Reformed Baptist Fellowship

Outta This World

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on July 27, 2009 at 11:49 am

For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it.  For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, but loses or forfeits himself? (Lk 9:24,25)  We tend to think that self-denial is something like letting another person go ahead of us in traffic or turning off our favorite TV show to help tidy up the house or tend to the kids.  It is not that such sacrificial conduct isn’t commendable as bona fide Kingdom behavior, but Jesus’ description of self-denial is much more penetrating and all-encompassing than occasional deferential courtesies.

Jesus uses the vocabulary of commerce to press upon us the value of our selves: our souls or lives.  Certainly Jesus is telling us that obtaining eternal life is of greater value than obtaining this world.  We immediately interpret Him to mean that we must be willing to relinquish material things in order to make priority of Him and His Kingdom.  We think of the rich young man who refused to sell his possessions and give to the poor and did not follow Jesus (Mt 19:16-22).   We cannot be Jesus’ disciples and worship Mammon.  Yet Jesus’ words here are more expansive than simply a summons to eschew materialism.

We obtain insight into Jesus’ summons by noting the parallel structure of Jesus’ words.  A man’s attempt to save his life (v24) is explained by the words gains the whole world (v26).  The pursuit of self involves an attempt to gain the whole world.  Our culture has conditioned us to see ourselves in isolation, disconnected, detached.  Modern life is lived like a flat stone skipping across the top of the water: shallow, hardly touching the surface as we bounce across relationships, jobs, churches, locations, moving superficially through a sound-bite society.  That view of the self is, however, self-deception.

In reality, our lives are lived in connection to God, to people, to our labor, to the world.  Jesus sees us as God created us.  We are God’s image-bearers integrally interwoven into His creation.  The self is set in this cosmos.  Jesus sees us as connected in accountability to God, in relationships with others, entrusted with stewardships in this world.  He is calling us to see ourselves in the interconnected web of this present age and to deny, say “no” to, not validate or identify with, that self in this world.

When the selfolater seeks to save his life, he does so by attempting to establish himself in this world and hopes to reward himself with the bounties of this world.  Jesus’ parable of the rich fool (Lk 12:16-31) pictures what self-denial is not.  The fool thought he could establish his life in the context of this world, but he lives just moments away from losing both his world and his soul.  His worshipful pursuit of self is simultaneously a pursuit of this world.  The sinful love of self is concurrently a sinful love of the world (cf. 1 Jn 2:15-17)

How radical and extreme is Jesus’ call to discipleship!  We are made by God to be knit into the fabric of this world.  Now Jesus is calling us to refuse to live in this world?  What’s wrong with seeking our lives in this world?  Well, what’s wrong is we’re wrong and this world has gone wrong.  We and this world, the whole thing has gone bad.  This world in its present state is fallen, cursed, slated for the purging fire of God’s judgment.  To pursue our lives in this world in neglect of discipleship to Jesus is eternal folly.  Only when the sons of God are resurrected will this world be liberated from futility and corruption to become the habitation of the glorified children of God (Rom 8:18-25).  To seek to find one’s life in this passing world is vanity.  Just ask Solomon.  He had it all and he tells us that, apart from God, it is all vanity.  This world, and those who seek their lives in it, is already passing away.

Jesus would have us find our lives in a new world.  Certainly that new world is the glorified cosmos to be revealed in the resurrection.  But, in a real sense, that new world has already come in the person of Jesus.  Entrance into that new world, that eternal Promised Land, is obtained now in Jesus.  He who truly finds his life, finds it in Christ.  Christ is what we aspire to gain.  More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ (Phil 3:8).

Would we gain Christ?  Would we follow Jesus who travels through this world suffering, being rejected, hated and finally crucified?  Would we trust in Him as the resurrection and the life (Jn 11:25) and confess that He did indeed rise on the third day? Would we acknowledge that He is now exalted to the throne of God from whence He will return to resurrect us and usher us into His glorious Kingdom?  If we would be such believing disciples, we must, by faith, turn from aspiring to establish our lives in this world.  Yes, we are to be in the world, but not of it (Jn 17:11,14).  As Christians, we embrace God’s creation and His creation ordinances.  We endeavor to fulfill foundational creation morality with the vivacity and transformational power of the Spirit as we bring resurrection life and gospel love to our families, our vocations, our environment.  We are already alive in Christ and we are to glorify Him in this fallen world as a testimony to our hope for the world to come.  Yet there is a radical breach that we experience in our attachment to this present age.  If our hope lies in the age to come, then we must say good-bye to who we would otherwise be in this world and follow Jesus as new creations (2 Cor 5:17), living now as men alive from the dead (Rom 6:13), as citizens of heaven (Phil 1:27; 3:20).  For you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth.  For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory (Col 3:1-4).

Self denial is an eschatological act.  It is an act of faith in Jesus whereby we define ourselves in relation to Him and live as those who have already left this world and are now alive in Christ, who is our life and the promise of a whole new world.

Alan Dunn, Pastor
Grace Covenant Baptist Church
Flemington, NJ
  1. Self denial is an eschatological act. It is an act of faith in Jesus whereby we define ourselves in relation to Him and live as those who have already left this world and are now alive in Christ, who is our life and the promise of a whole new world.

    Thank you brother for this very helpful perspective realignment! Is there not an attitude in the spirit of our age that sees no point in investing time, energy, and resources in any venture, the fruit of which will not be harvested until after we are gone- too late for us to “enjoy” it?

  2. Dear Pastor Dunn,

    Your referencing Romans 8:18 reminded me of that verse’s historical context. When Paul wrote, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us,” Paul had already tasted future glory. He had already reported in Second Corinthians 12 about having been caught up into the third heaven, into the very presence of God. This had surpassed the glory of both Isaiah’s vision and also the experience of Peter, James, and John on the Mount of Transfiguration. Therefore, Paul writes Romans 8:18 not only as a man who had experienced more difficulty that we can imagine, but also as an actual eyewitness of the surpassing value of future glory.

    In similar fashion, when Jesus “who for the glory set before Him, endured the cross,” He also had had a previous experience with glory, and in His death and resurrection, was returning to a glory which He had experienced from all eternity.

    Consequently, Romans 8:18 is not merely academic conjecture, but we have the assurance of two eyewitnesses of a future glory, to which no present affliction can possibly be compared.

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