For all of the joys and even successes you may experience in life, living life well cannot save you. I am sorry to be the bearer of such negative news. No amount of perfect living is going to save any of us. Paradoxically, it’s actually in dying to the myth of salvation by achievement that we find life and hope.
I’ve come to describe this way of living as dying to the illusion of self and living in the grace of Jesus. But you know what -- encouraging myself and others to embrace their death doesn’t always sound like a great invitation. I mean who in their right mind would say that the way to “win” in life begins with admitting your own defeat?
This world in general, and America in particular, loves to celebrate winners. Whether it’s in business or sports or even parenting, we usually base our effectiveness on how much we are “winning” at something. And to the winner go the spoils. Right?
But consider Jesus. Jesus is a King who assumed his rightful throne and expands his kingdom not at the cost of others, but for others. When Jesus came on the scene, his followers were expecting a Messiah King who would overwhelm their oppressors, take his place on the throne by stomping on the necks of Rome, liberating his subjects to a life free from tyranny.
He enters into the world of people who are losing and desperately in need of being winners, and tells them not to fear. To take heart because he has overcome the world.
You can almost feel the excitement -- and confusion -- right? To those who have been losing at life, this message seems to indicate that Jesus is going to free them up by shifting the balance of power and making the oppressed ones the lords. They might have thought, “How long, Jesus, must we wait until we storm the proverbial castle and take our rightful place as the chosen people?”
And in this mix were the rule-keeping leaders who assumed they were better than the other oppressed people because they were winning in the performance game of life. Sure, they were still oppressed, but they weren’t losers like the others. Perhaps they were waiting for this Messiah King to validate their work and put them in the positions of influence and power they felt they had earned.
Some hoped for becoming winners through Someone else’s victory and still others expected to be deemed winners because they had earned it.
And in reality, neither of the groups truly understood the nature of winning and losing Jesus was presenting.
And neither do you and I.
Who embraces losing as winning? My guess is the same people who embrace a King who welcomes people into his kingdom by dying for them -- rather than conquering them. People who recognize that winning in life is found less in our individual achievements and more in receiving the King who frees us from our predisposition toward striving to win or giving up in defeat.
Jesus’ way of “winning” looks a lot like losing to all of us so focused on winning. He doesn’t merely turn winning and losing upside down--he overcomes the whole damn system!
Salvation isn’t found in “winning” your way in, nor does “losing” keep you out. The way of Jesus is to die to the whole idea. To admit that you can’t win enough to be in and you can’t lose your way out. Die to self and embrace his offer of resurrection.