The Christian life is about loss. It can seem like everywhere you turn in Scripture, there is a command involving putting away, or taking off, or giving up. Jesus Himself made no bones about it, urging His followers to not have some kind of easy-belieivism, a following without sacrifice, but instead to know what they were getting into. To count the cost. To understand the implications before they jumped in. When the huge crowds were following Jesus, He didn’t try to win them over with clever rhetoric or veiled campaign promises; instead, Jesus would thin the crowds with difficult teachings and counter-intuitive commands.
No one ever accused the Messiah of being a great PR guy.
But the Christian life is also about gain. But godly gain is something that only happens through the pathway of loss. Though we might try to take the short-cut around this either by thinking that Jesus demands nothing from us at all or by thinking that the gain He has in mind is materialistic, Jesus holds out something better for us. Better than money. Better than health. Better than worldly prosperity. He holds out for us true life, but true life can only be found by walking the road of death; true gain only comes after the pathway of loss.
Such is the nature of the Christian life – that we are always… and never… giving up. We are always… and never… losing. But rather than think purely in these abstract terms, here are three specific things that the Christian is always, and never, giving up:
1. Our preferences.
The Christian cannot cling to what they prefer. Whether in church, in friendships, or in the home, we are dying daily to our preferences in favor of what is most needed by others. This is the pattern Jesus laid out for us, and the pattern we are called to follow: “Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3-4).
But while we are always giving up our own preferences, we are never giving up on the fulfillment of our deepest desires, no matter how buried and latent they might seem at a given moment. When we believe the gospel, we are reshaped from the inside out by the power of the Holy Spirit. We are awakened to the reality that only in God and through God can we have the true fullness of joy. With this realization comes the other realization that those preferences we so desperately cling to are also desperately weak and short-sighted. We give these up, but never give up the greater desire inside of us that can only be met by God: “You reveal the path of life to me; in Your presence is abundant joy; in Your right hand are eternal pleasures” (Psalm 16:11).
2. Our rights.
The Christian must give up their claim on what they think they deserve. These things are what we consider our “rights”, and we have many of them. We have rights in our relationships, in our homes, and in our workplaces. But like our preferences, we must always be giving these up because we know, truly, that what we truly and undeniably deserve is eternal punishment through separation from God. When we lay claim to all these things that are our “rights,” we are dramatically overestimating what we are truly due. The God of heaven and earth owes us nothing. This means we willingly turn the other cheek, we stand with joy under persecution and circumstantial suffering, and we are willing to be the person in our relationships who gives far more than we ever receive.
But while we must always be giving up our rights, we are never giving up on the ultimate justice that the God of justice will one day bring upon the earth. Indeed, the knowledge that God does not forget and will one day put everything as it rightfully should be is the very fuel that allows us to always be giving up our rights: “Friends, do not avenge yourselves; instead, leave room for His wrath. For it is written: Vengeance belongs to Me; I will repay, says the Lord” (Romans 12:19).
We can give up our need for vengeance because we know that God will bring His own vengeance in good time. We can give up our need for self-justification because we know that God will one day show that we are justified in Christ. We can give up all our claims on what we deserve because we know that God will deliver to us what Christ has deserved in our stead.
3. Our plans.
The Christian is always giving up their own plans, both because of our own arrogance and because of our human short-sightedness. In our arrogance, we presume upon the will of God and make plans that suit us and then ask the Lord to bless what we want to do anyway. In our human short-sightedness, we simply don’t know the circumstances of the future that forever and always are changing the way things turn out in life. It’s no wonder that James cautioned us against making plans, be they big or small:
“Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will travel to such and such a city and spend a year there and do business and make a profit.’ You don’t even know what tomorrow will bring—what your life will be! For you are like smoke that appears for a little while, then vanishes. Instead, you should say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.’ But as it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil” (James 4:13-16).
Though we are always giving up our plans, we are never giving up on God’s stable, lasting, and perfect plan both for us and the cosmos. Though we might be tempted to despair at our inability to make plans based on our uncertainty regarding the future, that same uncertainty is an opportunity to lean again and again on the God who never changes. We can know certainly that God is doing what He has been doing which is what He will be doing – namely, bringing all things together under the reign of His Son Jesus Christ. And we can know, because of the gospel, that though our plans might fail, God’s plan for us to rule and reign as co-heirs with Jesus never will.
Christians are those, then, that are always giving up.
And Christians are those, then, that are never giving up.