Existentialism… The Good Kind
by Alex Crain
"Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple…"
Luke 14:27 NASB
As chapter two of Francis Schaeffer's book, True Spirituality, comes to a close, the author highlights a crucial dimension of the gospel's first fruit (that of dying to self). It is that dying to self must be a continual reality. Schaeffer likens the proper mindset here to that of a philosophical existentialist…
"The existentialist is right when he puts his emphasis on the reality of the moment-by-moment situation. He is wrong in many things, but he is right here. Christ called His followers to continuously carry their own cross. He puts the command not in an abstract but in an intensely practical setting, in verse 26 (of Luke14) relating it to His followers' fathers, mothers, wives, children, brothers, sisters, and their own lives."
"He sets it among the realities of daily life. This is where we must die."
Christ is talking about putting to death what our hearts prefer; what we desire most. And we naturally prefer our own way. ol' blue eyes, Frank Sinatra, set our deeply ingrained theme song to music when he sang, "I did it my way." How can we possibly overcome our instinct to want our own desires fulfilled? It seems to be an impossible command.
Even if we know Proverbs 14:12 "There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death," such knowledge by itself is not enough to subdue a sinful, stubborn will. When the heart wants something, it can charge ahead in a mad quest to get its way without a single thought about consequences.
Paul Tripp and Tim Lane, in their book how people change, cite no less than seven counterfeit gospels that prevent people from dying to self. They feed pride and give others the false impression that we're being true disciples. Because we are so prone to preserve ourselves, we can easily gravitate toward these false gospels. Their appeal is so insidiously strong because they allow us to deceive ourselves and others, AND dodge Christ's benevolent command to die to self. These counterfeit gospels are: formalism, legalism, mysticism, activism, biblicism, therapism, and social-ism.
Formalism says, "I'm always in church, but it really has little impact on my heart or on how I live. I may become judgmental and impatient with those who do not have the same commitment as I do."
Legalism says, "I live by the rules—rules I create for myself and rules I create for others. I feel good if I can keep my own rules, and I become arrogant and full of contempt when others don't meet the standards I set for them. There is no joy in my life because there is no grace to be celebrated."
Mysticism says, "I am engaged in the incessant pursuit of an emotional experience with God. I live for the moments when I feel close to him, and I often struggle with discouragement when I don't feel that way. I may change churches often, too, looking for one that will give me what I'm looking for."
Activism says, "I recognize the missional nature of Christianity and am passionately involved in fixing this broken world. But at the end of the day, my life is more of a defense of what's right than a joyful pursuit of Christ."
Biblicism says, "I know my Bible inside and out, but I do not let it master me. I have reduced the gospel to a mastery of biblical content and theology, so I am intolerant and critical of those with lesser knowledge."
Therapism says, "I talk a lot about the hurting people in our congregation, and how Christ is the only answer for their hurt. Yet even without realizing it, I have made Christ more Therapist than Savior. I view hurt as a greater problem than sin—and I subtly shift my greatest need from my moral failure to my unmet needs."
Social-ism says, "The deep fellowship and friendships I find at church have become their own idol. The body of Christ has replaced Christ himself, and the gospel is reduced to a network of fulfilling Christian relationships."
[From Paul Tripp and Tim Lane's how people change (New Growth Press, 2008)]:
Which one(s) of the counterfeit gospels do you most tend toward?
In the end, only God's grace can subdue the heart of man and turn its desires God-ward. And such grace comes only through the true gospel of Christ. When God brings me around to embrace by faith that it was my moral failure that caused the sinless Son of God to suffer and die and, because of that, God does not treat me as my sins deserve, I see then that anything in life can be received with thankfulness.
How can we carry our cross and die daily? Only God can enable us by His James 4:6 to embrace the good kind of existentialism, depend on Him moment by moment, and continually ring the death knell to "my way."
Intersecting Faith & Life:
Do you see your own need for God's grace every moment so that you can die to self, yielding your desires up to Him? If not, what's preventing that?