It is difficult to hear that God wants us to sacrifice. We want to hear that all we have to do is add a little Jesus to our lives, and then we will have the life we always wanted.
The Gospel that is preached in the United States has watered down the word repentance to the point that many people believe that repentance equals feeling sorry for our sins. Sorrow should accompany repentance, but it doesn’t equal repentance.
Repentance is much stronger word than sorrow. At the very least repentance means to change our minds, to change our loyalties, and to return to God. I like to say that repentance is defection. Through repentance we denounce our participation in Satan’s rebellion and we declare our allegiance to God and His kingdom.
Because our allegiance is with God, that means our primary concern is no longer the life of our dreams, but what God desires for His kingdom. When our loyalty lies with God we will sacrifice to serve Him, because we know the love He has for His creation. We trust that one day Jesus will return and make everything right.
This is part of what it means to be dead to self. Our top priority is no longer what we want out of life, but God’s will. This is a very difficult place to get to in life. We have been taught and we have been shown that to get the most out of life we have to look out for number 1. “You only live once” is the saying we use to justify doing what we want to do.
We can’t die to our selves by our own effort. We have to intentionally lay our lives at the feet of God. We have to offer ourselves as living sacrifices to God.
And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2; NLT)
This is an often used passage of scripture, but I think it shows us what it takes to die to ourselves. It requires the intentional act of sacrifice and allowing God to transform our thinking so we don’t copy the world’s way of living. The world tells us to live for ourselves, but God tells us the best way for us to live is to die to ourselves. It seems contradictory, but it is the way of Jesus, to way of eternal life.
But there will come a time in the experience of the apprentice of Jesus where it is appropriate to speak of our being dead to self…Being dead to self is the condition where the mere fact that I do not get what I want does not surprise or offend me and has no control over me. The faithful servants of God know the secret, and many have left their testimony. George Mueller of Bristol, England, said, “There was a day when I died: died to George Mueller, his opinions, preferences, tastes and will; died to the world, its approval or censure; died to the approval or blame even of my brethren or friends, and since then, I have studied only to show myself ‘approved unto God.'” (Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart, p. 71)
Without dying to ourselves we can’t experience all that God has for us. You and I are too small to live our lives entirely for ourselves. Yes, we can live our lives on an endless pursuit to please ourselves, but that is what it will always be: an endless pursuit. There is no experience, no success, no personal relationship that can satisfying the deepest longings of our hearts apart from following Jesus.
If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine. If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it. (Matthew 10:38-39; NLT)
This image of carrying our cross implies that we are on the way to our death. The cross here isn’t a metaphor for some difficult burden. Jesus is pointing out, in graphic detail, that to follow him meant to go to your death. You carry a cross for one reason, so you can be crucified on it.
Verse 39 spells out why this is important: when our old life has been crucified there is no reason to cling to it. Instead, we are free to experience the true and eternal life that God created us to live. If we hold on to the way of living that has been handed to us from this world, then we will not experience the new life God has for us.