What Does “Laying Down Your Life” Look Like?
We are often told that we should “lay down our lives” for others. The person that says this to us is often (but not always) trying to manipulate us. When they are trying to manipulate us, what they really mean is lay down your life for ME. Using the Bible to manipulate others is called spiritual abuse. Yes, it does say that we should lay down our lives in John 10:15 and John 15:13. Remember, however, that verses of the Bible are not to be taken out of context. We need to look at the entire counsel of God. Ryan Paulson of South Fellowship Church recently addressed the concept of laying down our lives in his weekly sermon. He made so many great points, I just had to share it. At minute 30 of the sermon, he says:
Because we live in a world that’s twisted and permeated with sin, we’ve seen the idea of dying to yourself abused, and taken advantage of. Where people in position of power try to manipulate other people and say well, you’ve got to die to yourself, which actually really means to live to my desires, not yours. But when Jesus invites us and calls us to die ourselves, he’s calling us to die TO ourselves, not to a death OF ourselves. In order to die to ourselves, we’ve got to first KNOW ourselves. Otherwise, we will just die to ourselves and live to what everybody else wants us to do! I love the way John Calvin puts it in the beginning of Institutes of Christian Religion: “Nearly all the wisdom which we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.”
If we don’t know ourselves, we will die to ourselves and live to whatever anybody else wants us to do.
Let me ask a question: Is that what we see Jesus doing? NO! Absolutely not! Nobody wanted Jesus to do the things that he did. It’s the reason he was crucified. He gave them what they needed, he didn’t give them what they wanted. He lived to the Father’s will, not to their will.
Death to self looks like something different to every person in this room. For the people pleaser, death to self looks like becoming a truth-teller in some instances. For the fearful, death to self means embracing a life of faith and maybe a little bit of risk. To the stingy, death to self means becoming generous. To those who’ve been sitting on the sidelines, death to self means jumping in and taking that risk, going a little bit extroverted when your natural tendency is introverted. . . .or the opposite, right? To those who’ve been working their fingers to the bone and feeling like their soul is shriveling, can I just tell you, that’s not what God wants for you. That is not death to self, that’s not knowing self and living to whatever anybody wants you to do. Death to self might mean saying “NO!” Or, to some, death to self might be saying, “I don’t know.” A surrender of pride. A surrender of ‘I’ve gotta have my own way.’ To the adventurous, death to self might mean planting yourself firmly in the soil of community and staying, and being known, and going against some of the natural desires and the natural tendencies. Death to self is laying aside everything else and saying, God, what do you want from me? Not my will, but yours be done. Jesus says something really beautiful happens when we do that. . . .it actually allows us to really, truly, fully live. Which is what he’s after. . . . .you want to hold onto your life, you want to control everything? It’s going to kill you! But if you’ll let me, you’ll find out what it means to really, truly live.
It’s something hard to diagnose in ourselves. Have I died to myself? Let me ask you a few diagnostic questions that could help. How often do you get offended? We live in an easily offended culture and world, don’t we? We get offended at everything! It’s like a sport sometimes! I would submit that maybe you’re not dead in the way that Jesus invites you to be, if you’re often offended, because I think that’s pride showing. How often do you find yourself defending yourself? How often do you feel sorry for yourself and wallow in self-pity? I’m right, how dare they! I deserve fill-in-the-blank. How do you respond when you don’t get your way? How often do you say, “I’m sorry,” and not I’m sorry you’re a moron and didn’t understand what I was really trying to say, which is sometimes how we do it, right? Did you say sorry? Yeah, technically, I did!
What do we do with this? Here’s the truth of the matter: you cannot die to self by trying harder. You can’t! You can die to yourself by training better. So, if you were to train, what does this look like to release a little piece of yourself? The Christian community, for centuries, has said a good practice of learning how to do this is fasting. We don’t do that often in our culture, but it’s a great way to learn how to just. . . .in a little bit, one day, or one meal, die to self. You go, if I did that I’d be really hungry. Well, that’s part of the point! We can take that hunger and put it back to a God who says I’ll satisfy you and we can release some of our desires and take on his. Or maybe, you embrace what the early fathers would call a posture of simplicity or frugality. Maybe this week you don’t go out to dinner at all. Or maybe this week, you decide to not go to the store and just live off of what you have in your house. Most of us have enough, in our house, to live off of until Jesus comes back! You go, well, I wouldn’t get to eat anything that I want to eat! That’s the point! So, we’re training ourselves to die to some of our desires and to step into the way of Jesus, where he says death to some of our desires and our pride and us, is actually where life is found. That teaching changes the world. Here’s a quote by Jan Johnson, who wrote An Invitation to a Jesus Life: “Does ‘death to self’ sound too hard? It’s easier than living for self.”
