If I were to ask you to describe your "true self", how would you describe yourself? Some might start with physical descriptors such as height, weight, hair color, or general build. Others might immediately gravitate toward words like introvert, bookworm, or organized. Still others might freak out that I am even asking! Why? Truthfully describing your "true self" is a little unnerving for some because it means being painfully transparent. The truth is, most of us would have a tough time really describing our "true self" because we have worked so hard for so long to keep it under wraps that we almost forget who we are at the center of it all! The masks we have chosen define us rather than the true creature who resides within. None of us is without a mask or two of some kind - it may not seem like much to us, but even discounting one or two of our "real" traits is kind of like denying they exist. God's plan from the start was always for open and honest transparency. Sin was the reason for the cover-up!
Calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to saving yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? What could you ever trade your soul for? (Mark 8:36 MSG)
As Jesus spoke to the crowd, he said some things which may have had some in the crowd feeling just a little uncomfortable. For example, when he turned to them and said, "Anyone who intends to come with me...", he may have had a few feeling a little pressure because their intentions were good, but their "heart action" behind the intentions was about to be challenged. That is the way it is with God sometimes - he challenges us with our own heart intentions because in exposing those, he exposes the real us. So, as Jesus opens this conversation with the "crowd", he wants to make is perfectly clear what following him means:
1. No one can sit in the driver's seat of their own lives and follow Jesus. It is either him at the wheel, or nothing. At first, this may not seem like much, but if you have ever been in a vehicle and done a little "backseat driving" you know how difficult it is to have someone else at the wheel when you think you can get to your destination quicker or by some easier path. You want to direct the course you are taking, but you are not in control. You cannot adjust the speed at which you are traveling, nor can you put on the brakes when it seems like you are about to go out of control. You are a passenger and there is someone else driving the vehicle. I think Jesus was pointing out to the crowd (and to us) that this "following him" thing wasn't going to be all that easy - it requires faith, trust, and commitment to not "take over".
2. Suffering is not to be avoided, but embraced. This might have been an even tougher concept to accept than the "driver's seat" issue. Many of us have this warped belief that following Jesus makes life all peaches and cream. Truth is, cream only makes us fat! Jesus didn't want a bunch of lazy believers content to sit around and soak in the good stuff - he looked for workers in the fields, those willing to lay it all down in order to take up what he asks for us to bear. I don't think Jesus was telling them there wouldn't be good times, but he wanted them to know there is a cost associated with following - more than just "relinquishing control", but more like embracing chaos as it comes. I have adopted a saying, "Suffering is not optional", not because I am some kind of martyr, but because I believe we each grow tremendously when we are faced with pressures which drive us closer to Jesus. Nothing drives us closer than suffering!
3. This is not a self-help kind of walk. In fact, all manner of self-help is really just another "mask" to cover up some weakness or flaw we see in ourselves. You know - - - the very things I see as flaws in my character, Jesus sees as opportunities for his grace to shine through. The tendency to want to "fix up" what we see as broken down in our lives is natural. Jesus was pointing out that this walk with him is not "natural" in nature - but is supernatural (by his nature re-created in us).
We can be all "gung ho" about following Jesus, but until we actually stop long enough to see what it is he wants from us and for us in this walk, we won't really understand the true cost - that of being our "true self" with him. Just sayin!