To strive is human, but give up the ambitions and worries of this world, seeking only God, is to have life as He intends.
By Mark D. Harris
Our church regularly performs Infant Dedication, a ceremony in which the parents dedicate themselves publicly to raise their child as a Christian and the congregation dedicates itself to supporting the parents in this holy work. Parents choose a special verse for their child, one intended to guide them in the ways of Christ through their lives. Psalm 23:1, Jeremiah 29:11, John 3:16, and Philippians 4:13 are popular.
Our friends face conflict; one father berating himself for being chronically impatient with his children and another for spending so little time with his. Several couples have become empty nesters in the past few years, and miss their children painfully. Many friends have reached middle age, doubt that their current work is meaningful, and don’t know what to do in the second half of their career. Perhaps a long forgotten baby dedication verse would give us all hope…and peace.
We all struggle with who we are, and with finding our place in the world. A young lady in my employ yesterday told me that she doesn’t need validation, but of course she does; we all do. Another explains and defends herself with almost every other phrase. Many people are emotionally crushed by the slightest insult, and others react angrily to the smallest correction. Relationships rupture over words spoken harshly or misunderstood. We delude ourselves into thinking that we are independent, and that we want to be. Too often we go through life alone.
The fires of our ambition consume our youth, our marriage, and our children’s most tender years, leaving us sitting alone in dark rooms with the walls covered in long forgotten accolades. The frost of our greed freezes our compassion into the ice of indifference, leaving us using people to get things rather than using things to bless people. My uncle is selling the family business, one which has lasted for generations. He said that over the years he has spent a lot of time building it; too much time.
I do not know if I was ever formally dedicated as a baby, and certainly don’t know the verse if I was. If I could go back in time and select my own Infant Dedication verse, it would be 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 up for me.”
This verse describes a progression; first Paul is crucified with Christ, then he is raised with Christ to live the life of Christ on this earth. In light of this truth, how should Christians live?
The Dead have no future, but Christ entrusts His future into the hands of the Father
When we are crucified with Christ, we give up all of our hopes and dreams for the future. We walk with Him, learning to follow His lead, and eventually He begins to reveal our future to us. He never gives us the whole picture at once, but divulges a little bit at a time, just enough for us to take the next step. God’s word is a lamp to us (Psalm 119:105), but ancient lamps are not like modern flashlights; they only illuminate a few feet ahead. With each step forward in faith, we see the next step.
What we find is that the God who made us gives us a better future than we had hoped for, but shorn of the poor priorities and sinful desires. If we delight in Him, He will give us the desires of our heart (Psalms 37:4). The Lord will not honor selfishness and ingratitude, but His plans will be full of excitement, fellowship, work, and love. We will suffer, but we will prevail. God gives us a future far more wonderful than anything we could have imagined. Fully following Jesus is the greatest adventure.
The Dead don’t struggle with who they are, but Christ knows who He is, the Son of God.
There are two reasons for Christians not to struggle with our identity; we are dead to sin and self, and we are sons of God. Charles Spurgeon famously said,
“Brother, if any man thinks ill of you, do not be angry with him; for you are worse than he thinks you to be. If he charges you falsely on some point, yet be satisfied, for if he knew you better he might change the accusation, and you would be no gainer by the correction. If you have your moral portrait painted, and it is ugly, be satisfied; for it only needs a few blacker touches, and it would be still nearer the truth.”
The natural man is morally impoverished; unwilling to seek God and unable to be righteous (Romans 3:10-11). Every part of the moral nature of unregenerate man is corrupt. Never believe that man is inherently good; always understand that he is evil. Our disease is so bad that death to sin and self is the only cure, and so we are crucified with Christ. If we are dead to ourselves, why do we struggle with our identity? Does a corpse struggle with who he is? Do the dead try to make themselves look good to those around?
When we are raised with Christ, we receive His Spirit. Whatever goodness we think we have is not the point; Jesus’ goodness is what matters. The Son was morally perfect. His validation derived from the promises of Scripture and from the love of the Father and Holy Spirit, and our validation comes from the same place. We love others as Jesus loved them, but as His trust was not in men, neither is ours. Jesus’ love, His joy, His peace, His patience, His kindness, His goodness, His faithfulness, His gentleness, and His self-control become ours (Galatians 5:22-23).
