Self-help is not help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self. What kind of deal is it to get everything you want but lose yourself? What could you ever trade your soul for? (Matthew 16:25-26).
The Case Of The Betrayed Friendship: Let's say you have a friend whom you love very much. You find out that this friend, for some reason, is talking about you behind your back. What they are saying is very cruel and hurtful, leaving you feeling depressed and betrayed. Now, some time later, a situation comes upon this friend's life in which they know you can be of help. They pick up the phone and call you, asking for help. There's probably a huge part of you that wants to entirely reject this request. Or maybe you kindly agree to meet with them with the intention of steering them in the wrong direction. What would you do?
Just because we are growing older doesn't mean we automatically grow up. Your heart is not renovated by simply showing up for the game of life. Some of us are presently making bad decisions, but are unable to see how they will take us down. Some of us have made bad choices in the past and are now suffering the consequences. No one needs to tell us how awful it is.
Perhaps you have a friend or relative in your life who has made a destructive choice, and it has hurt you. Why do people make these choices? Why do we? In this part of the study we will look at two possible paths to take. We all start off on, and most of us stay on, the first path. It is called self-worship or "the path to radical ruin." The second path is the narrow path made available by Jesus for those who trust in Him. It is the path of self-denial or "the path to radical goodness."
The life that Jesus offers is not some pie-in-the-sky sales pitch you see on TV. It is a real offer. No one else in your life can choose this path for you. You have to do it for yourself.
Prayer: Lord God, we know that only You offer a life of radical goodness. Show us how to turn from self-worship and self-help so that we can choose self-denial and self-sacrifice. We want to learn from Jesus' example. We know this is the best path.
Self-Worship: The Path To Radical Ruin - Part 1
God sticks his head out of heaven. He looks around. He's looking for someone not stupid - one man, even, God-expectant, just one God-ready woman. He comes up empty. A string of zeros. Useless, unshepherded Sheep, taking turns pretending to be Shepherd. (Psalm 14:2-3).
All our parts are ruined - our hearts, our minds, our bodies, our social lives, and our souls. The thing is, we must see and acknowledge this ruin before we can understand that we will be delivered. We must start from where we really are.
Just because we are ruined doesn't mean we are worthless. It is precisely our greatness as humans that make our ruin such a huge shame. If we were insignificant, our ruin would not be so horrifying.
G.K. Chesterton once said that the hardest thing to accept in the Christian religion is the great value it places upon the individual soul. Even in its ruined condition, a human being is something God regards as immensely worth saving. Sin does not make us worthless, it just makes us lost. In this condition, the human soul is still capable of strength, dignity, beauty, and goodness. Some can see all this beauty and do not wish to deal with their ruined condition. Denial is the primary device people use to deal with their own wrongness and ruin. But we are going to look at the truth and deal with it, so we can be restored to the place of purpose God desires.
The Bible says we all begin on a path leading away from God, a path of destruction. Without God in our lives, we remain on this path, not realizing there is an alternative. Each step we take progressively ruins the five parts of our person, beginning with the heart and ending with the soul.
Heart Ruin: Our slide into soul corruption begins with our hearts turning our minds away from God. Humans have always known there is a God, as Romans 1:19-20 states, 'What may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities - his eternal power and divine nature - have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.' However, we are not pleased that He should have the central place in our universe and be in charge merely because He is God. This is the key to understanding humanity's present condition. God offends human pride. If God is running the universe and has first claim on our lives, guess who isn't running the universe and does not get to have things as they please? Me and you. Because this bugs most people, they make a choice in their hearts to start down the path away from God.
Almost everyone knows someone who has struggled with alcohol. The historian of Alcoholics Anonymous, Ernest Kurtz, titled his book Not-God. He did this because the determination to take the place of God is the greatest challenge an alcoholic must face. To understand they will never be able to steal the role of God, alcoholics must recognize their helplessness and surrender to the Higher Power. They have to quit playing God and allow God Himself to be God in their lives, requiring surrender every moment of every day.
