Monday, January 30, 2012

Living for Yourself

Live for yourself?  What does that mean?  It sounds like selfishness.  After all, aren't we told over and over that the Christian life is about serving others and putting ourself second?

This is where a little Christian doctrine, misunderstood and misapplied, goes utterly wrong and wreaks havoc in life and relationships.  I submit to you that to serve others as Jesus did and to live for yourself, properly understood, are not goals at odds but necessary co-components.  I submit to you that Jesus would not have served others the way He did if He was not living for Himself.  I submit to you that Jesus would not have lived for God if He was not living for Himself.

Take the example in the Gospels where Jesus was talking to the twelve about how He must be killed.  He was foretelling His death, again.  Finally, his slow-minded disciples started to get the picture.  Light dawned in their dim brains.  The impulsive Peter spoke up and rebuked Jesus -"No way, Jesus!  You are crazy!"  How did Jesus reply?  Did Jesus abandon Himself here?  Did He flush Himself, His autonomy, His identity, His goals, and His true feelings about who He is and what He was there for, down the toilet?  No.  He rebuked Peter right back, "Get thee behind me, Satan!"

If Jesus did not live for Himself, what would His reply have been?  Maybe He would have felt wounded or insecure.  Maybe He would have tried to debate it with Peter, arguing the pros and cons, trying endlessly to get Peter to agree with Him.  Maybe He would have left and gone to some of the other disciples and ruminated for a few hours about what Peter said and if Peter was still His friend or not.  Maybe He would have withdrawn to debate with Himself -"Maybe Peter is right.  Maybe this is a bit extreme.  I mean, people might think I'm some kind of fanatic.  Peter really cares about me, and I really don't have that many friends -I'm terrified of him rejecting me."  Can you picture a Jesus like that?  Thankfully, I can't either.

See, Jesus would rather remain true to Himself and to His life goals than subjugate those things to the favor and opinion and standards of other people.  It cost Him everything.  It cost Him friends, family, the respect of His own people, and eventually it cost Him His life.

To live for yourself means that you are true to yourself, that you do not abandon yourself and your autonomy as a creature of God for the sake of fear or others.  To live for yourself means that you are active rather than passive, that you know what you want rather than passively waiting for others to decide for you, that you step forward to take your life rather than letting it happen, that you are resolved and "with" your own core feelings, as painful as they may be, rather than retreating to the land of denial, ruminating endlessly under the delusion that with enough effort and enough hoping you can undo all the hurt and rejection and make people love you the way you longed for, and that you take responsibility for your life (and for your mistakes) and you set goals for yourself that will utilize your potential to the utmost in your mandate to take your responsibility to love and care for others seriously.

Or to put it conversely, to "not" live for yourself means to be enslaved to others, to live in bondage to your own punishing system, destroying others or allowing them to destroy you needlessly, for no real good purpose, simply because you need to live in chains, because you are afraid to emerge, or whatever the reason.  To not live for yourself means to be a slave.  Some people are slaves to abusive people.  Some people are slaves and are the abusive people.  All of them are slaves to something inside themselves.

To be free does not mean to be sinless.  To live for yourself does not mean that your sin nature is gone, for the sin nature dwells in the core of who we are.  But to live for yourself means you can hand the reigns over to God.  A man who is a slave cannot be a slave to God.  No one can serve two masters.  Jesus lived for Himself yet used that life in service to His Father, which meant using it in service to us according to His plan and His goal and His identity.

Ask yourself, as you live in constant rumination and bondage, worrying about what that other person or people will do or think or say, what they are doing right now or what they have done, can you truly give of yourself selflessly?  Can you forgive and love in that state?  Can you let go in that state?  No.

It does not mean that you no longer care about the opinions and standards of others.  It means you are no longer dominated to them.  A man who possesses his own life, who has his own goals and ideals and feelings and limits and plans, is a man who is free to make rational decisions for his life -not perfect ones, but not ones dominated by punishment, fear, and others.

Resolved: to live for myself and my goals; to be true to my core self, not submitting to the judging value-standards of anyone; to live in this world as an autonomous creature of God, knowing others and giving to others as I stand on my own two feet to accomplish what I was made for.

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