“Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”
– Matthew 16:24
When we began this ministry, we worked extensively with various recovery missions in the City of Hope. We shared the plain and open teachings of Jesus with hundreds of men and women who were recovering from alcohol and drug dependence. We were overwhelmed with the response. These men and women came from all sorts of backgrounds, many were affiliated with street gangs and/or were guilty of serious criminal activity. Few, if any, came to the missions seeking God. Yet when they heard the pure unadulterated message of Jesus, they grabbed hold to it and have not let it go. Most were so moved that they were determined to be baptized into Christ by any means. Some of their experiences are relayed in the articles The Powerful Message of Sonship and What Prevents Me?
At the same time, we were sharing the plain and open teachings with people who professed to be religious. They, too, were deeply affected, but there was a difference. The men and women from the missions were more quickly moved to action. Without compulsion or recommendation, they eagerly picked up the mantle of discipleship and instinctively sought to share the Master’s teachings with their families and friends. Some denounced their gang affiliations and reached out to their fellow gang members, and even members of rivals gangs, to introduce them to the Christ. Some of these men cooperated with law enforcement to mediate gang truces in major U.S. cities. These extraordinary acts of faith were rather common among these men and women. We wondered why there was such a difference in their reaction. The above cited scripture gave us some indication.
Of course, we recalled that Jesus came primarily for those who are considered lowly ones by man’s standards:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
– Luke 4:18-19
“Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
– Luke 5:31-32
And we were reminded of an illustration given by Jesus where he said:
“Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.” “You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.”
– Luke 7:41-43
Of course, these factors have a bearing on the situation. Perhaps these men and women viewed themselves as having greater sin and therefore they were more grateful. But there is another, more profound reason for the difference in response.
These men and women had reached a precipice moment. They realized that their way was not working and they wanted more out of life. Most were familiar with church doctrines, and had tried the 12-step program with limited success. But when they heard the plain and open teachings of Jesus, things changed. They realized the source of their distress was that they were spiritually hungry and they were open to being filled. (Matthew 5:3, 6)
They were especially impressed with the purity and simplicity of Jesus’ teachings. As Jesus said, ‘my yoke is easy and my burden is light.’ (Matthew 11:28-30) In response, they openly confessed their errors and earnestly sought to make amends. They exposed themselves thoroughly, nothing was hidden. There were no stumbling blocks that hindered them. All of their walls were down. It was like Jesus said:
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.”
– Matthew 13:45-46
They had divested themselves of man’s will, and unreservedly invited Christ Jesus into their lives to reign supreme. They had mastered the mantra, “let go, let God.” They had disowned their fleshly selves. (Matthew 26:34) That was the difference!
This experience taught us the value of disowning ones self. We believe if the average man or woman took him or herself to task, emptied themselves of all their hidden sins, secret grudges and preconceived or poorly conceived ideas about life and God and truth, and sought to make amends for their wrongs against others, there would be nothing to prevent such persons from living in truth, out loud and unashamedly. Really, the failure to be honest with ourselves makes our worship worthless:
“If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.”
– 1 John 1:6-10
But a true self assessment requires courage. Man has a tendency to cover over his own errors and pretend like they do not exist. This is hypocrisy. Jesus has no tolerance for hypocrisy:
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
– Matthew 7:1-5
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”
– Matthew 23:27-28
Besides, Jesus already knows those things we are trying to hide:
“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”
– Hebrews 4:12-13
We personally know the value of disowning self. When we began this journey many years ago, we decided to reset or reboot our spiritual lives. In addition to being honest with ourselves about ourselves, we decided to divest ourselves of everything we had ever been taught about God, the Bible, Jesus Christ and the truth.
We let go of every cherished belief with the intent to rebuild our spiritual lives on the only thing we absolutely knew to be true – that there is a God who is the creator of everything. We decided that we would only accept ideas and concepts consistent with that one truth and then build our faith on those things.
This was a very scary proposition. We knew that once we divested ourselves of all teachings, we would have no teachers. We could not run to the security of the approval of others. We would be on our own, yet we had faith that the Father would take us in. The interesting thing about faith is that in the beginning it is difficult. But as one exercises more and more faith, the Father responds with His assurances. And eventually, the Father’s protection and guidance become so real that it hardly seems fair to call it faith anymore. (Ponder that thought.)
This is how our faith progressed: We had faith that God is the creator of all things. The natural outgrowth of that idea is that every man is our brother. Now we had two things we absolutely knew to be true – God is our Father and every man is our brother. From there, we went to what we were familiar with, the Bible. And we decided to read it anew with our fresh perspective. We were thrilled when we realized that Jesus taught the very same two truths as the basis of his ministry:
“But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven.”
– Matthew 23:8-9
And these two truths formed the foundation of his only commandments:
“One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
- Matthew 22:35-40
A spiritual reset is alluded to by the apostle Paul when he wrote:
“Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.”
– Colossians 3:9-10
“You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”
– Ephesians 4:22-24
It is the meaning of being born again (John 3:3-7):
“Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin.”
– Romans 6:3-6
“For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.”
– 1 Peter 1:23
These ideas convinced us of the veracity of what Jesus said:
“Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
– John 14:6
We were willing to disown ourselves, as Jesus said, ‘like a merchant.... he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.” – Matthew 13:45-46
What can give one the courage to undergo a reboot, or a rebirth, is a strong desire for truth, divine truth untainted by manmade interpretations and machinations, and an earnest desire to know God.
We believe that a reboot or a rebirth should begin by going to God in prayer, pouring out our hearts and asking for His guidance. As an example of such a prayer, we can look to the words of the 51st Psalm. Here, the psalmist opens his heart completely to the Father and empties himself. It is not necessary that we mimic the words of the psalmist, but we might share his sentiments:
“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge. Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb; you taught me wisdom in that secret place. Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice. Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity. Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, so that sinners will turn back to you.
Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God, you who are God my Savior, and my tongue will sing of your righteousness. Open my lips, Lord, and my mouth will declare your praise. You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.
- Psalms 51:1-17
Heartfelt prayers such as this one will put us in the correct frame of mind. We will be open and exposed to the Father and to ourselves. And we will find comfort in our spiritual nakedness, knowing that we will soon be clothed and built up a new person – a spiritual person – one who can know truth:
“The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, for, “Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.”
–1 Corinthians 2:14-16
Many people around the world, from many different backgrounds, and under many different circumstances have been able to make miraculous changes in their lives by disowning self. From there, they can willingly picking up the torture stake of the Christ which means they were willing to undergo whatever it takes to follow Christ – and ‘sold everything .’ And when we have stripped off the old personality with its practices and beliefs, we will be in a position to put on the truth, as Paul called it, putting on the ‘mind of Christ’ – the pearl of high value. Having been washed clean of the errors of men, we are ready for our new life, our new birth – being born again.
But how do we determine what is the mind of Christ? What is involved in putting it on? And when we put it on, what sort of persons will we be? These questions will be answered in the next article in our quest for truth and subsequent spiritual freedom, which we call “Receiving Truth.”