It’s Not All Up to Us

“We’re doing everything humanly possible.” We sometimes hear this statement during medical crises or natural disasters and sometimes it’s true. Other times it might mean we don’t know what else to do or our resources are stretched to the limit. Granted, we can get a lot done when we put our heads together and work hard, but human strength, ingenuity and ability can get us only so far.

The other problem with trying to do everything humanly possible is we often don’t reach that goal. We don’t always try as hard as we can; we become discouraged and give up, escaping into self-pity or mindless pursuits (Netflix, anyone?). I’m sure you know where this is going.

We don’t have to solely rely on our human power, although as Dallas Willard says, God has given us our bodies as our own personal power packs, through which we interact with our world and bring about our wills. I’m thankful for my power pack, as it enables me to do things like bake bread, ride my bike and fulfill my responsibilities. But my power pack only works at its peak when plugged into the “power pack” of God. Out of his life inherent he gave us life and our bodies.

For those of us who entrust our lives to him, he augments our human efforts with his unlimited power, accomplishing things we could never do on our own or even imagine. We aren’t stuck doing only as much as humanly possible, however strong or feeble our efforts may be, if we let our weakness become his strength and work in the power and might of Christ.

It Comes Down to This

Sometimes when we hear about bad acts of people, we can wonder what got into them. I like to watch crime solving shows and I often think, what’s wrong with that person? How could he or she do something so evil and heinous? James had an explanation in chapter 4, verse 1: “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you” (NIV)?

It’s exactly our desires we do battle with when we die to self. Our desires are what we nail to the cross when we live the crucified life. Joseph Stowell, in a little book titled Simply Jesus, Experiencing the One Your Heart Longs For, wrote a good corollary to James’ statement. He said, “In the end, most sin is about enhancing or preserving your life, reputation, pleasure, prosperity, or safety. If life is about you, sin will come easily.” Our innate desire to save ourselves is what causes all our problems.

I’m pretty sure all or at least most of the time I’ve been in trouble either with my words or my actions, it’s been because I’ve been trying to enhance or preserve some aspect of my self. I could add protecting or defending as well and this comes naturally to all of us. It’s when, in Christ and by the Holy Spirit, we die to the need to preserve ourselves that we become truly alive. We become more fully human too, in the way Jesus was the best and most genuinely human. In Christ, we don’t have to let our desires control – and possibly ruin – our lives.

The Grace to Die to Self

Over the course of my life, I’ve learned God’s grace covers every aspect of being a Christian. Some of you may be rolling your eyes and saying “Duh.” But for me and those of you like me who’ve had to break free of the tentacles of legalism, it was like peeling the layers of an onion. At first, I saw and understood only the obvious ways God’s grace is active in our growth in Christ. But little by little, he revealed more to me, like how grace covers prayer as the Holy Spirit takes our wordless cries and groaning and brings them before our Father. I had read Romans 8:26 before of course, but it really sank in as my mind was opened to how grace permeates everything we do.

And now guess what? It seems grace also covers and empowers our dying to self. Paul said his grace is sufficient for us (2 Corinthians 12:9), and that means in everything, little and big. We don’t have to die to self by ourselves. We’ve been crucified with Christ and he now lives in us (Galatians 2:20).

It’s a huge relief to me and probably to you too, to know we don’t have to do this on our own. As we’ve already been crucified with him, all we have to do is live as though this is true – because it is. It’s also comforting to know dying to self looks different in each of us. Dallas Willard, in Life Without Lack, says the only requirement on our part is to die to self, but what it involves in each of our lives is a matter only we can decide. Just as God meets us where we are and gently, with wisdom and love, guides us in our spiritual transformation, he also lovingly shows us the way to live his crucified life with him.

The Crucified Life

OK, that’s an ambitious title for a short article, but consider it the inevitable segue to an important, perhaps even crucial, aspect of the Christian’s life. I’ve spent several weeks here on kenosis (the self-emptying of God when the Father sent his Son as a human to give himself for us) and death to self (putting to death our tendency to worship ourselves as our own gods, thereby putting into practice our own kenosis). What naturally follows is living a crucified life as Jesus lives in us.

Even though I’ve spent a lot of time thinking, praying and studying this, and trying to put it into practice, I’m not prepared to tell you I am actually living the crucified life. I like to think I’m taking baby steps and am making some progress. But that’s just it – it’s a process and not something we can ever claim to have accomplished. Only Christ knows how I’m doing and how much more I need to trust him to work this transformation in me.

What I do know is that I can’t do it alone. As Dallas Willard says, “The crucifixion of the self is a cooperative affair between us and the Lord. We cannot die to self without the help of God’s grace, for only God can satisfy our ultimate desire, and only God can convince our hearts that, when we die to self, he will raise us up.” He goes on to say we have to understand what it is and to accept it, recognize it and ask God to give this gift to us. Yes, he calls it a gift. “Christ was not crucified so that we wouldn’t have to be. He was crucified so we could be crucified with him. He did not die so that we wouldn’t have to die; he died so we could die with him. In death to self you are crucified with Christ” (Life Without Lack: Living in the Fullness of Psalm 23).  

It seems God has given me crucified as my “one word” for 2021, so I will be sharing more thoughts on this as the year goes on.