Despite the Spirit of Christ in us, we continue to sin, both by both omission and commission. Paul describes this pitiful state in Romans 7; sin is so organic to us that we cannot shake it on this side of heaven. Nevertheless, since we are crucified with Christ, the hold of sin on our hearts weakens and one day we will be forever free. We need not struggle with our identity because we gain His identity. Day by day Jesus makes us more like Him (Philippians 2:12).
Dead men don’t have ambition, and Christ’s only ambition is the will of the Father
Dead men no longer want the praise of men; they no longer wish to be in the history books. Napoleon said that “glory is fleeting, but obscurity is forever”, and that is the mantra of modern man. If there is no eternal life, earthly fame is indeed fleeting, but it is also meaningless. Glory has no benefit over obscurity if the end of both is the grave. If there is eternal life, goodness and not fame is what matters. And we know that there is eternal life.
Our dreams of personal glory must die when we are crucified with Christ. They must be replaced with dreams of God’s glory and obedience to Him. Our desperate striving to be better than everyone else, or at least feel ourselves equal to everyone else, give way to a burning desire to discover how good God is, and to share Him with others. The Creator is the ground of all reality; the root from which all else grows. The universe and everything in it are utterly dependent upon Him. All beauty, power, and goodness in the cosmos emanate directly from the Lord. He is worthy of an eternity of praise and a thousand lifetimes of study. The ambition of the Christian is to become like Him.
During His earthly walk, Christ’s ambition was to perfectly follow the Father, thinking, saying, and doing everything that He asked so that the Father would be glorified. The Christian has the same ambition. Some people will accomplish this as kings and presidents, others as cab drivers and secretaries, and still others as soldiers and doctors. Most people will glorify God as moms and dads. No role is better than any other; obedience is what counts. The lies that money, fame, and power are proper goals, that we should always be striving for more, and that one man can be better than another sucks days from our lives and life from our days.
Ultimately, God gives His people something far better than history books, in which other men decide the measure of each life, and which few people read. He gives us eternal life. In eternity, people won’t need to read about us; we can tell them our story ourselves.
Dead men don’t need stuff, and Christ only had the stuff that He needed to accomplish His mission
“You can’t take it with you”, “You are born with nothing; you die with nothing”, “naked you came from your mother’s womb and naked you shall return (Job 1:21)” are only three of the many ways of saying that in eternity, possessions don’t matter. Yet we buy more and more, filling our homes and emptying our wallets in the vain pursuit of happiness from things. When our homes overflow, we rent storage units and buy bigger houses for furniture, clothes, toys, computers, and hundreds of other things that we rarely use. Life is made of time, yet we spend time paying for our stuff, cleaning our stuff, moving our stuff, and storing our stuff. We break relationships when people misuse our stuff, and feel superior to others because we have more stuff. We are no different than the rich fool; one day while we are building bigger barns, our souls will be required of us (Luke 12:16-20). We think that we own our stuff, but in truth, our stuff owns us.
To crucified with Christ is to lose all of your stuff, and to be raised with Him is to live free from slavery to possessions. Like all material beings, Jesus needed material things to live on earth. But He only had what He truly needed to accomplish His Father’s mission. Jesus spent time with people, not things. To be crucified with Christ is to do the same.
Are you moving to a new location? Don’t sell stuff; give it away. Are you shopping for something new to make you feel better? Leave the mall and take a walk in a park instead. Did water damage ruin the stuff in a storage unit that you haven’t opened in years? Thank God for freeing you from those possessions.
The Lord is our Shepherd, God has wonderful plans for us, God loves us, and we can do all things through Christ. All those verses contain beautiful promises suitable to start a young life. But Christians young and old are also crucified with Christ, and He is living His life in us. If we understand these truths; if we live while dead, we will be more like Him forever. That is the most beautiful promise of all.