“If anyone wants to follow me, he must say no to himself. He must pick up his cross every day and follow me. If he wants to save his life, he will lose it. But if he loses his life for me, he will save it. Luke 9:23-4.
Given it’s Jesus speaking, I can’t put this down to a misunderstanding. I can’t gloss it over, (I’ve tried). I can’t reframe it for the 21st century. And I can’t even flee to another gospel. Because it’s in Matthew too. And John. And Mark.
Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.
That’s pretty stark. Anyone who wants to live must die. Anyone. No exceptions and no excuses.
How is this possible?
He must pick up his cross, every day and follow me.
That’s not a one-off praying the prayer of commitment and then getting on with it myself. That’s death in the daily. In the series of little decisions, that add up to a hour, a day, a week..a life.
And I don’t want to do it. I really, really, really don’t want to die. I don’t want to die in the grand sense – you know, heart stopping and shuffling off the planet. But I don’t want to die in the smaller sense either.
I know in my head that God can be trusted, but I don’t feel it. I’m scared. He’ll hurt me by making me do things I don’t want to do. Things that might be for my good – but which feel bad. He’ll take charge and I’ll lose control and lose myself.
It’s like this:
I want a facebook friend, not a Saviour.
I don’t want to be weak. I’d rather pretend to be strong.
I don’t want to take risks or have faith. Surrounded by stuff: that’s when I’m safe.
But as I think about it, I’m forced to agree with Jesus. The first bit anyway: ’If anyone wants to save his life he will lose it”. You see, I’ve tried to save my own life before.
I pretended and I performed. I hid and I lied. And what I found was this:
when I seek my own happiness, I’m miserable instead.
when I relegate Jesus to the fringes I’m lost and alone.
when I try to cover my weakness, I lose myself in lies.
when I wrap myself in rituals and routine – that’s when I’m in danger.
I betrayed myself – the only person I thought I could trust. I don’t want to let her go. But every time I listen to her, she harms me instead. So if I’m going to live, then she’s got to die.
But here’s the problem.
I’ve already tried to kill her by myself.
Through an eating disorder that tried to reshape my body and my soul.
Through saying ‘no’ to the wants and needs that felt too much.
Through a million different aliases: ’good’ or ‘smart’ or ‘clever’ or ‘funny’ or ‘thin’.
When I tried to save my life I lost it instead. So maybe Jesus is right about dying in order to live. But what’s the difference between the death I’ve pursued in the past and the one that Jesus calls me to now?
What’s the difference between my self-harm and a mercy killing?
It’s the gap between perfectionism and being declared perfect.
It’s the difference between saving myself – and being saved. It’s looking back on His death and resurrection. Recognising that I am in Him. So the old me is already dead – and someone new is in her place. Then moving out in daily dependence on the Lord who brings me life.
All of us who were baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death. We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. (Romans 6:3-4)
Our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with. (Romans 6:6)
You died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to Another. (Romans 7:4)
I was crucified with Christ and I no longer live. (Galatians 2:20)
I belong to Christ and thus my flesh has been crucified. (Galatians 5:24)
The world has been crucified to me and I to the world. (Galatians 6:14)
In Christ you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism. (Colossians 2:11-12)
You died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world (Colossians 2:20)
You died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. (Colossians 3:3)