Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the young German pastor who was executed in 1945 for his participation in the resistance movement against the Nazi regime, said,
“When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”
And Bonhoeffer practiced what he preached, ultimately sacrificing his life by taking action against the evil he saw being practiced by the Nazis. He took seriously what Jesus had said,
“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.
For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.”
He had been a major force in establishing the Confessing Church, whose pastors openly spoke out against the attempts of the Nazis to replace the gospel of Christ with the dogmas of Nazism in the German church and who passed laws to exclude Jews and other “misfits” from German society. However, he grew increasingly disappointed in the Confessing Church’s failure to take more aggressive action, to go beyond merely professing (confessing) the Christian gospel. He took to heart the words of the apostle James, who said’
“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? …
In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.
The Nazi regime with all of its horrors may be long gone, but the racial hatred and social injustice that it preached are still alive and well in our society today. And there have been and will be those who oppose it, not only with words, but also by their actions. One such person was Martin Luther King, Jr., who, like Bonhoeffer before him, suffered martyrdom as a result of his words and actions. Dr. King demonstrated his faith by his deeds, for as he said,
“Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.”
His emphasis was on not only saying the right things, but of doing them.
A major aspect of Christ’s ministry was his focus on highlighting and opposing the social injustice in the society of his time. But there is a deeper aspect to his call to follow him by losing our lives for him. That is the pathway by which we receive the abundant, everlasting life that he promises us.
That is not a one-time dying, as in martyrdom, but an ongoing process through which God transforms us, who are created in his image, into his likeness. That is, not only in form, but also in thoughts and actions. God wants us to see the world and each other as he sees us and to act in the world and toward others as he acts. That transformation takes time and patience, both on our part and God’s.
Jesus began his public proclamation with the call that is usually translated as “Repent.” The Greek word was “metanoia” meaning a “change of mind” and “regret/remorse.” The challenge was to let go of our egoistic, self-centered mind set and to look at things from God’s perspective. As the Apostle Paul said.
“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!”
In order to accomplish this, Paul said, “I die daily.”
Richard Rohr speaks of surrendering (and dying to) our False Self in order to discover our True Self in God. He quotes Cynthia Bourgeault as saying,
“Jesus teaches the art of metanoia or “going into the larger mind.” Underlying all his teaching is a clarion call to a radical shift in consciousness: away from the alienation and polarization of the egoic operating system and into the unified field of divine abundance that can be perceived only through the heart…
Jesus was not a priest or a prophet in the usual sense of those terms. Rather, he was a wisdom teacher. He stayed close to the ground of wisdom: the transformation of human consciousness…
How do we put on the mind of Christ? How do we learn to respond to the world with that same wholeness and healing love? That’s what Christian orthodoxy really is all about. It’s not about right belief; it’s about right practice…
The hallmark of this awareness is that it sees no separation—not between God and humans, not between humans and other humans. These are indeed Jesus’ two core teachings, underlying everything he says and does…
“Love your neighbor as yourself”—as a continuation of your very own being. It’s a complete seeing that your neighbor is you…
We come into existence with a binary egoic operating system already installed. We can make the choice to upgrade to a non-dual operating system…
Everything Jesus did, he did by self-emptying. He emptied himself and descended into human form. And he emptied himself still further, “even unto death on the cross.”
Rohr sums this up by saying,
“I often say that we do not think ourselves into a new way of living, but we live ourselves into a new way of thinking. I’m not suggesting that theory and theology are unimportant; but I believe that faith is more about how we live on a daily basis than making verbal assent to this or that idea…
At times our evangelical fervor has come at the cost of spiritual formation. For this reason, we can end up with a church full of believers, but followers of Jesus can be hard to come by.
My personal take on all of this is reduce Christ’s call on my life to
“Surrender and die.”
And I am striving to do this on a daily basis.