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In the last chapter, you learned how Sue, Mitch, and Alice responded improperly to the brokenness of fallen life, and how, under the operation of self, became sinning victims. A life lived outside of the Garden of Eden brings hardships and evil (Genesis 3:16-19), and under the control of their old-self, their anger was used as fuel to obtain selfish desires.
The temptation to travel down the path of “self” is persuasive for it misleadingly promises relief from the pain, and projects a perceived control over the situation. Regrettably, the shelter is fleeting, and the sense of control offered is fictional. The path of “self” takes you away from the source of goodness, as you are incapable of accomplishing and sustaining anything beneficial in your life apart from God’s provision (1 Corinthians 4:7).
The better path is to align yourself with God’s will and let the energy of righteous anger pursue redemptive means. This chapter discusses the first step you must take, which is surrender. It is the humble act of a child of creation, full of failure, sin, and fear, turning from an independent life and saying to God, “I and all I have is yours” (1 Kings 20:4b).
The condition to receive God’s blessing is the absolute surrender of all into His hands. – Andrew Murray
In Scripture, Jesus and Paul used the illustration of grafting (John 15:1-6, Romans 11:11-24) to explain the difference between the two identities. In Adam, you are born as a wild olive shoot cast off from the holy root system. The shoot is rebellious, uncontrolled, unrestrained, self-willed, fiercely independent and wholly unable to produce good fruit.
The shoot strives to produce by drawing from the soil of the physical world. Unfortunately, sin has corrupted the nature of humanity by bringing forth “self,” which attempts to replicate the holy workings of God through self-effort. But since God is the only source of goodness and holiness, the “in-Adam” shoot fails.
Your sinful nature takes the nutrients, the resources of your environment and twists, distorts, and perverts them to produce the fruits of the flesh (Galatians 5:19-21). Sin makes humanity incapable of using the resources and influences of the world correctly.
In Adam, you use the things in the world to serve self. At your best, you turn a blessing of God into a self-serving idol (e.g., marriage, parenting, relationships, career, etc.). At your worst, you use people and orchestrate circumstances to fulfill your selfish desires.
In short, the Adamic loss of humility and the emergence of “self” prevents you from receiving the grace required to thrive.
The disease of self runs through my blood
It’s a cancer fatal to my soul
The gospel provides a means to flip the script. Just as the loss of humility came from Adam, the restoration of humility and death to “self” comes from the new Adam. The good Vine Dresser (God) comes along and cuts the wild shoot (called a scion in today’s terminology) from its Adamic roots, and grafts it into the root-stock of Christ.
The practice of grafting allows the scion to achieve the benefits from a superior root-stock that excels at extracting useful, healthy resources or materials from the soil while also being immune to the various potential diseases present in the surrounding terrestrial environment. As a result, the scion becomes capable of producing good fruit.
Grafted into the root-stock of Christ, you now have access to living, nourishing sap (John 4:14) to produce not only good fruit but to experience restored, intimate communion with God.
But you must remember indwelling sin corrupts the remaining flesh of the wild olive shoot, and although grafted into Christ, old fleshly tendencies remain. There is a post-regenerate fallenness to Christian life.
You must acknowledge your “work-in-progress” status. As a Christian, you are a new creation, but you are still a wild grafted scion. If you were removed from the graft and planted back in the soil, you would function unrighteously. Apart from Christ, you cannot interact with your environment in a holy, non-twisted or non-perverted way.
A lack of total surrender allows your indwelling sinful nature to turn from Christ’s living water and send out fleshly roots. Sin is in our DNA (Romans 7:20-21). The picture in view here shows a grafted tomato plant sending out roots just above the graft joint, longing to absorb the world’s counterfeit pleasures.
If allowed, new shoots will grow, bearing the fruit of the old nature; Christians can bear both excellent and rotten fruit. Grafting into Christ will allow you to experience growth in all the areas you have surrendered, but other parts, still under the authority of self, will remain carnal. This compartmentalization will steal nourishment away from the holy branches making one’s faith anemic.
Oh, we find the Christian life so difficult because we seek God’s blessing while we live in our own will. We desire to live the Christian life according to our own liking. We make our own plans and choose our own work. Then, we ask the Lord Jesus to come in and make sure that sin will not conquer us too much, and that we will not go too far wrong.
