“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you” (John 15:13–14).
We read these words in John 15, and take great comfort in the fact that Jesus laid down his life for us, his friends. But if we truly belong to Jesus, guess what? He’s our friend, too. If we belong to Jesus, then we too are to take up our crosses and follow him (Matthew 16:24). Reread the above passage with that in mind, and follow the implications.
“… And you know the way to where I am going” (John 14:4).
The idea of laying down our lives for Christ’s sake may seem impossible, but it’s not just an idea—it’s our calling. In fact, it’s our lifelong calling, and beyond. It’s not only foundational; it’s eternal. It’s how we first came to Jesus, and it’s how Jesus continues to shape our will in union with His. It is salvation; it is sanctification; and it is the totality of eternal life in Jesus. Our lives have to move from being of Christ or for Christ to being “in Christ” (Romans 8:1, et al.), and to the point where finally our life “is Christ” (Philippians 1:21, et al.).
Therefore, within these pages you’ll find some pretty heavy ideas being… well, laid down. And why not? This is your life we’re talking about, and about laying down every piece of it for the glory of God. There’s nothing more important than that. It’s not easy. In fact, it’s the hardest thing you’ll even have to do—and if you do it right, you’ll get to do it every day for the rest of your life.
In some ways, this is meant to be a very practical book. However, the objective here isn’t doing. Before that, and along with that, each of us is called to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2). We’re called to become the new creations Christ intends each of us to be, and to understand that we are new persons.
The challenge for me, as writer—and for you, as reader—is to avoid compartmentalizing these things into stages, steps, ten easy ways, etc. And yes, this is a book with a beginning, middle, and end; I am using a certain structure and sequence to make all this easier to understand. However, God doesn’t compartmentalize—because he doesn’t change. Repentance and grace go hand in hand. Obedience and freedom go hand in hand. Inner discipline and outward service go hand in hand. Walking in the Spirit and loving our fellow human beings go hand in hand. And we stumble away from God’s will for us when we try to separate these things.
Furthermore: Laying it down is not just about releasing our bad stuff, but about offering up everything “good” we have to God. Jesus, the ultimate good, offered himself up for us. Who are we to do less—and why do we think the ultimate results wouldn’t be as glorious? “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father” (John 14:12).
Many equate “laying down” with giving up—with being a quitter, or to just passively let things come at us. In some ways that’s accurate—for example, when God calls us to quit the sins and/or idols in our lives. But as we venture further with Jesus, laying down becomes less about ceasing some activity we’re doing, sinful or otherwise, and more about a different kind of giving up—the active surrendering of everything we do to Christ. It doesn’t mean we stop doing the good things we surrender to him, but it does mean that we give up control of those things to Jesus so that he can direct them, so that his will can be done.
Therefore, we don’t stop working, but we “work… for the Lord” (Colossians 3:23). We’re still parents and children and spouses, but our priority becomes glorifying God in those relationships rather than pleasing ourselves, or even that spouse or parent or child. We still use our gifts and talents, but we do it to serve God fully and not just for ego fulfillment—even, or maybe especially, in the context of “doing God’s work.” We still receive amazing blessings from God, but we learn to immediately place them back in God’s hands, knowing that even the people and things we love most were given to us for his purposes, and that our joy must rest in that rather than in his gifts….
One more thing: As I address these issues I am, in fact, recognizing my own need to clear out much of the undergrowth in my own life. Put another way: If you think reading this is gonna hurt, try writing it. But it’s my prayer that, by doing so, I not only help clear a path for you to begin moving forward more deliberately, but that you’ll gain the courage to clear out some of your own undergrowth—and by doing so, clear the way for and inspire others.
We’re all in this together. So let’s get started. Let’s get ready to Lay It Down.