For the follower of Jesus, it is a great paradox that we need to die in order to gain. There is nothing in our human nature that would desire this.
Years ago I heard a story that illustrates man’s delusion of being able to effectively rule his own life.
A man was putting a new roof on his house, but he lost his footing and began to slide toward the edge. As he was sliding down, he began to cry out to God, “Oh Lord, please save me, please help me.' As he got closer to the edge, he cried out even more, “Lord, please rescue me and spare my life!” Just as he started going over the edge of the roof, his belt loop got caught on a protruding nail. The man responded, “Never mind, Lord, I’ve got it."
The human will is incredibly strong. We have a strong sense to self-correct. We love being self-reliant. Self-determination is our default setting. Self-help books line our shelves. We judge ourselves, evaluate ourselves, modify ourselves, and encourage ourselves. We debate within ourselves about how to accomplish the next task or how we will do damage control over our last failure.
In short, we follow in the footsteps of our first parents, Adam and Eve. They were the first victims of the delusion of self-rule. Every human being since then has fallen into that same practice and has suffered negative consequences. We try to deal with negative consequences by practicing more self-rule, the cycle is perpetuated, and more undesirable results follow.
God invites the Christian to walk in grace. Grace is God’s undeserved favor. It is divine friendship and assistance. It is a gift to be received, not a coping skill to develop. It is undeserved and not earned. Grace originates with God, not with man. Grace calls for surrender. Grace invites us to die to self that God’s life may more freely and fully flow through us. Grace is apprehended through surrendering our wills to God and not ruling over our own lives.
The self-determining Christian will never experience the grace of God as he ought.
Grace and self-rule are mutually exclusive.
Consider these verses on grace:
2 Timothy 2:2 “You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus."
Paul exhorted Timothy to be strong in God’s grace. That means that Timothy was to not rely upon his own strength, but on God’s strength. Timothy needed to “die his way into the grace” of God’s strength.
2 Corinthians 12:9 And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.”
The apostle Paul cried out to the Lord for deliverance for his “thorn in the flesh,” which weakened him. Instead of removing the trial from Paul’s life, God reminded Paul that His grace was sufficient for Paul to live well and serve God well. Paul needed to die to his idea of a remedy for his problem. He needed to die his way into the grace of God which would be enough for him.
Romans 5:1, 2 “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand."
The follower of Jesus is aware that we are saved by God’s grace (Ephesians 2:8-9), but we often forget that we need God’s grace for daily living. We are not saved by grace in order to live a life of self-determination and self-rule. We are saved by grace and in grace we are to stand.
The divine kindness of God cannot be experienced by the Christ follower who rules himself. The benevolent help of God will not be known by the believer who believes he is self-sufficient. The perfect wisdom of God cannot be experienced by one who regularly “leans on his own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5). The gracious provision of God is never known by the workaholic. The approval and acceptance of God is a foreign concept to the self-condemning saint.
Dear brother/sister: We do not die to self ONLY that we may be saved. We die daily to self that we might know God’s grace, His help, His favor, His provision, His comfort, etc.
Choose death to self and you will increasingly experience the unmatched grace of God. Don’t be surprised that it is a difficult task, but it is worth it.