Perhaps the most difficult part of laying it down is the most basic—laying down who we’ve been, in order to become the people God created us to be. Many Christians today believe—or at least live as if they believed—that Jesus died solely to forgive them, and that because their messes are now cleaned up they can go on with their lives as if Christ had no further claims upon them. This is, quite simply, not true.
If we have truly placed our lives and trust in Jesus, then we are also already under the same death sentence as Jesus. The tough part is living this out on a daily basis—or rather, dying it out. But that’s what Jesus calls us to do. “Then he said to them all, ‘If anyone wants to become my follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it,but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it’” (Luke 9:23-24, NET).
When we willingly lay down our old selves and serve God as best we know how, we testify—to God, ourselves, and to everyone around us—that we are not the same people we used to be. And God sees and honors that.
There’s any number of powerful stories in the Bible that illustrate this exchanging of lives. Sometimes even the names change. Going back to Genesis, we see Abram become Abraham, Sarai become Sarah, and Jacob become Israel. I want to start with another Old Testament example that comes soon after this, then jump almost 1,500 years forward, to another changed man with another changed name.
At 80 years of age, Moses was a fugitive from the law, “a stranger in a strange land” (Ex. 2:22, KJV). He had gone from being miraculously rescued and raised in Pharoah’s household to a rebel who murdered an Egyptian on behalf of a people who immediately rejected him. And now, he seemed destined to live out his days in obscurity in Midian. By most people’s measure, he was a failure and would die that way. But God had other plans.
In Exodus 3 God calls out to Moses from the burning bush. He calls him to lead an entire nation out of slavery and into the land He had already promised them. But before He gives this call, He asks Moses to do something: “Do not approach any closer! Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy ground” (Ex. 3:5, NET). Moses obeyed. He honored God. And his life—and the lives of millions—was forever changed because of that.
Fast-forward 40 years… to the man who completes the task of bringing the Israelites into the promised land. Joshua no doubt knew about Moses’ past, but all he’d actually seen was the man God had transformed Moses into. From that perspective, Joshua knew he was no Moses.
Then again, for 80 years, Moses had been no Moses either.
As Joshua approaches Jericho, the last big hurdle to entering the promised land, he too has an encounter with God: “Joshua bowed down with his face to the ground and asked, ‘What does my master want to say to his servant?’ The commander of the Lord’s army answered Joshua, ‘Remove your sandals from your feet, because the place where you stand is holy.’ Joshua did so” (Joshua 5:14-15, NET).
The places where we encounter God are holy. For me, that’s not only included both proverbial and literal mountaintops but also gas stations, empty meeting rooms and my own living room. You have your own experiences. And because we’ve encountered God in these places, they’re special, set-apart places for us.
But it’s not the location itself that’s inherently holy—it’s God’s presence that makes it holy. God is capable of making every place in our lives holy, and wants to.
And likewise, God calls us to come out of slavery—to our sins, our selfish desires, even the good things we have that are nonetheless only a shadow of the better things God wants to give us—and “enter the land” He has promised us. And He calls us to help others do the same.
Let’s fast-forward almost 1,500 years this time, to Jesus’ Last Supper with the disciples. In the middle of the meal, He does something unusual—He gets up, grabs a towel and a washbasin, and begins washing the disciples’ feet. (It’s safe to assume the sandals are already off this time.) Follow what happens next:
“Peter said to him, ‘You will never wash my feet!’ Jesus replied,‘If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.’ Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord, wash not only my feet, but also my hands and my head!’” (John 13:8-9, NET).
Simon—who Jesus renamed Peter—protested, because he knew who he had been, and who in many ways he still was. He knew how unworthy he was of Jesus. But Jesus knew that, too. Furthermore, He knew what would happen to Him later that evening. He knew how badly Peter—all the disciples—would fail Him. But more importantly, Jesus didn’t care. Jesus’ priority was not the disciples’ past, present and future failings. What mattered most of all to Jesus, at that moment, was that the disciples take off their sandals and be served—cleansed—by Him.
What Jesus says to Peter, and to all of us, is: It doesn’t matter who you’ve been, what you’ve done. It doesn’t matter how big a screw-up you are now—and no doubt will be in the future. What matters is: Will you hand over your life—all of your life, including the screw-ups—to Me, so I can begin this incredible lifelong reclamation project called Your Life in Me?
And in case they missed the point, and it’s likely they did, an hour or so later Jesus tells his disciples this: “No one has greater love than this—that one lays down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I no longer call you slaves, because the slave does not understand what his master is doing. But I have called you friends, because I have revealed to you everything I heard from my Father. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that remains, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he will give you” (John 15:13-16, NET).
This is where a changed life really begins. Especially at first we want, and need, to make laying down about the “negative” stuff—the things we know we need to give up for Christ’s sake. And that’s where we’re spending most of this first week. But if we focus only on what we need to give up, it’ll probably never happen. We’re overwhelmed by the task. We know we can’t do it. Therefore, we must also grab onto what Jesus promises each of us if we’re willing to lay down everything for Him. We need to remember who we are, now—Jesus’ friends.
We want to justify ourselves before God, to make ourselves worthy. It will never happen. It can never happen. So let go of it. The good news is: Jesus has made us worthy us. He has cleansed us. He has laid down His life for us. Jesus has chosen us because He has chosen us. And because of Jesus, that is enough.
Lay It Down Today
Got shoes on? Take them off. (Or wait for a time when you can do this later on.) Reflect on those places where you know God has already met you, and thank Him for those encounters. Pray a prayer of consecration—something like, “Lord, You have created everything and everything was created to be holy, separated unto You. I want to honor you everywhere I put down my feet, starting in this place. Help me to let go of the person I’ve been, so that I might become the person You intend me to be.”
Then, don’t forget you prayed this. Watch what God does with that prayer in the weeks to come.
Pingback: Lay Down Your Pride: more fragments |