Mind Ruin: After we toss God out of our hearts, our minds try to convince us that we are god and that life is all about us. When the truth about God's existence and His demand on our lives is put out of our hearts, our minds become dysfunctional. They devise ways of justifying the falsehood that man is god. Everything becomes about us. The pride of putting oneself at the center is the hinge upon which the entire world of the ruined self turns. We might do acts of goodness or kindness, but the bottom line is our needs, wants, and rights. We have no problem with this way of living as our hearts have now begun feeding off the falsehood of the mind. Our whole selves become involved in a cycle of deception.
Prayer: Dear God, every part of us is damaged goods - but not worthless. Yet our hearts and minds still want us to be the center of the universe! Speak to our hearts and teach us so that we can begin to use our minds to honor You as Lord of all. We want to be on the path that moves us toward You.
Self-Worship: The Path To Radical Ruin - Part 2
Emotional Ruin: Once our minds are committed to self-preservation and getting their way, we take the third step down the path of destruction - our feelings get involved. This explains conflict among friends. Feelings get hurt because people are not fully devoted to their friends' happiness.
Our minds might believe we would be happier if we owned really expensive designer clothes. Then our feelings quickly get locked into the idea. We feel passionate about it and will do whatever it takes to get those clothes. We may spend all the money we have, or go so far as to steal.
Body Ruin: When we don't worship God, we worship our bodies. This is the next step along this path. We are bombarded with body worship. "It's all about me, and the most important things about me are how I look, what others think of me, and how much pleasure my body receives." From the magazine racks to the TV to all the wrinkle fillers and botox.
Now sensuality becomes central. The human body is now the primary area of pleasure for those who do not live honestly and interactively with God. The mirror is the enemy as the goal is to look a certain way. Today, if exercising doesn't work, we can pay for it with plastic surgery.
(Working Out Your Image: The next time you work out, spend time with God beforehand. Pray about your motivation and ask Him to give you a healthy, godly image of yourself as you maintain your physical health. Be sensitive to His leading. Who knows...He may ask you to not work out that day and spend more time with Him instead.)
Body worship includes anything that makes us feel good, such as alcohol, eating, and drugs. But sex is the biggest as it usually gives the greatest "kick." This way of thinking says, "Sex, or free love, is not wrong if we are God. After all, what we want is to feel good." A close second to free sex is violence. For some reason, our bodies are stimulated by violence, from the Roman Coliseum to bullfighting to today's high-tech video games.
The body is also the primary source for terror, torture, and death. After a while the effects of engaging in sensual practices is deadened feelings, so we have to up the ante. It awakens the desperate need to simply feel - to feel something. The further down the path we go, the closer we come to destruction.
Soul Ruin: The focus on ourselves leads us to become the kind of people for whom "away from God" is the only place we comfortably belong. Self-worship has a destination. The condition is lostness. Because they are lost, they end up in the wrong place - namely, hell.
No one chooses to go to hell - or to even be the kind of person who belongs there. But when we choose self, that means we are not choosing to come in humility before God and accept who He is. The human will has limits beyond which it cannot turn back and repent. One does not miss heaven by a hair but by constant effort to avoid and escape God. This is seen as an "in your face" kind of defiance in the Bible.
Since they didn't bother to acknowledge God, God quit bothering them and let them run loose. And then all hell broke loose: rampant evil, grabbing and grasping, vicious backstabbing. They made life hell on earth with their envy, wanton killing, bickering, and cheating. Look at them: mean-spirited, venomous, fork-tongued God-bashers. Bullies, swaggerers, insufferable windbags! They keep inventing new ways of wrecking lives. They ditch their parents when they get in the way. Stupid, slimy, cruel, cold-blooded. And it's not as if they don't know better. They know perfectly well they're spitting in God's face. And they don't care - worse, they hand out prizes to those who do the worst things best! (Romans 1:28-32).
Pretty depressing, huh? If you choose to take this path of self-worship, be prepared to be really depressed.