Here’s how Jesus continues (John 12:31) — Now is the time for judgment on this world . . . We have this visceral response to this word ‘judgment,’ because we probably picture somebody with a sign on a street corner . . . We picture something like fire . . . I don’t know what’s in your mind, but we typically have a step-back response. What I’d like to present to you today is the way that Jesus talks about judgment we should all go “YES!” Finally! Because listen to what he says . . . judgment has two parts to it. The first part (he’s talking about judgment): Now the prince of this world will be driven out. That’s great news. He’s talking about the Satan, he’s talking about sin, he’s talking about death, he’s talking about evil. He’s presenting sin, death, and evil, personified in the Satan, with an eviction notice ‘You’re done!’ That’s great news. Paul will recount that in Colossians 2:13-15. I’d encourage you to read the whole section, but he finishes in verse 15 by saying that by the cross he’s forgiven us, he’s taken our debt, he’s cancelled it out, and he’s disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. What’s his judgment? His judgment is this is not the good world that I created, and I’m turning it back to that world. I’m kicking the Satan, the Evil One, the one who’s behind systems of oppression, and racism, and manipulation, and keeping the low on the bottom and propping the higher up higher and higher . . . he’s like, I’m kicking the Evil One out! Literally, in the Greek, it’s exorcizing him. He’s throwing him out for being over us. We haven’t lived with him over us, so I don’t think we get the full weight of all that means. Suffice to say, it’s doesn’t mean the devil’s defeat doesn’t always mean the devil’s absence. So, we have this tension of what’s going on and we’ll talk about it more in a few weeks.
The second thing Jesus says is just as fascinating . . . all in the context of judgment: And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself. This is judgment. This is awesome! The cross is driving out evil and drawing in people. It’s driving out evil and it’s drawing in people. How many people? Jesus says all of them. 1 John 2:2 says that he’s atoned for the sins of the world, especially for those who believe. The sins of the world! In 2 Corinthians 5:19, it says that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. He’s drawing all people to him. Does it mean that every path leads to Jesus? No, but it does mean that people on every path are led to Jesus. His blood, and his death, and his life, and his resurrection is sufficient for every single person. We have this picture of judgment that’s presented as restoration. The word ‘judge’ literally means ‘to separate.’ It’s God looking at the world that he created, the world that he loves, and it’s him saying these things are right, these things are wrong.
People that live in a culture that’s been suppressed far more than ours has, long for the day of judgment. The day of judgment is like going into your chiropractor, and saying you have a kink in your neck. He looks at it and says that you do, that you’re all out of whack. He tells you to relax your head for a moment. How many of you find it really hard to relax your head in that moment because you know he’s about to break you? Judgment feels like he’s going to break us sometimes. Judgment is God looking at humanity, taking our head and saying relax, this might hurt a little bit, but you’re out of joint, you’re out of place, you’re not walking in the way I created you to walk. So . . . CRACK! That’s better. That’s judgment. If we don’t want to be bent, it feels like a fire. If we’re willing to surrender, it feels like refinement. But either way, it’s love. It’s love through and through, it just depends on whether you want to swim up that stream or get in line with it, but either way it’s love. Driving out evil—-if we aren’t ready to let go of our evil, we will be driven out with it—-and drawing in people. So, now when people ask you if you believe that God is a God of judgment, you can say, “ABSOLUTELY! Isn’t that great news?” Then you can explain: According to the gospel of John, Jesus is really clear. Judgment is driving out evil and drawing in people.
I thought this sermon was profound. Here are my takeaways:
We cannot tell others to die to themselves. We must choose to do this ourselves.
Each of us must strive to know ourselves before we can die to ourselves. If my usual way of dealing with people is to be a people pleaser, dying to myself might mean that I stand up and say “NO” to injustice. If my usual stance is to hang back and let others make choices for me or for society, dying to myself might mean I force myself to speak up. If I tend to be overly frugal with my money, I might need to push myself to be more generous. If I am a spendthrift, I may need to begin putting some money away in savings.
Dying to myself does not mean I try harder. If I do, that will usually mean I do more of the same I have been doing. Instead, dying to myself might mean I should do the opposite of what I would normally do.
When we hear the word “judgement,” we often squirm because we have a vision of God sitting up in the clouds looking down his nose at us and telling us we are wrong about something. Jesus puts this idea of judgement on its head. He put aside his glory to become one of us, living, eating, sleeping like a human. In John 12:31-32 Jesus says:
Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.
Jesus’ definition of judgment is that he sacrificed himself for us in order to do battle with evil and drawing all people to himself. I love that!
Question: How have you interpreted the phrase “lay down your life” for others in the past?
I hope this helps clear up what laying down your life might mean for you. Bless you today!