This article is part two of a series regarding your identity in Christ. I suggest you first read part one before reading this part if you have not already done so.
“For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf. Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer. Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.”
In my last post in this series I covered the first two aspects of the cross which are (in my mind) Redemption and our co-death with Christ. In this post I would like to share about the third aspect of the cross which is the continuing work of the cross in the life of the believer. There is a lot of confusion about this aspect of the cross and I hope that this contribution will help a little with that.
Dying to Self or Denying Yourself?
“From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day. Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to You.” But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.” Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”
“And Jesus *answered them, saying, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. “He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal.”
“For, let this mind be in you that is also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal to God, but did empty himself, the form of a servant having taken, in the likeness of men having been made, and in fashion having been found as a man, he humbled himself, having become obedient unto death–death even of a cross…”
I have never liked the phrase that many Christians use; “dying to self”. I’m not sure where that phrase came from, but I think that it may have originated from some well meaning “deeper life” authors in the 1800s. But the truth is that God never called us to die to ourselves. He has rather called us to “deny ourselves”. The difference is not mere semantics. Dying to self strongly implies us doing something, yeah even working hard at something. Yet Jesus made it very clear that we can, of ourselves, do absolutely nothing (John 15:5). And yet I have met many believers who are working very hard at crucifying themselves or dying to themselves or whatever you want to call it!
What is the Meaning Behind “Denying Yourself”?
I believe that the two main ways we can understand this aspect of the cross is to look at the meaning of the word “deny” and to look at the context of the passages where that word is used.
Deny – (in the original) literally to ‘disown’. Webster definition: To disown; to refuse or neglect to acknowledge; not to confess.
Jesus told us to disown ourselves! WOW.. That puts a whole different light on it, eh? This word has the same meaning as how orthodox Jews would treat a convert to Christianity or a Muslim to Christianity. The family would totally disown this person. This gives us a basic understanding, now we need to look at the context.
In Matthew chapter 16 we see that when Jesus begins to explain to the disciples that He will be going to Jerusalem and will be killed, Peter tells Him this is unacceptable. Then, Jesus rebukes Peter, calls him Satan, and tells him to get behind Him. Then He tells Peter something that is very revealing:
“Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s. If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.”
So we can see from the context of this passage that denying (or disowning) yourself means that you will not set your mind on your own interests, but on God’s interests.
“Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”
Here, in Colossians, Paul does the same thing that Jesus did. He ties together our co-death with Christ with our setting of our minds on Christ and His purpose (interests). Remember that all of God’s intentions and purposes are centered in Christ. I have written on this elsewhere in the post called The Circumference of God.
So we are starting to get some understanding now that what the Lord is saying involves a denying (disowning or disregarding) of our own lives in this world and a new focus (or regard) for His own interests (purpose or will). The attention clearly shifts from our own lives to His own life. And that new life, that new creation, is now inside of us (Col. 1:27).
Zombie or Christ?
So now we clearly have a choice. We can either choose to live by our old, natural life in Adam or by the new life in Christ.
“But you did not learn Christ in this way, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.”
You may think I’m weird, but I like to watch zombie movies. It’s okay if you think I’m weird, I only ask that you don’t judge me. 🙂 I actually have learned a lot about the new creation by thinking about zombies (now Milt, that is even weirder!). Stay with me now. Think about it. The zombie is just like your old self (man). Even though he is dead, he is still walking around! The zombie is a stinking dead, decomposing body that is still walking around. It’s almost as if he doesn’t even know he is dead. But now get this; you, the real You, the new creation YOU, DOES know that he is dead.
Zombies are only after one thing – brains! Why? Because they don’t have any, obviously! The old man wants to feed on your mind. He wants to make you believe that he is really alive and that you need to focus all of your attention on him. He has a voracious appetite for your thoughts! And the more attention we give him, the more he feeds on our brain! So, our Lord tells us to deny him, disown him, ignore him, and disregard him. And to put all of our attention, thoughts, focus, affections, and desires on the New Man, the New Creation, the New Covenant, and the New Adam.
This all applies not only to you as an individual, but even more so to you as a member of His Body! Because the New Man and the New Creation are corporate. I am speaking of a great mystery. The two becoming one. Christ and the Church!