There were two trees in the Garden of Eden: the tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and evil. The tree of life points to God Himself. If man had chosen the tree of life, he would have chosen to depend on God. He would have had no firsthand knowledge of the difference between good and the evil and would have been free to leave the difference up to God. He would not have ever had to live by what he knew on his own, but by what God taught him. The tree of knowledge of good and evil symbolizes independence from God. When man ate from it, he became independent from God with respect to knowing good and evil. This is an example of when independence is death.
All sins originate in the same manner and upon the same foundation as the first sin because all sin is centered in the ego. Sin is the ego in action. Independence is the specific way in which the ego manifests itself. It says, “I have my own opinions, desires, goals, and identity. I am accountable to nobody”. When man chose to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, his ego, or soul, was expanded and it became the center of human personality. The purpose of God was (and still is) for the human spirit to be the center of man, but sin transformed man into a soul-centered or fleshly being, the spirit died, the ego became the center, and as a result, man became selfish and egocentric.
Sin is everything that originates in the ego. Everything that man does independently of God is sin. It can be preaching, praying, or any other pious or religious activity – if it is done through the ego’s initiative, it is of the flesh.
We can also see that the ego manifests itself through the fruit of the flesh. What is enmity? It is the ego’s reaction when it isn’t recognized. What is rage? It is the ego’s reaction when it is opposed. What is jealousy? It is the ego’s fear of being replaced. What is division? It is the result of the rejection of the ego that believes it is always right and never gives in.
All sin springs from ego-centricity, in contrast, every virtue is born of an altruistic spirit. While ego-centricity places the person at the center, altruism places others at the center. What is love? It is forgetting one’s self and considering others. What is joy? It is living in contentment with what you have and what you are. In the Bible, the attitude of denying yourself and putting someone else at the center reveals the character of the cross. In order to live life in the spirit, it is not enough to walk in faith; we also must walk by the Cross.
In 1 John 3:23, we read:
“And this is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as He gave us commandment. “
Here we have two principles: faith and love (or the principle of the cross). To walk in love and to walk by the cross is the same thing. Love, is ultimately the renouncing of self.
Life in the Spirit is a direct consequence of walking according to the cross. True Christianity only exists if we live by the cross. Jesus not only died on a cross; He lived the life of the cross. This lifestyle consists of daily renouncing the will of the ego in order to do God’s will.
When Jesus taught his disciples to pray in Matthew 6:9-13, He finished his prayer by saying: “for yours is the kingdom, the power and the glory”. The kingdom, the power and the glory are the things for which men have always sought and fought.
The kingdom represents goods, wealth, respect and recognition. Power represents the inner desire for control, favor, gifts and abilities. Glory, a very basic drive of the ego, represents the desire to receive praise and adoration. The life of the cross consists of surrendering the kingdom, the power and the glory, knowing that we must turn these things over to God.
The Lord needs to show us how deplorable our ego is in his eyes. We need to see ourselves in His light as we gaze in the mirror of His Word so we can renounce our ‘self’. This mirror provides the revelation of our sinful condition. It will bring us to the end of ourselves. However, when we fail to see our own reflection because of our stubbornness and insensitivity to the Spirit, the Lord deems it necessary to use other resources: failure and humiliation. The Lord has no desire for us to suffer humiliation. Humiliation comes as a consequence of our stubbornness and resistance to learning through the light of the Spirit. It also comes because many times we have a wrong concept of ourselves; we think that we are humble when in reality we are not. We think that we are dependent on God, when in truth we depend on our own wisdom and effort.
Suppose that a pastor invites a simple brother to preach at the church’s main Sunday service. Most likely he will feel nervous and may even have stomach cramps and diarrhea because he feels intimidated by the responsibility. This is an interesting reaction; however, it is only an expression of the flesh’s fear of embarrassment. Since the brother is feeling insecure, he will pray a lot, fast and meditate on the Word. When Sunday arrives, his preaching is gripping and he leaves a strong impression on the hearers. The leaders are surprised and invite him to preach on the next Sunday as well. On the second Sunday, he is more confident than before, but still feels the need to spend time praying and seeking God. Once again, it is a blessing, and the excited leadership invites him for one more Sunday. This time our brother feels so secure that he feels able to preach to a stadium full of people. He fails to pray and meditate on the Word as he did before; now he thinks that he can trust his own ability. He steps up to the pulpit and preaches his entire sermon, but when he looks at his watch, only about ten minutes have gone by. He begins to sweat and feel chills, dizziness, nausea, and his desire is to run as far as he can from that place and situation. The third Sunday became a complete embarrassment. Notice how God worked in the heart of this brother. He led him to the recognition that he was not as dependent and humble as he had thought, but only realized it on the third Sunday. It is not easy to spot our own mistakes, but when embarrassment comes, we see them.
We take up the Cross by denying our self
What does it mean to deny oneself? There are many wrong concepts about denying the ego. Denying oneself does not imply the annihilation of the will; rather it is definitely renouncing my own will when I want to follow a different direction other than God’s will.
Denying oneself does not imply erasing one’s own personality and preferences. It is not a life of asceticism. This type of thinking portrays the Christian life as one of constant misery. Life becomes a heavy burden, difficult to endure. Jesus came so that man could have an abundant life.
Denying oneself is not the loss of desire. When desire turns into lust, it turns into sin. However, there are legitimate and Biblical desires like getting married, having children, preaching the gospel, saving lives, etc. However, self-denial implies that there will be moments of an apparent loss of will, preference and fulfillment of legitimate desires.