By Femi Aribisala
I have never asked God a question he did not answer. He might not answer immediately, but all I have to do is stand upon my watch like Habakkuk, and he answers sooner than later. (Habakkuk 2:1). But a while back, the Lord answered a question I did not even ask. Or maybe I should say he answered a question I should have asked.
I should have asked him why he says: “Whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 16:25). I know this is a cardinal principle of salvation that makes all the difference between life and death. But why is it so important?
Fighting for my life
Saving my life is the story of my sinful life. If you slap me, I save my life by slapping you back. If you abuse me, I save my life by abusing you back. If you cheat me, I save my life by confronting you. I resist passionately any attack against me or my loved ones. Like Bob Marley, I get up and stand up for my rights.
But we cannot obey any of the commandments of the Lord unless we lay down our lives. Jesus says: “Whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:33). This means whatever we would normally try to defend should be relinquished at the get-go for Christ’s sake.
This is the counsel of Jesus: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21).
If we were to obey this injunction, we would have nothing left to defend.
It also important to recognize that this refers to more than our material possessions. It also means relinquishing ourselves. It means relinquishing our pride. It means relinquishing our self-esteem. It means relinquishing our self-worth.
Let us try to think this through. How can we forgive those who offend us if we are determined to save and defend ourselves? It is not possible. It means we cannot retaliate against an infraction. We cannot seek vengeance for any offence done against us. We cannot even hold grudges for grudges are also instruments of self-defence. We feel we are so important that the denial of our fellowship will somehow drastically affect those who upset us.
But Jesus goes even further. He says we should not resist evil: “I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two.” (Matthew 5:39-41).
This is a very tall order. It is one thing to know that the Lord wants me to lay down my life, and another thing altogether to obey. And then it is another thing again to obey willingly; without grumbling or complaining. Paul says: “Do everything without complaining or arguing.” (Philippians 2:14). None of these injunctions can be obeyed willingly unless the Holy Spirit helps us. Jesus says: “Without me, you can do nothing.” (John 15:5).
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The scriptures say of Jesus our fore-runner: “He was oppressed and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; he was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.” (Isaiah 53:7).
Accordingly, I need our Father’s help to enable me to keep my mouth shut. Since he is always listening to my heart, I also need him to guard my heart with all diligence, so I don’t keep grumbling and murmuring inaudibly; but to God’s hearing.
The Shepherd’s voice
I don’t have to tell you it is difficult to lay down my life. Everything about me fights against it. And yet, Jesus says it is easy. He says: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:29-30).
The problem then is that I don’t want to be yoked to the Lord. When I feel his restraints, I fight God. I say in rebellion: “Let me break his chains, and throw off his cords.” (Psalm 2:3).
I probably thought it would amount to insubordination to ask the Lord why attempts to save my life are so harmful as to jeopardise my salvation entirely. But he decided to tell me anyway. I woke up in time for a vigil and the Holy Spirit shouted in my right ear: “God must be your Saviour.”
It was a short sentence, but it spoke eloquently to me. Indeed, I heard it as an entire sermon. I must have no other Saviour but God. It actually translates into one of the Ten Commandments: “You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3). God says in Isaiah: “I, even I, am the Lord, and besides me, there is no saviour.” (Isaiah 43:11).
Fighting to be God
It is not so much my having other gods as my determination to be my own god. I feel I am the best person to defend my interests. God does not do this satisfactorily because he insists it is his will that must be done. However, his timing is not my timing. But it is important for me to recognise that my times are in the hands of God. (Psalm 31:15).
When I want things done immediately, Isaiah says: “Whoever believes will not act hastily.” (Isaiah 28:16). Solomon concurs: “He has made everything beautiful in its time.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). Therefore, I often find myself in Gethsemane, pleading pathetically with God for my will to be done.
But God must be our Saviour. We cannot call God Saviour and then insist on saving ourselves. We cannot call him Saviour and then dictate to him the terms of salvation. God can save by helping us avoid a problem. Or he can save us in the problem. Or he can save us through the problem. Or he can save by redeeming our losses from the problem. He can save from life, or from death, or in death, or by the resurrection from death.
If he is to be our God and Saviour, then the prerogative must belong exclusively to him. God says he will not give his glory to another.
However, for many of us Christians, our saviour is not God.
Sometimes our saviour is a godfather. Or our saviour is a lie. Or our saviour is a bribe. Or our saviour is a theft. Or our saviour is a fight. Or our saviour is an abuse. Or our saviour is deception. Or our saviour is a sacrifice. Or our saviour is a judge. Or our saviour is divorce.
But our Saviour must be God.