete surrender to the will of God. The first century Christ-followers knew this so thoroughly and talked about it so much that some outsiders considered them a death cult.
Jesus’ own words about following him couldn’t have been clearer; “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” [Mark 8:34] This is well before His crucifixion but even so in a first century context the image of carrying one’s cross would have given people a vivid image of death.
As a salesmen it’s funny to me that this is how Jesus pitched what it meant to be his disciple. It’s as if he was saying “If you want to follow me, get ready to die.” Sign me up!
To the early followers however, and even today in some countries, converting to Christianity could very well have been a death sentence. In a first century context this death imagery was very appropriate but what does it all mean to a modern day western Christ-follower?
Of course surrendering your will to the will of God is not an exclusively Christian concept. Many major world religions talk about self denial and surrender as a path to righteousness. The Arabic root word of Islam means to give up, to desert or to surrender to God. Hinduism encourages adherents to commit themselves to a life detached from worldly concerns in order to fully surrender their will to understanding the will of God. Popular self-help author Eckhart Tolle calls it releasing your ego.
All of these worldviews hold in common the notion that it is holy to somehow detach from yourself and others in order to attain peace. But instead it leads to personal isolationism or worse, a form of tribalism that seeks to protect the followers understanding of, and access to, God at all costs. But to a Christ-follower it’s more than that. It’s not just surrendering to God, it’s submitting to one another as well. Many people miss the fact that when Jesus was asked to define the greatest commandment he actually refused to reduce it just one:
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” [Matthew 22:37-40]
He could have stopped at the first point, but he didn’t. The Pharisee asked him for ONE command but he gave TWO. The implication of that is huge; Jesus is saying that you can’t love God alone without also loving everyone else. You cannot love God in isolation. Becoming isolated from God’s people, indeed the whole of creation is NOT an act of love toward God.
So how do you love God? By surrendering your will to God and allowing Jesus to live through you to serve the needs of mankind.
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. [James 1:27]