It’s a strange world here in South Dakota. One month from our last day of summer, we had our first snowstorm. And, just like that, we seem to have closed the door on fall, as well. I am thankful for the month of autumn we had, though. Watching a tree’s leaves change color really is a beautiful thing to behold. It’s usually not all at once. First, there is that small patch of yellow or red that starts to creep in, giving you a few days of warning that the fireworks are coming. What is amazing to me is that all the beauty we see is actually because the leaf is “dying”. The leaf stops its food-making process, the chlorophyll (what makes the leaf green) breaks down, and an array of colors marks the beginning of the end.
Let that sink in for a minute: the reason for the breathtaking colors we see around us is a result of the death of the leaves.
Could there be a more vivid picture for us, as believers, of the results that come when we “die to self”? What a helpful analogy it is of the fruit that comes when we humble ourselves by dying to our desires, wants, dreams, and plans… and following in our Savior’s footsteps, trusting in His plan. Living a truly vibrant life only comes from being crucified with Christ.
“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” Galatians 2:20
As we daily “present (our) bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God” we too can be a beautiful display to our families, friends and watching world. We can shine forth the amazing “light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ”! Our lives…our words, actions, facial expressions, and body language…can “proclaim the excellencies of Him who called (us) out of darkness into His marvelous light.”
But we have to die first.
Jesus gives us another illustration of this reality in John 12:23-28:
“Jesus replied to them, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains by itself. But if it dies, it produces much fruit. The one who loves his life will lose it, and the one who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me. Where I am, there my servant also will be. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him. Now my soul is troubled. What should I say – Father, save me from this hour? But that is why I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name.’”
He knew what His Father had called Him to. He knew that He lived to die. He knew that to die was to live again, and the only way to bring eternal life to the world. Yet, His soul was troubled. The weight of what was about to take place brought a pain we can never fully comprehend, causing Him to sweat drops of blood in the garden. The Righteous for the unrighteous, the Holy for the vile, the Perfect for the sinner.
Dying to self is not the mantra of the world we live in. The world tells us to live for self, take time for self, seek to please self, love self and put self first. We know it’s not the way of Christ, but we hear it so often that it can seep into the bloodstream of our thoughts…subtly rooting itself into our hearts almost unknowingly! Then, as we live out this thinking in one way or another, we still expect fruit to come from our growing garden of self-pursuit and self-indulgence, and we are confused by our lack of growth.
We must look to Jesus in order to make sense of it all. In His light, we see light. Only as we cling to the authority and sufficiency of His Word will we begin to see clearly.
“Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take up my yoke and learn from me, because I am lowly and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-29
We must come to Him, sit at His feet through His Word, and learn from His life and words. No matter how weary or burdened we feel, we cannot neglect this command if we truly want to experience rest and life to the full. And yet we often do the opposite. When we feel burdened, weary, exhausted and our days just seem too busy…one of the first things to go is time in the Word; one of the first things we neglect is to “come to Jesus”. We have lost perspective. We have seen coming to Jesus as just “one more thing to do” instead of seeing it as the “only thing necessary” (Luke 10:42).
And then we compound things even more. Because we are weary and burdened, we tend to “close in on ourselves”. We become more protective of our own personal wants and desires, and in a desire to preserve our life, we actually begin to lose it. Instead of clinging to the example of Christ and taking up His yoke of servanthood as we depend entirely on His sufficient grace, we cast off His yoke and exchange it for temporary comforts. We have exchanged true rest for cat-naps.
“Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If anyone wants to follow after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of me will find it. For what will it benefit someone if he gains the whole world yet loses his life? Or what will anyone give in exchange for his life?’” Matthew 16:24-26
Yes, losing our life can be costly and dying to self isn’t without sacrifice. Yet God’s Word says it’s the only way to be truly free, the only way to experience life to the full, and the only way for our souls to truly be at rest. It is not the wisdom of this world, but it’s the wisdom from above. It is the way of our Savior. It is the way to true joy. It is the way to live a fruit-filled, vibrant life that displays the glorious colors of His saving grace to a world that is in desperate need of new life in Christ!
“I have now concentrated all my prayers into one, and that one prayer is this, that I may die to self and live wholly to Him.” Charles Spurgeon