Self-confident, self-assured, self-motivated, self-determined, self-starter…the world has always taught us that many of these ‘selfs’ are not only good but absolutely necessary if we are to be successful, influential, or relevant. Selfdom is the realm of the self, it is the state of being where self has dominion.
However, the Kingdom (King’s dominion) is in stark contrast to self and the ideologies and ways of this world. The bible declares that friendship with the world is enmity against God. Selfdom and the Kingdom are absolutely incongruent. They can in no way be reconciled or mingled together just as one can’t serve two masters. The ideas and teachings centered on self are fundamental to the world’s way of doing things. Unfortunately, they have also become central in the teachings of the apostate church system of our day. So, as individuals functioning within the system of this world, what are we to make of self?
The answer to this question is found in the mysterious processing of God relayed to us in the ministry of Jesus Christ. For the saint, this processing begins with the revelation of the distinction between the soul and the Spirit. As part of this revelation, those apprehended to the life of sonship are quickened to respond to the call of the Father to lay down their soul and to surrender all the potentials therein. Jesus said: “if anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it” (Luke 9:23-24). The Greek word used for “life” is “psuche” which is translated soul. The bible refers to the soulish man as the natural man. “The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14). The word used for natural is “psuchikos” which comes from the root “psuche.”
The self-life originates out from our soul. The soul is the locality of self. The soul is the very seat and throne of self. It is from there that the self-driven aspirations of the natural man emanate. The natural man is a soulish man. It is a man dictated by the desires and passions of self-preservation and self-interest. It is a man who yearns to maximize and capitalize on all the potential of self.
Note that there is indeed potential stored up within the recesses of every soul. We see this potential in those who have grown famous, rich, powerful and influential in various spheres of the world system. Many in this world aim to draw out this potential through much effort, education, training, coercion and various other means. Unfortunately, much of what is called ministry today in the church systems is no different. The aim of its ministry has become to encourage believers to maximize and draw out their soul’s potential in order to be prosperous, healthy, successful, influential and blessed. All this they claim is God’s will. In line with this and disguised under kingdom-building teachings, many seek out and endeavor to maximize their soulish potential. But this is merely soul or self-development and is of no value in cultivating and maturing the spirit man.
Consider with me for a minute what would have happened if Jesus had decided to live out of His soulish realm and maximized all the capacity therein. Would He have not been an effective activist and mobilizer? Could He have not won over and energized a generation of Jews with His eloquence and authority to resist Roman dominion? As a politician, would He have not climbed the ladder of government with His leadership skills? As a scientist, would not the One through Whom all things were made know the molecular makeup of everything to manipulate them and do with them as He pleased? As an astronomer, would not the One who set the stars and planets in place have far greater knowledge than all the astronomers and the accumulated scientific knowledge of NASA? In one generation, our Lord Jesus Christ could have revolutionized the world in politics, economics, science, culture and in every other domain known to man.
But He didn’t. He chose instead to humble Himself and become obedient even to death by submitting to the Father’s will. What a wonderful testimony! Jesus said to His disciples: “I have food to eat of which you do not know” (John 4:32). Food is sustenance, it’s energy, it’s life. What was this food? His food was to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work (John 4:34). This far superseded anything Jesus could accomplish by maximizing the potential of His soul. This pleased the Father.
For before Jesus had preached a word, before any miracle, before any outward manifestation of the Kingdom, God declared: “this is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17). For this man, who could have revolutionized the world in those 30 years by His soul power, laid down His life not just on the cross but also through a life lived in absolute obscurity but in perfect obedience to His Father’s will. This is the mark of sonship, for only those led by the Spirit of God are the sons of God (Rom. 8:14). Notice it’s not necessarily the life of obscurity but the complete surrender of self energized by the very Spirit of God that pleased the Father. Behold the pattern Son.
Dear reader of these lines, if He laid down His will for the will of the Father, are we not also to follow in the footsteps of the firstborn son of God? If He learned obedience from what He suffered, how are we to learn obedience? If there was a cross for Jesus, is there not a cross for you and me?
A double-edged sword
In Revelation 6:9, as the fifth seal is opened, John sees: “under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held.” The word used in the original Greek for ‘for’ is ‘dia’ which means ‘by’. It denotes the means or channel of an act. Therefore, the text should read that they were slain by the word of God and by the testimony which they held. The word of God and the very testimony they have is the instrument and weapon by which the soul life begins to be slain. We read that: “the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit” (Heb. 4:12). This is not the mere letter of the word but the word that is a quickened Spirit and life that comes forth from the very mouth of God.