We ask Him to come in and give us so much of His blessing. But our relationship to Jesus ought to be such that we are entirely at His disposal. Every day we are to come to Him humbly and straightforwardly and say: “Lord, is there anything in me that is not according to Your will, that has not been ordered by You, or that is not entirely given up to You – Andrew Murray.
The condition to receive God’s full blessing is a call for an absolute surrender of self. This command (Luke 9:23) is typically met with resistance, for it usually comes in the midst of much pain and suffering; the call seems too much to ask.
You must remember “self” is the most significant obstacle to receiving God’s grace. Despite spiritual enlightenment, a love for God’s commandments, and a desire to obey (Romans 7:22), the Christian, operating out of self, will fail. “For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing” (Romans 7:19).
Living correctly only occurs when filled with the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:16), and this can happen in the absence of self. When we place our trust in “self,” we lose humility and the ability of the Holy Spirit to guide, teach, convict, and comfort.
Your soul needs the Holy Spirit’s work to nurture and sustain you while living in a fallen world and enable you to experience the peace and joy of salvation in the midst of conflict and suffering.
You must yield to the new master. When you give yourself up to the living, acting, ruling power of God’s Spirit, He has got you in the right position “to will and to act in order to fulfill His good purpose” (Philippians 2:13).
Scripture illustrates this clearly in the life of Peter. Before the testing, Peter was bold, confident, and enlightened (Matthew 16:16-17), yet he was without the Spirit, operating from a posture of self. When tested, he failed (Matthew 26:75). After Pentecost, and filled with the Holy Spirit, Peter boldly proclaimed Christ despite potential punishment (Acts 4:8, 19-20).
Walking in the Spirit is the only way to live the life to which you have been called (Romans 6:18). Otherwise, you quench the work of the Spirit by the polluting influence of self. As such, you are commanded to die to self (Luke 9:23) and walk humbly (Micah 6:8).
Returning to our friends, you can see how stressful situations of their fallen lives generated temptations to “send out carnal roots and branches” to pursue self-serving solutions. But the call of a Christian is to respond out of humility.
Humility is an acknowledgment that there is nothing you can gain by yourself (Jeremiah 17:9). Humility only comes from the Spirit, and only obtained in the absence of self. You are called to work out your salvation (Philippians 2:12), but it requires a different type of work; a kind of “un-work” that weakens self. Only by “un-working” the deeds of self, can you transition from a religious existence to abiding in-Christ.
Scripture illustrates this “un-work” in the life of Paul. In his pre-regenerate life, he worked hard, yet under the auspices of self, his works made him an enemy of Christ (Philippians 3:6). He was only able to experience the power of God after he considered all as a loss (Philippians 3:8) while boasting of his weaknesses (2 Corinthians 12:10).
The next chapter will explore the cultivation of humility in your life, what “un-work” looks like, and the benefit humility brings. I recognize total surrender is a scary and challenging step, for it tugs on the deep inner recesses of your heart, desires, and dreams. It requires you first to confront the great nemesis of unbelief.
You must reasonably establish a theologically precise understanding of God in your mind while convinced that He is working good (Romans 8:28) in your life even if it is in ways you did not expect or have not perceived up to this point in your narrative. – Rick Thomas.
I encourage you to take stock and examine the resources you have “in Adam” compared to what you have in Christ. Adam ushered in death, but Christ came to bring life (2 Timothy 1:10).
Denying self and surrendering does not come naturally, for it requires the combination of self-denial as well as the work of the Holy Spirit. You can easily see the conflict between “self” and the Spirit as you fight to say no to that piece of cake from the co-worker’s birthday celebration.
Self can go into overdrive to justify and make the case on how you deserve to enjoy a slice of your favorite type of cake. The spiritual loss of these little skirmishes not only feeds the flesh but also instills doubt and undermines your faith.
If I can’t say no to a piece of cake, how can I say no to the more significant temptations in life?
Like many things in life, the ability to deny “self” takes practice. I have heard that John MacArthur practices self-denial by daydreaming about eating steak for dinner but then order a salad at his favorite steak restaurant later that day. This response is a practical application of 1 Corinthians 9:27.
Fasting and prayer are excellent ways you can practice denial of self. You can also choose to fast from snacks, TV, Facebook, etc. As you gain victory in these smaller heart issues, your faith will increase, your flesh will weaken, and you will gain traction and the ability to say yes to righteousness.