Reflections From a Summer Camp Program Director
At the end of each week of camp, we would walk down to the lake and campers would sit around a fire. It was during one of these times, that we had worship music playing as we all got situated. The sun was setting, and it painted a golden backdrop against the lush, green valley. As I looked around at the campers, and listened to the music, I began teaching the campers about the altar call. I spoke to them about the purpose of the altar call by explaining that this "was a chance for those who wanted to give their lives to Jesus."
After a few minutes, a young boy— probably about 8 years old— meekly began walking towards me. When he reached me, he leaned in intently and whispered a question to me, "Does that mean that we really have to die?" He had that innocent glare, which I couldn't help but to chuckle and say, "No, it means that you choose to follow Jesus."
Of course, I couldn't help but laugh at the ironic nature of the question. Romans 6 says it is in death to our sin— to our old selves— that we now live for God. We should be slaves to righteousness, and not slaves to sin (Romans 6:15-23). Later on, in Philippians 1:26, Paul says, "to die is gain." Dying to ourselves is a common theme throughout the Bible; and it should be common within the Body of Christ. We should continually, actively, throw aside our own desires in an effort to follow Christ and be more like Christ.
While I was meditating on this concept, God spoke to my spirit and said, "To be a Christian means to wake up, die, and repeat." If you call yourself a Christian— a Christ follower— this is a common value of Christianity that I think we tend to undervalue. I won't lie, it is hard to apply this teaching; and, in many ways, we have become desensitized to the idea itself. For the nonbeliever or new believer, this idea can be confusing, abstract, and perplexing.
Consider this, in the beginning, God created Adam. Adam was without sin; God did not command Adam to wake up and die to himself. I bet if God told Adam this, Adam would not be able to understand what was being asked of him. Adam was in perfect union with God until the Fall (Genesis 3). It is here, we learn that humanity becomes embedded with a sinful nature. As we say to our campers, sin means that our actions separate us from God; and, just as everyone is born with skin, everyone is born in sin. What it means to be human (originally) is to be without sin, and in complete unity with God. However, after the Fall, mankind could no longer be in continual communion (unity) with God. Therefore, in dying to our sin, we are being restored from our brokenness.
Dying to our sin/self = restoration from our brokenness
I remember one of my theology teachers argued that in our current state, we are not 100% human because of our sinful nature. In fact, the only people who ever were 100% human were Adam, Eve, and Jesus.
In Christianity, we tend to have a depravity mindset. What I mean by that is we focus too much on our current brokenness (which is not necessarily bad); however, we tend to forget to emphasize the redemption and restoration that Jesus has provided for us through His grace and mercy via His sacrifice.
Now that we have a framework for who we were as humankind, how do we actually apply this concept of dying to ourselves? I don't know about you, but when I used to think about what dying to sin meant, I thought in extremes— which was to my own ruin (I bet I'm not alone in this). In consequence, we end up not really dying to our sin; instead, we tend to feed our sinful nature. However, we must remember that the nature we feed the most— our sin or God— will end up winning. We must be cautious of what we feed ourselves, and what we are consuming.
What about that jealousy that resides in your heart for something that belongs to someone else? It doesn't have to just be materialistic things; but it may also be desiring a characteristic or gift you do not have? Maybe you're thinking that others are more equipped and gifted than you; yet fail to see how special you are, and how wonderfully made you are. What about that comparison and insecurity you harbor inside? Maybe you're trying your best to stay in shape, or get the perfect body to the point that it has become an idol. There may even be some of you who are engulfing yourself in work, school, hobbies, or even another person (even church......), where your time with God dwindles. What about the times where you let unwholesome speech from your lips, or let your eyes and ears consume something that is not Godly? Or the times you raise your voice in anger, and forget to be gentle or gracious. What about the time you judged your coworker or family member; or the unforgiveness that is festering deep within. Maybe it's the gossip that came out your mouth that you passed off as verbally processing, or ‘truth’.
It could be the lustful thought or action you committed in your mind. It could also be the inferiority you feel in the place where God has placed you; the shame and responsibility you have held on to for far too long because of people you felt responsible for strayed away from the Truth. Maybe it's the burden you carry in silence— or behind thousands of walls— when you could let your brothers and sisters carry the weight with you. Or perhaps it's the way you ignore God's conviction(s) in your heart; or the way you forget to love others well, to do what is right, walk humbly, and love mercy and justice. Or it could be the way you allow your tongue to become a forest fire; when you choose to speak death, instead of life. Maybe it's how you choose to live in conspiracy and fear— which only comes from the father of lies— but barely be filled with the light of the Father above in heaven. Or maybe it's the ways you twist and speak in God's name, or use His word for your own good. It could quite possibly be the way you ruin your witness, and forget your command (from God) to spread the Gospel.
I know that was a lot, but I think you get the point. I felt convicted even while writing that… The question remains: How many times do I have to die to myself? When do I fail to die to sin? Everything changed when I thought of not only dying to myself as a sin, but dying to my brokenness. Dying to ourselves means letting go of anything less than what God created us to be. Yes, it is in the big sins; but, how many times do we ignore— or minimize— the “small” ones? I know I am guilty. How easy is it to forget our sins when we dive into the routine? I think it is important to note that there is no way we are going to be perfect at waking up and dying! It is impossible because we are not perfect — only Jesus is— but through Jesus we have access to grace and mercy. That doesn't mean that we should roll over let the chips fall where they may; no, not all. Instead, we should strive, each day, to be more an more like Christ, because of our love for Him.