In John’s vision of the Son of Man, he sees that “out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword” (Rev. 1:16). The revelation of the word is not just knowledge, it is the very impartation of the logos of God: Christ Jesus who comes wielding a mighty sword. Jesus said: “I did not come to bring peace but a sword” (Matt. 10:34). Praise God for the sword! The sword of the word not only slays but it produces and imparts the mind of Christ. It is therefore, the preeminence of Christ from within our spirit that weakens and slays the soul and all its desires. The souls of those slain under the altar in Revelation 6 are referred to as martyrs for the fact that they have laid down their lower life by the sword of God.
Being a martyr
A martyr is often viewed as one who lays down their life for their belief. It is a person who is faithful in death. The faith or reason for which a martyr dies is of great importance. For in death the martyr bears witness and testifies of his/her commitment and absolute submission to their belief, showing that they would even go as far as dying for it. In this act, they are declaring that what they are dying for is greater than their life.
However, biblical understanding of martyrdom transcends physical death. A true martyr is one who is faithful not just in death but also in life. The bible says to “present your bodies a living sacrifice” (Rom. 12:1). Notice the sacrifice is living. Furthermore, as the soul is slain, spiritually, what is being revealed and declared is the existence and supremacy of another life, a more glorious life, One who is in the very image and likeness of God the Father. This life is none other than Christ. Only those whose souls have been slain can experience the manifestation of Christ within and thereby show forth or reveal Christ in the body. By laying down their life they bear witness to the world the very life of Christ. This is their testimony for which they are witnesses.
Martyrs are thus witnesses. In fact, the Greek word for martyr is ‘martus’ which means ‘witness’. Throughout the New Testament, the Greek word ‘martus’ is used for witness. For example: “and you shall be witnesses [martus] unto me both in Jerusalem, and in Judea, and unto the uttermost parts of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Again, “in the mouth of two or three witnesses [martus] every word may be established” (Matt. 18:16). The martyr testifies that what they are dying for is greater than their soul life. Indeed within us is a life much greater than any life we can possess or attain to in the soul. It is Christ in us, the hope of glory who is worth laying our soul down for. The death of the soul is a prerequisite for the Kingdom of God to find reality and expression in us.
Jesus Christ is “the faithful witness [martus]” (Rev. 1:5). As THE FAITHFUL MARTYR, the laying down of the soul is clearly exemplified in His life. As the Son of man, He was subjected to all the temptations of the soul life; “for we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). In that anguishing period before His crucifixion, He prayed: “Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done” (Luke 22:42). Here we see demonstrated the laying down of His will – His self-life. The life of absolute submission to the Father’s will is one of denial of soul. Jesus never walked on His own accord but everything He said and did was that which was directed by the Father.
For us to go on to know the Lord in His fullness, to grow-up into the very stature of Christ and to be a witness of His life, we have to be energized by the Spirit to mortify the soul. This is a continual processing, a daily preparation that emanates out of the very life of the indwelling Christ who causes us to continually surrender and lay down our will by taking up our cross daily. This we do, irrespective of the fact that to the natural or soulish man what we are endeavoring to say and do in obedience to the Lord may seem irrational or disadvantageous. Indeed this is foolishness to the natural (soulish) man. But this is the mark of the high calling of sonship.
Some may ask, what’s wrong with being self-motivated or self-energized? The reality is that whatever springs out of the soul has no approval with the Father. Only Christ is the life which pleases the Father. Thus it’s better to be Christ-motivated and Christ-energized. The council of Paul is to “rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh” (Phil. 3:3).
Today, there are many in whose hearts this message may not resonate. They have established their vision, are set on their ways, and are consumed by their dreams. Self is in the driver seat dictating their life while they call on the Lord for His hand of blessing. Psychologists talk about self-actualization being the highest form of human motivation. It refers to the desire for self-fulfillment, the propensity of one to realize what he is potentially. This is what the world is striving for. Sadly, it has also become the aim of much ministry today. But this is the very essence of humanism and God is not interested in self-actualization nor is He a means to it. He is concerned with the development of One man, the second man, the spiritual man – God’s Christ.