What does it mean to lose our life and find it in Jesus?

I take this straight from Dallas Willard’s book, Renovation of the Heart (Navpress, 2002). I would list it as one of the top contemporary books that I have read about spiritual formation, and of course, his classic work The Divine Conspiracy (Harper San Francisco, 1998) should also be included. He draws on the faith throughout the centuries to explain the process of spiritual formation. He isn’t say anything new, but is explaining these truths for those in this day. These are two books I suggest that all read, especially those who are serious about following Jesus.

“When Jesus says we must lose our lives if we are to find them, he is teaching, on the negative side, that we must not make ourselves and our ‘survival’ the ultimate point of reference in the the world–must not, in effect, treat ourselves as God should be treated, or treat ourselves as God. Thus Paul shockingly said, ‘Covetousness is idolatry’ (Colossians 3:5 PAR). Isn’t that somewhat exaggerated? No. Covetousness is self-idolatry, for it makes my desires paramount. It means I would take what I want if I could. To defeat covetousness means we rejoice that others enjoy the benefits they do.

To make my desires paramount is what Paul described as having a ‘flesh mind’ or ‘mind of the flesh,’ which is a state of death (Romans 8:6). Such a mind ‘sows to one’s own flesh’–invests only in one’s natural self–and ‘out of that flesh reaps corruption’ (Galatians 6:8 PAR). ‘Corruption’ or ‘coming apart’ is the natural end of the flesh. ‘Flesh’ can only be preserved by being caught up with the higher life of the kingdom of God and thus ‘losing’ the life peculiar to it.

In other words, when Jesus says that those who find their life or soul shall lose it, he is pointing out that those who think that they are in control of their life . . . will find that they are definitely not in control: they are totally at the mercy of forces beyond them, and even within them. The are on a sure course to disintegration and powerlessness, of lostness both to themselves and God. The must surrender.

By contrast, if they give up the project of being the ultimate point of reference in their life–of doing only what they want, of ‘sowing to the flesh’ or to the natural aims and abilities of the human being–there can be hope. If they in that sense lose their life in favor of God’s life, or for the sake of Jesus and what he is doing one earth…then their soul (life) will be preserved and thus given back to th em.”

Renovation of the Heart (Navpress, 2002), 65.

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