One of my favorite quotes from Dr. Perkins at CCDA 2012 was this:
“When Jesus says, ‘deny yourself and follow me,’ we fear that this is a less version of our full selves. But this is not the abandonment of your self – it is putting your full self in the hands of God. When you are in the hands of God it is not a less full version of your self – it is a more full version of your self.”
As the son of a pastor and a child of the church, this passage always terrified me. I didn’t know what it mean to “pick up my cross and follow Jesus,” but it sure didn’t sound good.
Yet decades later, I find that I 100% agree with Dr. Perkins. That which we most fear ends up being the only true path to freedom. I now believe that the sooner a person embraces the heart of this passage the sooner they will meet God in a profound and life-shaping way. The converse is true as well – the longer you wait to embrace this, the longer you wait to experience true and abundant life.
Here are some of the arenas where I have found this to be true:
IDENTITY – Questions around identity dominate the minds of many young adults. “Who am I? What are my core strengths? What is my purpose? What is the mark I can make on my generation”? These are all identity questions, and faith has a huge impact on the way you go about answering them. If you think Jesus’ call to ‘deny yourself and follow me,’ means you will lose your ability to find the answers it will take you in one direction. If you believe, as Dr. Perkins says, that when you are in the hands of God you are a more full version of yourself, then it takes you in a very different one.
In Mark 8, one of the accounts where this invitation is given by Jesus, he follows that up by asking, “What good is it for you to gain the whole world, yet forfeit your soul?” The Greek word for ‘soul’ here is ‘psuche’ – where we get psychology. In a fascinating twist on what so many falsely assume. We think the deepest secrets of our core identity will be lost when we follow Jesus, and therefore we need to pursue our own path. But Jesus says that the universal mistake is thinking that you can go find who you really are out in the world, independently of him, only to find that it was only through him that you could ever find the fullest version of yourself in the first place.
LOVE – One of the most intriguing questions that was ever posed to me came in a Christian, therapeutic environment. The counselor said, “Finish this sentence: ‘In order to be loved, I need to be… _____________”
The answer to this question shapes all of us in profound ways. We have been affirmed or torn down repeatedly through our lives, and those experiences create what we believe is the functional answer to this question. When I ask people this, some of the answers I get are:
– “I need to achieve.”
– “I need to help people.”
– “I need to be outgoing and funny.”
– “I need to be the entertainer of the group.”
– “I need to be pretty/handsome.”
– “I need to be wealthy.”
To come to the Father means to die to those lies of what you have to be loved. To the degree that the truth of the Gospel comes alive in your heart, you discover that you are loved as you are, because of who you are. You are made in the image of God and your Father loves you and knows you.
COURAGE – I have found that courage tends to flow best when the process of death and dying (and new life) have already begun in the domains of identity and love. If you feel like there is some identity you are trying to protect (the intellectual, the creative, the always-together, the entertainer, etc.), you will have very little capacity to take risks in areas that threaten that sense of a self-created identity. In the same way, if you are dominated by what people think about you, your ability to take courageous risks will be neutered.
On the other hand, the pattern of this passage has the capacity to create a ferocious sense of courage in people. I have seen it first hand. When your identity is largely rooted in being a child of the King, you tend to be able to look into the eyes of fear because you know that ““He who is in us is greater than He who is in the world.” And when you know you are loved to the deepest parts of your core by the Heavenly Father, you begin to untangle yourself from the chords of conditional and often manipulative love.
MONEY – When you find someone who is either generous or stingy with their money, you realize their attitude almost never has anything to do with the actual money. It is what money represents to them. If the way you ‘save’ yourself is through prestige, possessions, or security, then money will always be very difficult to give away (particularly in large sums). On the other hand, if your life is marked by the Mark 8 pattern and you are trying to die to yourself in order to find new life, giving becomes a much easier task – even a joyful one.
I find it interesting that the etymology of the word ‘generous’ is the same as ‘generative’ – it is literally life giving to be a generous person. I think it is important to instill this Mark 8 understanding in people at an early age. Being generous is far more than an ancient Biblical principle to keep the lights of churches on. Becoming a generous person brings life, and stinginess and greediness breed death.
SERVICE – Service is something I encourage every person to do, but I also urge them to be aware of their motivations. There is a motivation for service that is rooted in ‘saving’ ourselves, and there is a motivation that is rooted in the Mark 8 pattern.
I believe that the motivated rooted in self-saving is when it comes out of a place of making myself feel better because I am contributing to society. This is a better outcome than just sitting around and doing nothing, but it is still borne out of alleviating guilt more than it is the Mark 8 pattern.
When we follow the pattern of Mark 8 we are looking at more than just a deed of charity; we are posturing ourselves to be people who follow Jesus. V35 says, “Whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for Me and for the Gospel will save it.” The best motivation for service comes from Jesus and from the Gospel.