May Best Me Beat Worst Me
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matthew 16:24e (Holman) “. . .and follow Me.”
We have already learned from our text, to be effective in serving Jesus, we must want to do it, must deny self, and must take up our cross. Now we learn we also must follow Him. Jesus was the true pioneer. He blazed our trail. We follow Him. We come to Jesus just as we are, but can’t stay as we are.
The context points to understanding we are to follow Him in His suffering. This expectation applies to all believers, not only the spiritually elite.
The disciples, wanting a political, warlike Messiah, didn’t yet understand Jesus’ suffering role. They would have to learn a paradigm radically different from any they had ever imagined before. They were strongly attached to their own militaristic interpretation, but would have to forsake it to follow Jesus’ gentler thinking. They learned He had to suffer, and in turn they had to suffer.
A mental image may help us grasp what Jesus meant when He told us to follow Him. Imagine an erect cross stained with Jesus’ blood moving before us, and nearby a second cross lying on its side, ready to be picked up and carried.
When we for the first time take hold of the first cross with one hand, we humbly pray, “May the blood shed for us be spread over us.” As we repeatedly use our other hand to lift the second cross, we pray, “May power released by the blood of Jesus’ cross enable me to carry my cross and follow Him everyday.”
He walked a road of suffering for us. We are, through God’s power, to follow Him on this difficult trek. Don’t do this grudgingly. Take up the cross with gratitude. Tenderly hold to the erect, moving cross. Remembering our redemption price was paid there makes it easier for us to lift the reclining cross.
Lift the cross gladly, confident of His unfailing love for us. We follow Jesus, knowing One willing to shed His lifeblood for us would not capriciously lead us down a haphazard path. Following Him is the best road we can travel.
God lovingly decides what particular sufferings we will each face. Our pains are not mass produced, one-size-fits-all, dilemmas. Our individual trials are handpicked to make it possible for each of us to live the best life we can.
Other paths appear to us to make life easier and less complicated—sin always displays a good veneer—but are not better in producing what matters most. If we roam aimlessly, follow our whims, and yield to temptation, we end up living in ways that ultimately don’t count or matter. We are to follow Him, however difficult the path, believing life couldn’t be better for us any other way.
I stumble over this truth. My head accepts the fact; my heart often falters in accepting it. We need to be reminded our difficulties are not dead weights, whimsical punishments, cruel jokes, or merely inconveniences. They are productive steppingstones, sent to help us blossom greater holiness. Only as we believe holiness matters most do we appreciate Jesus’ refining work in our life.
The suffering life God ordains for us is the best life we can live. Jesus, determined to drive the point home, spoke one of His most forceful paradoxes.
Matthew 16:25 “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but
whoever loses his life because of me will find it.”
In other words, any who want to save their worst life will lose their best life, but all who lose their worst life because of Jesus will find their best life.
We each have a best self and a worst self. Dual natures duel inside us. “I am made out of flesh, sold into sin’s power. . . .I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh. For the desire to do what is good is with me, but there is no ability to do it. For I do not do the good that I want to do, but I practice the evil that I do not want to do” (Romans 7:14b,18,19).
This is the Christian’s never-ending dilemma. Two people seem to live in us. Each hates what the other loves, each wants to do what the other resists.
In verse 24 Jesus gave a blueprint for what our best self is to accomplish. Our rule of conduct is, desire to serve Him, deny self, take a cross, follow Him.
Anyone unwilling to live by these directives may think they are finding a better life by catering to their worst self, but are headed 180 degrees the wrong direction. People pay a high price when they make this navigational error.
Any who seek to coddle their worst self will lose their best self. To expend our energy pursuing a life we selfishly want results in our losing the only chance we have of living the one kind of life worth living.
Emphasizing our worst self yields a counterfeit happiness, a disillusion that comes crashing in when what we strove for as having value turns out to be cheap. Many spend life climbing a ladder to reach a far-off sign, reading contentment, only to find out when they reach it that it instead reads counterfeit.
Paul warned us about us, describing our sin nature as the “old man, that is corrupted by deceitful desires” (Ephesians 4:22b). Its desires are lies, deceitful.
Beware. Our flesh always begins by bewitching us. The cup is golden, but what good is a pretty cup with toxic contents? Sin is a sweet poison that stabs as it tickles. It comes in a grin; leaves its victim in chagrin. Genuine joy is never found in sin, for it leaves out the one thing we were made for—God.
Lies, lies, lies are all our old body of sin has to offer us. If we pamper the flesh, we will be disappointed. However much we indulge our worst self, it will always scream for new nerve endings to stimulate with more exhilarating thrills.
If we try to amass wealth, we’ll suffer a huge let down. Though we hoard all we can, money never stops repeating the same notorious demand, “More.”
If we try to chase fame, prepare to be frustrated. Popularity always craves a few more rounds of applause. If we try to seize more power, we will be bedeviled. Power always lusts for a bigger throne to sit on.
To be all God wants us to be, our best self must, with the Holy Spirit’s help, thwart our worst self. Our old sin nature, the sinful us, lurks at the core of every believer. Temptations attack here. In everything we do, our old nature has a voice. It is a beachhead from which sin continually annoys, taunts, tempts, and seduces all our being. But with God’s help it can be thwarted.
Christians, like everyone else, would like to have an easy life, but every person has to do surgery on their life, whichever self they choose to emphasize. No one can escape this hard, painful choice. If we choose to indulge our worst self, we have to hurt our best self. If we choose to pamper our best nature, we have to deny our worst nature. Either way, drastic surgery is required.
If we cut off our higher self, we are left with a bleeding wound of remorse that never heals. If we cut off our lower self, we still suffer a wound, but it ultimately heals and brings health.
Anyone who misses this “healing of wellbeing” loses what makes life worth living. Existing is not the same as true living. Breathing and heart function do not make a life worthwhile. The way of blessing and joy is found by those who forget their selfish self in the pursuit of holiness and kindness.
Jesus offers real life as opposed to merely surviving. Satan gives a cheap imitation of the real thing. He offers Heaven on Earth, but the result is Hell in Hell. People who hoard life lose it in the end.
In God’s economy, the only economy that really matters, a selfish person inevitably becomes the loser. Whoever lives only to save, please, and satisfy their lowly, temporary, earthly, physical life, will lose the chance to save, please, and satisfy their glorious, eternal, heavenly, spiritual life.
God can never say “Well done” to a life that selfishly catered to its worst self, in a bad, selfish way. This does not mean we are to find ways to punish ourselves. We can show self-interest in an okay way, we can do multitudes of things we enjoy. Self-pleasure is acceptable if we seek first what pleases God. Our bad self says, “For my sake only.” Our good self says “For my sake if it does not hurt His sake and others.” It promotes self after God and others.
Nothing is wrong with normal desires and affections. The problem arises when they reel out of control. Our physical desires, such as longing for food, for drink, and for acceptance from others, are God-given impulses meant to be the means whereby life is sustained and satisfactory. Our impulses become a problem when they become our guides, the driving forces of our lives.
Happiness can never be ours if we seek it in itself as the ultimate good for our old self. Gladness is not attained by directly aiming at it on behalf of the flesh. It is a by-product of living for the happiness of Another and others.