I enjoy laughing (at) with people. I find it entertaining to watch parents try to teach their kids to share. It’s obviously a long process which takes patience and typically involves a lot of frustration. I find it particularly amusing to see parents that are intervening on a little kiddy-brawl over some toy and eventually the parents step away, trying to convince themselves that progress is being made. At the same time, when the parent has turned his or her back, the child has once again snatched the toy back again.
The reason parents need to do all of that teaching is that we are all inherently selfish and self-centered. It starts as a baby when we have to learn to share, but it certainly isn’t something that stops there. Our selfishness doesn’t go away, it simply takes different forms as we get older. We learn to hide it, but it’s still there. We even start trying to convince ourselves that we aren’t that selfish and that we often sacrifice for others. But even our “selfless acts” are often selfish, seeking to fill a need within us for love or praise.
When we become Christians, we claim we are following Christ, but we often hold much of ourselves back because of our selfishness. Our service to him comes filled with conditions – I will serve if I want to, if it doesn’t interfere with other more important things, if it isn’t too difficult, if it doesn’t take too much time or energy, if I feel good about it afterwards…
Our place as Christians isn’t to pick and choose what we want; it’s to do God’s work wherever He sends us. For example, if we notice a need, it’s a good bet that God has put it in our way to notice it for a reason.
We may say, “But what if I don’t want to work in this ministry? I don’t like doing those things!” That is our sinful, selfishness attitudes coming through!
It isn’t about what we want!
The NT uses death as an analogy for being and becoming a Christian over and over again:
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.
But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.
For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.
-2 Cor 4:11-12
The saying is trustworthy, for: rIf we have died with him, we will also live with him.
-2 Tim 2:11
He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.
-1 Pet 2:24
It’s not about what “I” like, what “I” want, or what “I” think “I” need, because, in a sense, “I” am dead!
Many years ago I volunteered to help with VBS. Do you know what task I got that year? Small group leader for a group of 3rd and 4th graders! Me, with a Bible and ministry degree, who had been teaching students for years, who can do music and has various technical skills, “I” am being asked to usher around a bunch of little kids! Part of me wanted to just say no.
But I remembered that it isn’t about the “I”, its about the ministry. “I” had to die, to remember that this was a need that I could fill, and “I” had the opportunity to minister to a group of kids for 5 days. Did I enjoy it? No! But I knew that it was what God wanted me to do that week.
When it becomes about me, the biggest problem is that it isn’t about Him. We become self-reliant, capable of doing it on our own, at least in our own minds. We are the opposite of the “poor in spirit” that Jesus talked about in the Sermon on the Mount. We no longer see our desperate need for the grace that comes through Christ’s sacrifice. It is reliance on that grace that must drive our lives, not reliance on ourselves.
When we are relying on that grace, some amazing things happen. We stop seeing things from our sinful, selfish perspective and we gradually start seeing things the way God wants us to see them. Our ministry opportunities aren’t chores we have to do, they are blessings – opportunities to serve. The people we come into contact with aren’t just people that might get in our way, they are people we can impact positively for Christ. Our lives no longer follow the pattern of simply following a bunch of rules, we see the Holy Spirit’s hand in our lives, guiding us along.
That is the Freedom in Christ that the New Testament also talks about that goes along with the death of our old selves. We have the freedom to follow Christ where he guides us, and we are no longer bound by the legalism of following the law. We will no longer seek to earn salvation; we will finally realize that we already have it!