God never demands as little from us as we are comfortable giving Him. We are always called beyond the normal and the natural to a higher life. The Biblical way of being human is especially challenging and especially rewarding. So what does God ask of us? Kill yourself. Forget you exist.
Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.
Jesus tells us that we find our lives by losing them, and that the way to lose our lives is to try to find them. But what does that even mean? How do we save our lives by losing them? How does finding our lives cause us to lose then? Well, let me bring up two more verses.
So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.
1 Corinthians 10:31
Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
Throughout Scripture, similar themes dominate ethics and instruction. The Sermon on the Mount repeatedly emphasizes denying your own glory, rights, and dispositions. But why? Is there virtue in not being happy? Does Jesus teach self-denial for self-denial’s sake? Of course not!
Jesus teaches love.
Love means forgetting yourself to embrace others.
Now I’ll back up and explain what I mean. Much has been written about love in Christian literature, but I would like to give a really basic definition of love for my purposes here: love is actively uniting your heart, mind, and will with another person. Time fails me to show the importance of unity to Christian life, or the deep connections between love and unity, whether philosophical or Biblical, but I will provide you with a list of references to peruse at your leisure (Eph. 4:4; John 13:34, 17:21-23; Rom. 14:17-19; 1 Cor. 1:10, 12:12, 12:13; 2 Cor. 13:11; Col. 3:13-15; 1 Thess. 5:13).
Love is actively uniting your heart, mind, and will with another person.
Instead of trying to summarize the vast Biblical support for my definition, I will give some basic examples on why this makes sense. When you love someone, their sorrow makes you sorrowful. Their joy gives you joy. You are concerned for their concerns and well-being. What they feel becomes what you feel, and what they think about becomes what you think about. So you find that you have unity of heart and mind. I believe this is a core element that makes love love.
Now, here is where I go back to my main point, namely that love means forgetting yourself to embrace others. See, if you’re busy feeling for others, thinking about others, and concerning yourself with others, something interesting happens. You disappear. Think about how many people you know who you care about at all. What if you loved them all for real, enough to make their feelings, thoughts, and concerns completely your own? While imagining this scenario is certainly difficult, one thing is certain: you would not be very worried about yourself.
If you’re busy feeling for others, thinking about others, and concerning yourself with others, you disappear.
See, most people have a problem. We either think too little of ourselves or too highly. Unfortunately, the solutions proposed by our culture (whether our secular culture or Christian culture) often miss the point. If you think too little of yourself, you are told to remember that you have worth, you are loved, you are beautiful, and you have a purpose. If you think too much of yourself, you are reminded that you are a sinner, you are not worthy of God’s grace, you are no better than anyone else, and you are puny compared to God.
Both of these approaches to fixing people’s self-image have one problem in common: they are concerned too much with self-image. The real solution is to stop thinking of ourselves. What Jesus taught—radical love—involves the (bear with my word choice) abolition of introspection. To put it another way, when we love people (and God) like Jesus tells us to love them, we will have no time or inclination to think very much about ourselves, whether good or bad thoughts. And the best part is that we won’t miss a moment of it. When we are loving so deeply, we will never stop and think, “You know, I wish I was focusing more on my feelings and needs instead of all the people I love. Then I would be happier.” If you forget you exist, you can fill your mind with the Kingdom of God, your family, and everything else that is worth thinking about.
We either think too little of ourselves or too highly. The real solution is to stop thinking of ourselves.
In fact, from this point we find the essence of authentic, Biblical self-denial. We are not giving up our own pleasures because that makes us more holy or more useful to God, but we forget about our own problems and concerns because our hearts and minds are set on the feelings and thoughts of God and other people. While on one hand this is a painful work which involves resisting the self, on the other hand this kind of life leads to more joy and freedom than before. Our self-denial as believers is not hostility toward self but leaving self on the back burner to joyfully fill our lives with God and others. For there is one truth we can know from all those who have lived long lives: happiness is never found in fixating on yourself, but found in living beyond yourself. So Christian self-denial even sets itself apart from the asceticism of other religions because it creates true joy, not just numbness, vague enlightenment, or escape from reality.
Now, having said all this, I must clarify that I do not mean we can do nothing we enjoy ourselves. It is most certainly right and good for us to have our own hobbies and passions. However, even in these, we are made to think of ourselves last, and love them, knowing that they also are God’s gifts to us. Do you like to read? Then read, and don’t worry about how good of a reader you are or whether you should read more or less. Do you have a passion for art? Then engage in it fully, losing yourself in the human creativity that God has gifted to us. Whatever you enjoy and whatever you do, be willing to deny yourself in pursuing it, because the good things of life are gifts of joy, ways God expresses Himself and His love to us. In denying ourselves even to pursue our passions, we find greater fulfillment because God has provided for us richly all things to enjoy. We just get in our own way! Every moment I spent thinking about me is a moment I could find greater fulfillment in by thinking of my wife, my God, or my hobbies. The same goes for you. If you forget you exist, even your hobbies will be more pleasurable.
Every moment I spent thinking about me is a moment I could find greater fulfillment in by thinking of my wife, my God, or my hobbies.
To conclude this all, remember that love, love as Jesus taught it, means finding ourselves outside of ourselves, first in God, second in other people, and finally in the things we enjoy. When we deny our tendency to self-center, we find greater joy, greater godliness, and greater life. So learn to forget you exist. Lose your existence in pursuing love for God, others, and passions. Once you’ve forgotten yourself, you won’t even know what you’re missing (because you really won’t be missing anything!).
Oh, and last of all, pray for me so that I can live like this too!