Tuesday, June 07, 2022

No Longer Live

“He died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.”

Did you know that living for yourself is a sin?

It seems a little harsh when we think of it that way. We think of sins as major patterns of observably evil behavior, and the word of God even leads us in that direction: “Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”

These are not oopsies, slips, errors or one-off sins. We can forgive those in ourselves easily enough. No, Paul is talking about ongoing patterns of behavior that become more important to people than obedience to Christ. These are the things that keep men and women out of heaven.

Ongoing Patterns of Behavior

Sexual immorality is first and foremost a sin of the heart, but sexually immoral people are usually practicing their craft on an ongoing basis. They don’t just sleep with their girlfriend once, or have a single “night on the tiles”, or make a solitary visit to that gay bar on the other side of town where nobody knows them. No, these days they are practicing and proud of it. Call them on one of their choices, and you’ll see.

Likewise, we do not call a man a “drunkard” when he has a single tumble off the wagon in twenty years; we call him a decent guy who needs to watch his alcohol intake. Nor do we call a fellow believer an “idolator” when he makes a few self-indulgent credit card purchases, or a “reviler” for the occasional slip of the lip, especially when he is visibly repentant for these things. We all know that Christians sin occasionally, repent and are forgiven. What might reasonably concern us is when sin of a certain type is so frequent as to be characteristic, and therefore calls into question the reality of conversion.

So, obviously dysfunctional patterns of behavior like these ten condemned in the New Testament are not for us. Such errors are way too obvious. But living for yourself a sin? Really?

Living for Myself

Lots of comparatively decent people live for themselves. Who else would they live for? Sure, you can live for your wife, but how can you be confident she will still be around in twenty years? You could dedicate yourself to your children, but all too often these days those kids are not worthy of your devotion. You can dedicate yourself to your job, but we all know that can get a bit pathological, and the bottom line is that the company really won’t miss you when you’re gone. You can dedicate yourself to healing the world, reversing climate change, ending poverty, or proving once and for all that black lives really matter, but these are awfully abstract reasons to be alive. You’ll never be sure you are reaching your goal, which is bound to be somewhat unsatisfying.

Living for self seems a logical alternative to that. It doesn’t have to be an overtly self-centered, self-absorbed, or selfish existence. It doesn’t have to be a lifestyle anybody would condemn. In fact, nobody may even notice I’m doing it.

All “living for myself” really means is that the question I ask myself before I do anything is something like “Is this what I really want?” If so, well, on we go. What’s the harm in that?

The Blood of Christ Weighs In

And yet ... and yet ... Jesus Christ died in order that we might no longer live for ourselves. That’s what Paul is teaching. He shed his precious blood in order that I might have something better to live for than me, even when my desires for myself are not in themselves sinful things. Declining to take him up on that is most definitely a sin. It amounts to brazenly devaluing the most precious thing in God’s sight in the whole universe: the life of his Son, whom he raised from the dead.

Oh ... well, when you put it like that ...

Yes, because that’s how it is. And if we are honest with ourselves, we will see the beauty of abandoning a lifestyle that is all about my wishes, my wants and my desires. Because truly, in and of myself, I’m just not worth it. Not one little bit. I am just not important or valuable enough as one of eight billion beings like me on this planet to give myself the best treatment of anyone I know. I don’t really merit it. I haven’t earned it, and it doesn’t make me happy when I treat myself as if I have.

I discovered this about myself when I was 23, after many years of trying to make myself happy and failing spectacularly. Many, many self-aware people have also discovered what happens when we try to make ourselves our own little god, and then they discover that their real value to God is not in terms of what they are by nature, but in terms of what Christ has made of them. Deciding to live for the one who died for us is the most logical thing we can ever do, because he completely understands who we are and what we are most suited to do and be. Furthermore, he is actually worthy of being the object of an eternity of faithful service and obedience: the only man in the universe of whom than can honestly be said.

Reckoning Myself Dead

So what happens when you no longer live for yourself? Well, you will probably find that the love of Christ controls you. That tends to happen when we reckon ourselves dead to our natural impulses and have determined to submit every desire or purpose of our hearts to the filter of the word of God.

Do Christians always do this perfectly? Of course not. But in concluding that “one has died for all, therefore all have died”, we have established a baseline against which we (and other Christians) can measure and evaluate what we are doing, provided we are really transparent with them and with ourselves. There will be areas of your life and mine that we have never thought about exposing to the “eyes like a flame of fire” (though of course he could see exactly what we were up to long before we ever thought about it). But if I have really made that commitment to live for Jesus Christ instead of just for me, each time I discover some way in which I have failed to do so up to now, I will feel obliged to make an ongoing change to my practice. (Feeling obliged is really the worst case scenario; sometimes I find myself delighted to have discovered something about myself I can actually fix. “Aha, so THAT was the problem!” It’s almost a Eureka moment.)

Universal Harmony and My Orientation

It may sound a bit corny, but the Christian who lives for the one who died for him and was raised again is genuinely in harmony with the universe. He has found his calling, his true self and his greatest joy in doing what he was made to do by his all-wise Creator. Any other use of the bodies, hearts and minds God gave us is bound to be inferior, and bound to rob us of the joy of being the best possible version of who God made us.

We hear a lot about orientation these days. Well, one of the reasons Christ died (and there are many of those) was to enable us to reorient our desires and goals in accordance with something and Someone of real and ultimate value.

This is who we really are, and we need to get used to thinking of ourselves that way.

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