Prayer: Father God, we struggle with feelings that seem crazy and chaotic. It is hard for us to keep from desiring personal pleasure and focusing too much on our bodies. But we don't want our souls to be on the path to radical ruin! We will make a relationship with You our destination. Renovate our hearts and change our paths.
Self-Denial: The Path To Radical Goodness - Part 1
Don't you realize that this is not the way to live? Unjust people who don't care about God will not be joining in his kingdom. Those who use and abuse each other, use and abuse sex, use and abuse the earth and everything in it, don't qualify as citizens in God's kingdom. A number of you know from experience what I'm talking about, for not so long ago you were on that list. Since then, you've been cleaned up and given a fresh start by Jesus, our Master, our Messiah, and by our God present in us, the Spirit. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).
An amazing thing about the human being is its capacity for restoration - restoration that is somehow more magnificent because it has been ruined. Like a 1969 Shelby Mustang GT 500 that has been left to rot and bake in a farmer's field for the past twenty-five years. It looks horrible. But if someone takes it through the steps of a full restoration, it becomes a sight to behold. And there is something more magnificent about it because it had been ruined. The same is true for us but in a grander way.
The key to understanding the overall renovation is rooted in what we learned about human ruin. John Calvin once said, "The surest source of destruction to men is to obey themselves." The only haven of safety is to have no other will, no other wisdom, than to follow the Lord wherever He leads. This is the path of self-denial.
God is leading us down a path very different from what we are used to. A path that ends in radical goodness and full participation in His kingdom. And, as we walk this path, we find that He lifts our burdens and gives us rest for our souls that are so often troubled by life. WOW!
Before you decide that the path of self-denial doesn't sound as exciting as self-worship, let's clear up some things. By self-denial, we are not talking about self-rejection. Jesus does not demean us or take away our dignity. Also, we must not think of self-denial as a painful and strenuous act, maybe repeated from time to time against great internal resistance. Self-denial is, rather, an overall, settled condition of life in the kingdom of God, better described as "death to self." In this alone lies the key to the soul's restoration. Christian spiritual formation rests on this indispensable foundation of death to self and cannot proceed unless that foundation is being firmly laid and sustained.
We must make God the ultimate point of reference in our world. Jesus says you must lose your life if you are to truly find it. He is teaching that you must not see yourself and your survival as the ultimate good, goal, or the point of reference in your world - don't treat yourself as God. Give your life over to the higher calling of the kingdom of God. Your life, when you wake up each day, becomes about what God wants, not what you want. This means that for the first time we will be able to do what we want, as when we get caught up in God's life, we want what He wants, When we want what He wants, He enables us to actually do it. (You may want to stop and read this several times to make sure you catch the power of this statement.)
Loving God and loving our neighbor becomes the new central focus of our lives. God wants us to focus our primary energy on loving Him and others. This is the purpose for which we were created. When we love God and others, we come alive. If we give up the focus on ourselves (lose our lives) and turn our focus toward God and others, we will find the life we have always wanted. Giving and forgiving become central to our lives as we take on the character truly suited to the human soul. This is not like giving up something - losing or sacrificing. With Jesus, giving and forgiving are just the opposite. "Give away your life, you'll find life given back, but not merely given back - given back with bonus and blessing. Giving, not getting, is the way. Generosity begets generosity." (Luke 6:38).
The Bible says, "God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose." (Romans 8:28). Our own interests become God's responsibility, leaving us free to focus our efforts on the service of God and others and on furthering good in the world.
Prayer: God, we choose the path to radical goodness. We want to lose our lives so we can find Your higher calling. We will love You and others instead of focusing on ourselves all the time. We want what You want.
Self-Denial: The Path To Radical Goodness - Part 2
We must consciously practice spiritual disciplines to move in the direction of radical goodness. Because we are born with ruined souls that are bent on self-worship, continuously loving God and others does not come naturally. We must concentrate on practicing certain spiritual disciplines that will help us move in this unnatural direction.
