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Facts of the Matter

A weekly letter of encouragement and challenge to business and professional men and women
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
Dear Colleagues,

THE LIFE OF SELF OR THE LIFE OF THE CROSS?

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For increasing numbers in our society, including the Body of Christ, the primary quest in life is not for obedience to the truth, but for meaning that centers on the cult of self: Self-understanding, self-improvement, self-fulfillment, and self indulgence. This self-focused life reveres:

  • Subjective experience over objective truth.
  • Individual fulfillment over spiritual and social responsibility.
  • People-centered worship over God-focused worship.
  • Feeling good over being good.
  • The cultivation of the outer image over the development of inner character.
  • Duty to self over duty to God.
  • Subjective experience over objective obedience to biblical truth.
  • What works over what is right or true.
  • The sacredness of my convictions and intuition over the truth and authority of the word of God.
  • My search for happiness and wholeness over my quest for righteousness.
  • The novel, the exciting, and the new, over the profound, eternal truths of the Scriptures

By way of contrast to the life centered on self, Christ calls us, his followers to love our neighbor as our self. (Matt. 22:39). Sadly, many have mis-understood this command as an injunction to self-love. The statement was meant as a practical guide to loving our neighbor, because no one ever hated his own body. (Eph. 5:29) It is similar to the Golden Rule to do to others what you would have them do to you. (Matt. 7:12) Christ knew people already loved themselves and so he enjoined them to treat others by the same standard. The verb love in the Greek here is agapao, and agape love means self-sacrifice in the service of others. It cannot be self-directed. Self love is the biblical understanding of sin: In the last days people will love only themselves and their money. (2 Tim 3:1b, 2a) 1

Here is how Jesus defined agape love: "If any of you wants to be my followeryou must put aside your selfish ambition, shoulder your cross, and follow me. (Mk. 8:34 NLT)  That is, we are to deny, disown and crucify our fallen self and everything within us that is incompatible with Christ as we follow him.  Self-denial is to put oneself into the position of a condemned man on his way to execution. 2 It is renouncing our supposed right to our own way. 3 Self-denial is turning away from the idolatry of self-centeredness. 4

For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sinThose who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them thereI have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Rom. 6:6; Gal. 5:24; 2:20)

QUESTION:  Are you living a life focused on yourself, or a life that is centered on the cross? 

1 Adapted from John Stott, The Cross of Christ, IVP, 1986, pages 274-294

2 H. B. Swete, St. Mark,  pg 172

3 John Stott, The Cross of Christ, IVP, 1986, page 279

4 C. E. B. Cranfield, Mark, page 281

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