Jim Elliot is one of my spiritual heroes. On January 8, 1956, he and three other men were attacked and killed by the Auca Indians in the jungles of Ecuador. Elliot and a few others went to take the gospel to these primitive people. The story about their deaths captivated the nation because of a story in Life Magazine. Jim’s wife, Elizabeth Elliot, wrote about the event in her book, Through Gates of Splendor. Although it was a tragedy, Jim was ready to die. In his journal, Jim Elliot wrote: “God, I pray Thee, light these idle sticks of my life that I may burn for Thee. Consume my life, my God for it is Thine. I seek not a long life but a full one like You, Lord Jesus.” … “He is no fool to give up that which he cannot keep in order to gain that which he can never lose.”
Yesterday we saw that Jesus said to be His follower, His disciple, we must deny ourselves. Next, Jesus says we must take up our cross daily (Luke 9:23). For you to take up your cross doesn’t mean you carry a little cross in your pocket or wear one around your neck. It doesn’t mean you carry around a large wooden beam down the road. Some people think their “cross to bear” is some kind of physical ailment. I’ve heard people complain about their ingrown toenail or migraine headache and say, “But I guess it’s just my cross that I’ll just have to bear.”
Jesus isn’t talking about ingrown toenails or migraines. The meaning is so simple that many have missed it. He is talking about dying. A person carrying a cross had only one destination: Death. It was always a one-way trip. It isn’t physical death but death to self. The disciple’s cross demands death to self-will, self-interest, and self-seeking. In the words of Jesus, it requires denying self (Luke 9:23). The “way of the cross” is the way of death to our own will and interests. As our Lord set aside His glory and prerogatives as God in order to come to earth and “bear His cross,” so the disciple of Christ must do likewise (cf. Philippians 2:1-8). The cross means that we must also “put to death” the old nature and its practices:
“Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.” (Colossians 3:5).
After you have denied Self, you must constantly subject your Self to death. Actually, since all our sins were nailed to Jesus on the cross and since our ego is the essence of our sin problem, our Self was already crucified with Jesus; we just need to acknowledge it daily.
One of my all-time favorite verses which I recite almost daily is found in Galatians 2:20. "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”
In other words, my Self was put to death when I identified with the death of Jesus. But here is the real problem: our Self has more lives than a lucky cat. Crucified self keeps wanting to jump down from the cross and step up on the throne of your life. That’s why Jesus said taking up your cross was a daily discipline. I usually have to quote and claim Galatians 2:20 several times a day and sometimes even several times an hour!
Being dead has its advantages. For instance, you can’t really bother a dead person. Go down to the funeral home sometime and walk into a room where a body is lying in rest and try this. Wait until the room is empty and walk up to the corpse. Compliment him. “You look wonderful today!” He isn’t moved by flattery or the praise of men. Try criticizing him. “That tie looks awful.” Does it bother him? That’s a good thing about being dead, compliments or criticism don’t affect you. Try to bribe him. “Here’s a hundred dollar bill, do you want it?” I bet he won’t even glance at your money, much less take it. Try to tempt him. Pull out some illegal drugs, “Here do you want some?” Get the point? When you are dead to Self, then flattery, criticism, money and temptation have no appeal to you. That’s what it means to take up your cross.
When the Auca Indians killed Jim Elliot, it was not a tragedy, because Jim Elliott was already dead before he got to South America. He had lost his life in order to save it.
The only way you can truly experience life is by dying to Self. A real disciple is a dead man walking.
Have you experienced the difficulty of dying to self daily?