The example of Jesus
We know that God solved all of man’s problems on the cross: the problem of condemnation, of sin and its power, and the lack of power to live out His will. It is impossible to speak of maturity without referring to the Cross of Christ. One aspect of the Cross is learning to practice self-denial on a daily basis.
Jesus did not only die on a Cross; he lived the life of the Cross. One of the main characteristics of Jesus’ entire life was the complete renouncement of His ego. He lived His life by the principle of the Cross, in other words, in complete dependence on God.
It does not matter whether something is good or bad, correct or sinful; what really matters is if it is the will of God or not. The practice of the principle of the Cross is part of the process of maturity. Notice through Jesus’ life that God’s way of working with our ego follows a certain pattern or order. If we fail in one aspect, God will take us through certain situations until we finally learn the lesson necessary for His approval. In God’s school, no one skips exams or buys grades.
In John 5:19, 5:30, 8:28, we see Jesus clearly testifying to His position of complete dependence on the Father. This is the principle of the Cross in action.
He learned to submit to authority
The first great tension in the life of a disciple is learning to submit to authority. Without a doubt, this was also the first lesson Jesus had to learn. It would be naive to think that Jesus did not need to learn anything. In Hebrews 5:8, we see that Jesus learned obedience and the first lesson was the need to submit.
Luke says that Jesus did not only obey his parents, but he also submitted himself to Joseph and Mary (Luke 2:41-51). He knew who He was and where He had come from, but He still submitted himself to His parents who were very limited in understanding. When Jesus was 12 years old, He was already able to discuss the scriptures with the doctors of the Law. Even then, He did not put Himself above His parents; rather He submitted Himself to their authority.
It seems to us that Mary, even though she was a holy woman of God, was not a person of great understanding. Mary and Joseph were extremely poor and lacked certain privileges and opportunities. On many occasions, we find her bothering Jesus. It is very easy to submit ourselves to whomever knows more than we do, but it is very hard to submit to someone who knows less. This requires a renouncing of our pride, of the desire to be recognized and of the tendency to think more highly of ourselves than we do of others.
He had a teachable spirit
Being open to learning from others can be very difficult. We know that Jesus publicly went to be baptized by John. This could have been risky since some Pharisee could have gone up to Him later saying, “Weren’t we classmates together in John’s baptism class?” This could have happened, because Jesus used some of the illustrations made by John the Baptist (Compare Mat. 3:10 to 7:16-20) in the Sermon on the Mount. It must have been somewhat uncomfortable for a man as holy as Jesus of Nazareth to stand among common sinners waiting His turn to be baptized.
He did not act upon his own understanding and effort
It is not our responsibility to create our own methods. God has work to be done and we should not think that He is an incompetent builder or that He does not possess at least a blueprint. Through the narrative of John 5:19, 5:30, and 8:28, we can see that Jesus only did what God told Him to do. Jesus left no room for thinking or feeling that He should do anything other than that which God wanted Him to do.
We are builders and build according to the blueprint that God elaborated for us. The time is approaching when God will destroy everything that is outside of His plan. God does not accept human additions to His work. Many of us want to do whatever we want with our lives. This demonstrates a lack of understanding with regard to the principle of the cross: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2.20). We are no longer in control, now everything is under Divine control.
He renounced self-love
Deep down inside of ourselves we harbor self-love. The possibility of being defrauded, hurt, taken advantage of and other such things frighten us and manifests our deep-set self-love. Peter naively incited Jesus to feel sorry for Himself thinking it was as an act of love (Mat. 16:21-34).
Jesus, however, was severe the likes of which we rarely see in the Bible. This was because He was confronting one of the most subtle, sensitive and satanic areas in man – self-love, or self-preservation. God’s purpose is that we reach a level of maturity where we will surrender our own life. “For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Mat.16:25)
He rejected human glory
Jesus could have been crowned King of Israel (John 12:12-28), but he preferred the shame of the cross because this was the will of God. We should not think that this position was not tempting for Him. It surely was. However, He did not allow Himself be consumed by human glory because He knew God’s will. So many live for recognition, to be seen and admired. If we do not reject such desires, we will be like the Pharisees that performed their works so that “they would be seen by men”. We would do well to remember how sternly Jesus reprimanded them.
He served the disciples even though He was the Lord
Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many. (Mat. 20:28)
God has called us to serve the saints without distinction, and this involves taking our own desire for others to serve us to the cross. The human ego desires that others be always ready to serve us, and that they treat us with the utmost politeness and respect. However, the Spirit challenges us to overcome this selfish tendency and become selfless instead. We should serve with a perfect heart and this only happens if we renounce all expectation of receiving anything in return. All expectation of a reward should be renounced. Only in this way can we serve with joy. Whatever comes as a result depends on the God who sees in secret.
He obeyed completely
God’s plan is that, like Jesus, we reach a place of complete obedience (Mat. 26:36-46). God did not force Jesus to go to the Cross. In Gethsemane, Jesus prayed until He knew God’s will. When God revealed that His will was the Cross, Jesus got up and walked towards it. The principle of the cross is not related exclusively to the issue of sins, but with anything, sinful or not, that we should abandon or place as a lower priority. Doing what God wants: that is the issue.