Jesus said that those who want to come after Him need to deny themselves, take up their cross and follow Him. Effectively, to pursue Christ-likeness, we need to live out forgiveness, humility, moderation, self-sacrifice and long-suffering perseverance as we go about His mission. That’s a lot to think about, so Jesus puts it in blunter context that we might have a memory hook to hang it on, “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.”
We need to learn that, because our culture does not merely encourage us to live for ourselves – it teaches and incentivizes self-actualization. Self-actualization is a great step beyond self-preservation. Self-preservation has some common sense built into it. It is common sense to avoid danger and to flee from harmful situations. But Jesus isn’t suggesting we eject common sense. In fact, Jesus’ paradoxical mnemonic is more than encouragement to abandon the selfish way of life the world constantly encourages.
There is nothing intrinsically wrong with exotic vacations, grand houses and super cars and careful planning of retirement for financial stability in later years. But even the most ungodly of people can realize that if your life is tied up with mere things, it is as empty as the day is long. Jesus wants to teach us a deeper truth than how to behave with our wallets. He is giving us an instruction set to avoid living pointlessness and empty lives.
There are more displaced people today then there were alive on the planet in Jesus’ time. Over 70 million people live apart from their homes as refugees from violence, oppression, natural disaster and war. Yet most all of the nations of the world pledge to do all they can to stop those very people from crossing their borders. Perhaps that is because their typical household is a microcosm of the nation’s fear of the foreigner and distrust of the stranger. Yet the poor, widows and orphans in their distress, the sick and the foreigner are the focus of God’s compassion and mercy all through the Scripture – old and new.
Jesus is saying that we ought to know that saving ourselves from the inconvenience of pouring out resources and effort for the vulnerable quartet (the poor, the fatherless, the sick and the foreigner) will not save us on the day of judgment.
In our day we’ve progressed past 1960-era young adult hippies ‘finding themselves’ with drugs to children being encouraged to become completely different sexes based entirely on how they feel at the moment. But all self-actualization – whether by recreational drug use or gender re-assignment – will not save your life from being wasted, no matter what age you are when you try. Rather, it will guarantee a lifetime of hardship and an eternity of regret. God did not make mistakes in creating you to live according to His Word for His glory, and He cannot be mocked without consequence.
To discover the life God would have for us we need to give up the unhealthy focus on self that the world pushes so hard. At the minimum, we need to be willing to lose everything we hold tightly to for His sake. To live the “Christ-life”, we need to live for Jesus, doing as Jesus did, thinking as Jesus did and speaking as Jesus did.
If we lay claim to special rights as Christians, we have forgotten that we’re supposed to be like Jesus.Rebecca Van Noord
Look to the cross. The Christ-life is a cruciform life, not a life of self-actualization.