It costs a man just as much or even more to go to hell than to come to heaven… (Søren Kierkegaard)
For the past eight weeks I have written about why it is essential for every Christian to surrender their will, along with their habits, longings and way of life, to Jesus. When seen from the perspective of those who are only nominally Christian such surrender may appear to spell the end of any kind of meaningful and appealing existence, instead of the beginning. But the truth is that we only begin to flourish once we’ve made Jesus our Lord.
If we are not yoked to Jesus (Matthew 11:29-30) then we are still yoked to sin. There is no other option for human beings. Either we are living in and through Jesus, with his resurrected life flowing through us, redeeming our sins, restoring us to wholeness and directing and empowering every aspect of our lives, or we are dying, bit by bit every day, ruled by the relentless forces of sin and death. Sin will continue to produce in us prideful, self-centered and self-interested behaviors because, apart from Jesus, we are unable not to sin. We may think we are in charge of our lives, but we are not because we are held captive by sin. And while sinful behaviors are sometimes tolerated and even welcomed by the world, the personal cost, not to mention the cost to others around us, is enormous.
With sin as our master we will arrogantly claim for ourselves what rightfully belongs to God – those resources, opportunities and talents at our disposal. Since arrogance and pride breed envy, we will then have to be on the lookout lest someone else appear to have more power, money, friends or notoriety than we believe to be in our possession. We will end up going through life comparing ourselves to others, craving attention, affection or admiration, and when we don’t receive it, doing something destructive and self-centered. We will never be able to place the good of another first, or first for long, because this is something only those infused with the sacrificial love of Jesus can do (1 Corinthians 13:1-8). We may tell ourselves we are being truly self-less, but sin does not allow for selflessness.
With sin as our lord fear and anxiety will always be nipping at our heels. We will find ourselves haunted from time to time by the thought we haven’t done enough or that something will go wrong and we won’t be able to fix it. We will be hemmed in by an inability to forgive or receive forgiveness. We will lack the ability to be compassionate in a healthy way and we will probably find ourselves burdened by our own sins or the sins of others. To be sure, our self-image will be skewed and our relationship with God disrupted. Such is the life of someone who is not yoked to Jesus. This is the cost of not losing control.
It may seem as though the cost of giving up control is even higher, but it is not. As I mentioned, none of us are really in control. We’ve just found a way to feel like we are; but sin has deceived us. Until we do surrender to Jesus we will not be able to experience the joy and peace that come from allowing him to fill, empower and guide us as we collaborate with him.
We are our most creative selves when Jesus is our Lord because we are no longer held captive by the demands of sin. Pride is no longer holding forth, demanding we call attention to ourselves. We no longer have to be self-conscious and introspective. Instead we are free to turn outward, reaching out to the world in Christ’s name, no longer limited by our own neurotic needs. Our efforts become more and more effective and even the most strenuous work or ministry no longer leaves us drained because we are running on God-power and not will-power.
In the gospel of Matthew Jesus says to his disciples, “…if a man will let himself be lost for my sake, he will find his true self…” (16:25b, New English Bible) I think we would all welcome the finding-of-our-true-self, but the part about letting-ourselves-be-lost seems scary. Turning the reins over to Jesus instead of holding on and manipulating to get the result we think we can’t do without may feel as though we’ve jumped off a cliff with no safety net to catch us. Letting go – losing control – at first feels a lot like being out of control, with nothing to hold onto.
But only when we take those steps do we discover that Jesus is in control and he will not abandon us. We are not being negligent when we turn our lives (and our cares) over to Jesus and choose not to direct or manipulate. Instead, we are being faithful. It isn’t that we aren’t doing anything; it’s that we are now allowing the Holy Spirit to inform our decisions and actions and we respond with the resurrected life of Jesus empowering us. Our lives and our cares are now in far better hands than they were before. In time, we will feel less and less vulnerable and more and more at peace and we will understand the price we (and those around us) were paying when we were not losing control.
Next week: Why others may feel threatened when we start losing control.