Consider the following verses:
1. Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.” (Matt 16:24)
2. Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. (I Pet 2:11)
3. …in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. (Eph 2:2-3)
I have placed these verses in order, with a purpose in mind. My reader, I am sure, is very familiar with these verses, so I will not expound on their meaning.
The first of these verses lays out an ideal. If I wish to be a disciple of Christ, I must die to myself. Lest there be any doubt about Christ’s meaning, be aware that John 12 expounds more clearly on this fundamental principle. Peter tells us that there are aspects of our existence that wage war against our souls. War has one goal: neutralize the enemy by killing it. Referring to the Iraqi army, General Colin Powell said, “First we’re going to cut it off and then we’re going to kill it.” According to Peter, a war is underway and its objective is singular: the destruction of my soul. In the last passage, Paul reveals to us the instruments that will wage this war. Warren Wiersbe, in The Bible Exposition Commentary, succinctly and accurately summarizes these instruments as “the world, the flesh, and the devil.” It is plainly evident that my soul is under attack by a coalition of formidable enemies.
How do these verses tie together?
From birth, Christ surrendered himself to God in every and any circumstance, even when God forsook him on the Cross. Whereas we regularly question the existence or, at best, the love of God whenever we encounter darkness, Christ only wondered where God was. Though God was not present at that time, Christ remained fully committed and surrendered. The Father forsook the Son, but the Son did not forsake the Father. Otherwise, he would have entertained the idea of getting down off the cross. Such a move would have been impossible for Christ’s compatriots who occupied the other two crosses that fateful day. Make no mistake, Christ had already made it clear that twelve legions of angels were at his disposal to rescue him on a moment’s notice (Matt 26:53). The temptation to exercise this option from the cross was intensified by Jesus’ taunters (Luke 22:37). Neither the injustice of it all (the world), nor the intense pain (the flesh), nor having a way of escape via miracle (the devil) could persuade Christ to follow his own will.
I characterized Christ’s call to surrender as ideal, rather than normative, because it is evident that so few Christians actually live this way. Why? because a prolonged and fierce war is being waged against our souls. (Among other effects, this accounts for the fact that there are so many “Sunday-only” Christians.) The war is taking a terrible toll on the souls of men and women. Even so, we are oblivious. We live out our lives as if Jesus’ call to self-denial and death were optional or did not truly matter.
It is clear that we are in desperate need of a Savior.