Yes, it’s that time of year again. The time when retailers parade merchandise in front of our eyes to guilt us into buying things we’ll never use, like juicers (“Just put in one large bag of oranges, and Viola! Out comes one very small glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice!”), self-help educational materials (“Learn to speak Mandarin Chinese as you drive to the gas station!”), and stationary bikes. Ok, well, we really do use the bikes. But not for exercising. They do serve as a nice place to hang your clothes, though.
Manufacturers and retailers prod us to make resolutions so we will then drop coin with them to buy things to help us keep these resolutions. Motivational speakers and preachers (hard to tell them apart at times) also encourage us to set goals for the new year. I used to do this, but it was frustrating every year to see how quickly I broke my resolutions. So a few years ago I resolved not to set any more goals or resolutions—other than this. I resolve to stay dead.
Dead. For only what is dead can be resurrected. I love what the late Robert Capon said so often: “Jesus did not come to teach the teachable, correct the correctable, or fix the fixable. He came to do one thing: Raise the dead.” Capon would answer those who insist we play a role in our own sanctification with this illustration.
You want a role to play? Ok. Imagine yourself standing next to Jesus and Martha outside of a tomb. Jesus says, “Roll away the stone!” But Martha interjects, “Wait a minute, Lord. He’s been dead for four days, and by now he stinks!” There you have it. Your role. You’re dead, and you stink. If you can do that, you can be resurrected. (Paraphrased from Between Noon And Three.)
Oh, I stink all right. I stink with the breath of one who has been talking a good game. Who says all the good and acceptable Christian things. I smell with the sweat and body odor of one who’s been working hard to build a healthy Christian life twelve ways. I wreak with the stench of doing, doing, doing. I stink like last week’s fish. I’m dead, but I keep flopping around, hoping to impress myself, others and—most ridiculously of all—God with all my activity.
So if I am going to have a resolution this year, it will a resolution to see myself as dead. An empty vessel so that I might be filled with Living Treasure. An inanimate lump of clay that the Potter can shape as he will. A dead man whom Jesus can call forth into resurrected life.
I know this goes against so much of modern Christian teaching. You aren’t going to build a huge ministry teaching people to celebrate their deadness. Book publishers don’t want to put out books by dead authors, or authors who talk about the dead. L’Chaim! is their cry—To Life! Death doesn’t sell (except in news headlines). Sermons, books, CD series, and TV shows are built around the life God wants you to LIVE. Even when “dying to self” is discussed, there are usually five steps for us to accomplish so we can be “dead.” Pick up the “dying to self” Bible, journal and t-shirt in the lobby on the way out.
A nineteenth century holiness preacher, G.D. Watson, wrote of his desire for holiness and personal sanctification—not just for himself, but for all those he led as pastor of various holiness churches. He admits to being harsh, even cruel, at times in his preaching of holiness. Later in life he discovered that holiness and sanctification is the work of the Holy Spirit in us, and our role is to be surrendered and submitted to God alone. He wrote,
And now, after suffering many defeats, learning many lessons in this Canaan of Perfect Love, I praise God for the trials of my faith and for His marvelous keeping power. I have learned that I must be an uncompromising, unwavering witness to the cleansing power of Christ; that I must not make an idol of holiness or holiness people; that I must not lean upon my emotions, but must walk by faith, and sometimes in seasons of darkness; that Satan tempts and tries me more directly and boldly than ever before, that I must often be dead to things and plans that are in themselves innocent, must sow and reap, or sow and let others reap. My heart breaks down under a delicious burden of humble and adoring praise to the wonderful Jesus. I have no will of my own. My will is the will of my Father. A sense of utter nothingness is growing upon me, together with an increasing sense of merit of Jesus.
Watson also wrote a sermon that gives words to my new year’s resolution. He called this, “Others May, You Cannot.”
If God has called you to be truly like Jesus in all your spirit, He will draw you into a life of crucifixion and humility. He will put on you such demands of obedience that you will not be allowed to follow other Christians. In many ways, He seems to let other good people do things which He will not let you do.
Others who seem to be very religious and useful may push themselves, pull wires, and scheme to carry out their plans, but you cannot. If you attempt it, you will meet with such failure and rebuke from the Lord as to make you sorely penitent.
Others can brag about themselves, their work, their successes, their writings, but the Holy Spirit will not allow you to do any such thing. If you begin to do so, He will lead you into some deep mortification that will make you despise yourself and all your good works.
Others will be allowed to succeed in making great sums of money, or having a legacy left to them, or in having luxuries, but God may supply you only on a day-to-day basis, because He wants you to have something far better than gold, a helpless dependence on Him and His unseen treasury.
The Lord may let others be honored and put forward while keeping you hidden in obscurity because He wants to produce some choice, fragrant fruit for His coming glory, which can only be produced in the shade.
God may let others be great, but keep you small. He will let others do a work for Him and get the credit, but He will make you work and toil without knowing how much you are doing. Then, to make your work still more precious, He will let others get the credit for the work which you have done; this to teach you the message of the Cross, humility, and something of the value of being cloaked with His nature.
The Holy Spirit will put a strict watch on you, and with a jealous love rebuke you for careless words and feelings, or for wasting your time, which other Christians never seem distressed over.
So make up your mind that God is an infinite Sovereign and has a right to do as He pleases with His own, and that He may not explain to you a thousand things which may puzzle your reason in His dealings with you.
God will take you at your word. If you absolutely sell yourself to be His slave, He will wrap you up in a jealous love and let other people say and do many things that you cannot. Settle it forever; you are to deal directly with the Holy Spirit, He is to have the privilege of tying your tongue or chaining your hand or closing your eyes in ways which others are not dealt with. However, know this great secret of the Kingdom: When you are so completely possessed with the Living God that you are, in your secret heart, pleased and delighted over this peculiar, personal, private, jealous guardianship and management of the Holy Spirit over your life, you will have found the vestibule of heaven, the high calling of God.
This is my resolve. To be his slave. To be dead. To live in grace.