Nobody wants a visible scar, an obvious spot marring the appearance of beauty, a forever barrier separating us from better days long left behind. Sometimes, scars can make us more beautiful, when they tell the hard-fought story of victories won, defeats transcended, failures redeemed, and sacrifices made. Such scars are signposts. They point beneath the surface appearance of things to the hidden place where real beauty shines. Here is one of God's vintage paradoxes: we wouldn't have this beauty if we didn't have the scar; the cause of both is the same.
Following a crucified Savior brings with it a particular set of scars. We are very much the better for these wounds, they leave us all the more lovely. The first scar results from the death of self (we will deal with two more in the weeks to come).
Jesus said, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.” (Mark 8:34, NASB95). Calvin called this lesson the sum of the Christian life: "We are not our own masters, but belong to the Lord." Here is an idea with consequences. Almost the whole of the Christian life flows from this concept.
Why, for example, do we embrace the Bible as our only rule of faith and practice? Well, because we are not our own, therefore we should not be guided by our own reason, but by the mind of Christ. Or, why do we reject the hedonistic philosophy of the world? Well, because we are not our own, and therefore must not live merely for our own pleasure, but to please the Lord. Why do our marriages thrive when we give our lives away to our spouses? Well, it is because following the attitude of Christ Jesus (Phil 2:1-11), we learn to forget ourselves and our own interests as far as possible, and make the good of another our chief aim and end in life.
"Oh," Calvin says, "How greatly has the man advanced who has learned not to be his own, not be governed by his own reason, but to surrender his mind to God!"
To live such a life we must abide in Christ and have His words abide in us. In Reformed Piety, the latter is the gateway to the former. How do we abide in Christ, but by having His word abide in us, dwelling in us richly with Psalms and Hymns and Spiritual songs, which incidentally is why what we sing to God matters a very great deal indeed! Man made ditties won’t fill your mind with Scripture, which in turn won’t fill your soul with Christ! This is made all the worse when we sing man-made songs because WE like them. In all our worship we must pray the Bible, read the Bible, preach the Bible, and sing the Bible.
Calvin drives the lesson of self-denial home by referring to Titus 2:11ff…
“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny (Self Denial) ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds. (We are not our own)” (Titus 2:11–14, NASB95).
So important is this lesson, the Apostle repeats it twice. We belong to Christ -- Christ died to purify for himself a people for His own possession.
So as we close out this devotional this morning, survey your life, in what areas do you conceive of life as your own? Are you stressing and worrying about things you might be about to lose (or have lost)? Do you think you have a right to own the thing Christ has taken away? Are you grumbling in this or that particular relationship because you believe you deserve better treatment? But surely dead men don't grumble? Has your self really died, or is it just pretending? Fretting and fighting are always signs of a self that's very much alive. Oh, my dear brother and sister, we both have a very great deal yet to learn of what it means to die to self. "Look to me, Jesus says, and it'll be the death of you."