Very few people become excellent athletes or musicians without intense training and discipline. The same is true in the spiritual life. Things like meditating on Scripture, studying Scripture, spending time in solitude, practicing simplicity and frugality, praising God and celebrating His goodness, and living a life of prayer are just some of the disciplines that help us make the move from self-worship to self-denial.
For example: Before getting out of bed, stop and think of God. Mentally turn toward Him and commit your life and the events of your day to His care. Maybe think through some Scriptures that you have memorized. This puts you in a good frame of mind to meet everything that happens to you during the day as sent by God, or at least permitted by Him. You will rest in God's caring hand. This will help you to "do everything readily and cheerfully - no bickering, no second-guessing" (Philippians 2:14) because you have already placed God in charge. It is no longer your job to manage things that are beyond your control, such as the weather, airplanes, and other people.
The spiritual disciplines are essential for your journey to self-denial and, over time, will make something natural out of what was originally unnatural.
Over time, radical goodness conquers all five parts of us. With time and experience of God's love and care for us, all five parts of us will progressively harmonize better with each other. We will find the power to be generous in every way with those around us. Love for God and neighbor gradually pulls the entire structure of our person into proper alignment - our heart, mind, body, soul, and relationships with others. This renovation will determine our friends. It will direct our minds and feelings to dwell on things that are good. Our bodies will be used to praise God and fulfill His will instead of our own.
Being dead to self is the most productive and truthful way to live. How can being dead be productive? Jesus said, "Unless a grain of wheat is buried in the ground, dead to the world, it is never any more than a grain of wheat. But if it is buried, it sprouts and reproduces itself many times over. In the same way, anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you'll have it forever, real and eternal." (John 12:24-25).
There will come a time in your experience as an apprentice of Jesus when it will be appropriate to speak of your being dead to self. It won't happen overnight and probably won't happen until you've been walking with Christ for some time. How will you know you are there? Being dead to self becomes a reality when the mere fact that you do not get what you want does not surprise or offend you and has no control over you. You'll no longer have to give your life to looking after your own interests because you'll have become confident that God is looking after you.
Our focus on God and others leads us to become the kind of people for whom the kingdom of God is truly home. People who give themselves to self-worship give themselves to radical ruin. They become people for whom "away from God" is the only place they feel they belong. But those who give themselves to self-denial give themselves to radical goodness. They become people for whom God's kingdom is the only place they feel at home.
Prayer: God, we will practice and exercise and retrain ourselves in Your ways. With time and with Your love, radical goodness will conquer every part of our lives. As we die to ourselves, we will become suited for Your kingdom. We deny ourselves and choose the path to radical goodness.
Let's review the principles we have learned:
Self-Worship: The Path To Radical Ruin - Part 1
Heart Ruin: Our ruin begins when our hearts reject God's thoughts.
Mind Ruin: After we toss God out of our hearts, our minds try to convince us that we are god -
the center of the universe - and that life is all about us.
Self-Worship: The Path To Radical Ruin - Part 2
Emotional Ruin: Our feelings soon follow along the path of chaos.
Body Ruin: When we don't worship God, we worship our bodies.
Soul Ruin: Our focus on ourselves leads us to become the kind of people for whom "away
from God" is the only place we comfortably belong.
Self-Denial: The Path To Radical Goodness - Part 1
We must make God the ultimate point of reference in our world.
Loving God and loving our neighbor becomes the new central focus of our lives.
Self-Denial: The Path To Radical Goodness - Part 2
We must consciously practice spiritual disciplines to move in the direction of radical
Over time, radical goodness conquers all five parts of us.
Our focus on God and others leads us to become the kind of people for whom the kingdom
of God is truly home.
Reconsider: Go back and reread The Case Of The Betrayed Friendship. In light of what you have read, would you take a different path now in your treatment of this former friend?
Prayer: Lord, we will not make ourselves or our survival the center of our universe. We will love You, and we will love others. We will practice spiritual disciplines so we can learn how to move in the right direction. We will focus on You as we travel on the path to radical goodness!
Next week: Part 4 - The VIM Factor: The Power To Change