Becoming a Christian is a transforming experience. By changing us, it also changes our self-image. We now have much more to affirm, not boastfully but gratefully.
~ John Stott, The Cross of Christ
see God. His love, his honor, his suffering, his wisdom...the cross experience alone is enough to reveal God to us so we are drawn to him (John 12:32).
But the cross also changes how we see ourselves.
The two extremes of self we can pick up from the world are:
(1) Be totally self-absorbed. The world revolves around me and my needs and my pleasures.
(2) We're just another animal in the kingdom, with no more intrinsic value than the neighborhood mutt.
But the cross of Christ provides the true view, "for it calls us both to self-denial and to self-affirmation."
When Christ died, paying the penalty for sin, he lifted the burden of guilt and condemnation off his believers. By participating in his death and rising with him in new life when we put him on, we are given a new kind of life--forgiven, redeemed, holy, free, eternal.
In God's eyes, we are counted worthy, much more valuable than any of his other created things (Matthew 6:26; Matthew 12:12).
Christians can no longer think of themselves only as "created and fallen," but rather as "created, fallen and redeemed." And the injection of the new element gives us both more to affirm and more to deny. For we have not only been created in God's image, but re-created in it.
But the cross is also "the symbol of death to the self." We're called to turn away from the sin of self-centeredness (Galatians 5:24), replacing it with God-centeredness.
What we are (our self or personal identity) is partly the result of the creation (the image of God) and partly the result of the Fall (the image defaced). The self we are to deny, disown and crucify is our fallen self, everything within us that is incompatible with Jesus Christ. ...True self-denial (the denial of our false, fallen self) is not the road to self-destruction but the road to self-discovery.
Once we understand who we are as a result of Christ's work on the cross--both through self-affirmation (an appreciation of God's gifts) and self-denial (discarding our sinful nature), we're led to self-giving.
The community of the cross is essentially a community of self-giving love, expressed in the worship of God and in the serve of others. It is to this that the cross consistently and insistently calls us.
Now, when faced with the choice between selfish ambition or sacrifice, we're to choose sacrifice.
Between power or service, choose service.
Between comfort or suffering, choose suffering.
Because of Christ's radical obedience to the Father's will on the cross and his extravagant outpouring of love to us, we are empowered and en-couraged to reflect the cross in our homes, our churches, our communities, and our world.
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For more on Chapter 11, "Self-Understanding and Self-Giving," visit the reading group at Challies.
All chapter summaries
Next week: Chapter 12, "Loving our Enemies," how the cross shapes our relationships with the difficult ones.