Shortly after I had asked “Jesus to fill the God shaped hole in my heart” at fifteen years old, I went to a Christian bookstore for the first time. I came out with a Teen Study Bible and a poster for my bedroom. Finding a poster that I wouldn’t be embarrassed of was hard work; A lot of flipping past rainbows, butterflies, and kittens was involved. I found one poster that appealed to me, black with scrawled writing on it, and a scratchy, blood streaked cross. This is what it said:
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” -Matthew 16:24-25
I cannot tell you how many times that poster glared at me. Or maybe I was glaring at it. It sounded hardcore, intense, life changing. It didn’t reflect the soft peddled message of Christianity I had heard, neither did it reflect my experience. That poster stared me down, hanging above my own reflection in the bedroom mirror, and kept on telling me to do something that I had no power to do.
Deny myself. Lose my life in order to save it- In order to find it. The commandments of God weighed heavy on my soul and there was no ability in my flesh to carry them out in a way that would please God. I was supposed to go out my bedroom door and die to self. Live for God. Obey commands that were only burdensome, and only death to me.
Romans 7:10-11 “The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. For sin, seizing and opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me.”
That is the condition of a spiritually dead person hearing the commandments of God, feeling the weight of His law, and recognizing that at the very core of your being you cannot fulfill them. I couldn’t make that sin-loving person in me die in order that I might live. I could not, in the weakness and corruption of my flesh, deny myself and follow after Jesus Christ. For that dear friends, I needed to be truly born again, not of the flesh, but of the Spirit (John 3:6-8).
2 Timothy 3:2-5 talks about people who inwardly hate righteousness while loving self, money, and pleasure, all the while “having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.” They might look alright on the outside, at least to a distant spectator. But there is no effectual power in their lives. No power to obey God, live righteously, or overcome sin. In their hearts, there is no desire even to do so.
If you are somebody like I was, then I have good news for you. “The letter (that is the written law) kills, but the Spirit gives life (2Corinthians 3:6).” If the law has produced death in you and you have seen that you have no ability to fulfill it (and fulfill it you must, James 2:10), then the law has done its work in you. Perhaps, you have been living as a false convert like I was. Maybe you’ve attended church since childhood but have never received forgiveness for sins, a new heart and Spirit, and in Christ the promise of eternal life. Or maybe you don’t care about God and you don’t even pretend to. I don’t know.
If you don’t have a saving relationship with Jesus Christ, then at this point I’ll refer you to a series I did a few years back called “An Appeal to the Modern Mind,” which discusses salvation at length. Or, if you only have a bit of time part 4 of that series: How Does Jesus Make Entrance Into His Kingdom Possible?
If you are a believer, chances are part of you still resonates with some of the struggle I described. Though we are no longer slaves of sin (Romans 6:6), our new reality still includes a daily war with our remaining sinful man, or flesh. As Galatians 5:17 explains “The desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.”
I want to write some more about that war and how to wage it, so check back in soon. God bless.