“Not I, but Christ” is the name of an old tract that I first read in the 1970s. I’ve no idea who wrote it, nor when it was written, though I suspect it was penned many decades before it first fell into my hands.
It is a heart-searching piece that the Lord has often brought to mind to convict me of sin.
Scripture teaches that in this world it is impossible to completely “bring your ‘self-life’ to the death” (as we are urged in the last line), for if we ever reach the point where “we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. ” (1 John 1:8).
But if we do not long for and fight toward the complete eradication of sin, then we have no hope of Heaven. As Romans 8:13 puts it, “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”
I hope you will find, as I often have, something of a”piercing sweetness” (to quote Tozer) in these words. (All that follows is from the tract.)
Lord, bend that proud and stiffnecked “I,”
Help me to bow the neck and die,
Beholding Him on Calvary,
Who bowed His Head for me.
The following are some of the features and manifestations of the self-life. The Holy Spirit alone can interpret and apply this to your individual case. As you read, examine yourself in the very presence of God. Are you ever conscious of:
A secret spirit of pride—an exalted feeling in view of your success or position; because of your good training or appearance; because of your natural gifts and abilities. An important, independent spirit?
Love of human praise; a secret fondness to be noticed; love of supremacy, drawing attention to self in conversation; a swelling out of self when you have had a free time in speaking or praying?
The stirrings of anger or impatience, which, worst of all, you call nervousness or holy indignation; a touchy, sensitive spirit; a disposition to resent and retaliate when disapproval of or contradicted; a desire to throw sharp, heated flings at another?
Self-will; a stubborn, unteachable spirit; an arguing, talkative spirit; harsh, sarcastic expression; an unyielding, headstrong disposition; a driving, commanding spirit; a disposition to criticize and pick flaws when set aside and unnoticed; a peevish, fretful spirit; a disposition that loves to be coaxed and humored?
Carnal fear; a man-fearing spirit; a shrinking from reproach and duty; reasoning around your cross; a shrinking from doing your whole duty by those of wealth or position; a fearfulness that someone will offend and drive some prominent person away; a compromising spirit?
A jealous disposition, a secret spirit of envy shut up in your heart; an unpleasant sensation in view of the great prosperity and success of another; a disposition to speak of the faults and failings, rather than the gifts and virtues of those more talented and appreciated than yourself?
A dishonest, deceitful disposition; the evading and covering of the truth; the covering up of your real faults; leaving a better impression of yourself than is strictly true; false humility; exaggeration; straining the truth?
Unbelief; a spirit of discouragement in times of pressure and opposition; lack of quietness and confidence in God; lack of faith and trust in God; a disposition to worry and complain in the midst of pain, poverty, or at the dispensations of Divine Providence; an overanxious feeling whether everything will come out all right?
Formality and deadness; lack of concern for lost souls; dryness and indifference?
Selfishness; love of ease; love of money?
These are some of the traits which generally indicate carnality in the heart. By prayer, hold your heart open to the searchlight of God. “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: and see if there be any wicked way in me” (Psalm 139:23-24).
The Holy Spirit will enable you, by confession and faith, to bring your “self-life” to the death (see Romans 8:12-13). Do not patch over, but go to the bottom. It alone will pay.
Oh, to be saved from myself, dear Lord,
Oh, to be lost in Thee;
Oh, that it might be no more I,
But Christ that lives in me.
“Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10).
During the Protestant Reformation of the 1500s, Martin Luther articulated a timeless distinction between two approaches to knowing God. He labeled one a “theology of glory” and applied it to those who believe they can attain a glorious knowledge of God by human goodness, religious effort, mystical experiences, or the wisdom of human reason. According to this view, God manifests Himself most often through blessings, victory, success, miracles, power, and other exhilarating experiences of “glory.”
By contrast, Luther argued that the biblical way to know God goes through a “theology of the cross.” God has “hidden” Himself where human wisdom would not expect to find Him, that is, in the lowliness and suffering of the man Jesus Christ, and especially in His humiliating defeat on a Roman cross. As Luther put it, “true theology and recognition of God are in the crucified Christ.”* So rather than finding God by ascending to Him through our efforts, wisdom, or self-initiated experiences, God has descended to us in Jesus whose glory was in the least-expected of places–the cross–and in a way where He can be found by faith alone.
Our natural tendency is to look for Him through the theology of glory. As with the Apostle Thomas, our way says, “Show us the Father, and it is sufficient for us.” But rather than display a vision of the Father in Heaven, Jesus pointed to Himself–a poor, simple man–saying, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father (John 14:8-9). Our theology of glory says with Jesus’ enemies, “Let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him” (Matthew 27:42). And even though He could have exploded off the cross in a dazzling display of power and called legions of magnificent angels from Heaven to testify to His divinity. Jesus stayed on the cross until His work was finished.
The cross lies at the heart of all God did through Jesus Christ. It is the supreme example of God’s power and wisdom displayed in what the world considers weakness and foolishness (1 Corinthians 1:18-25). And anyone who wants to know God must find Him in Christ crucified.
But the cross is as central to following Christ daily as it is to knowing Him initially. Notice the word daily in the invitation of Jesus: “Then He said to them all, ‘If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself , and take up his cross daily, and follow Me” (Luke 9:23).
As Jesus was willing to go to the cross to do the will of the Father (Philippians 2:8), so we must be willing to follow Jesus to the cross, daily dying to any desires that conflict with His so that we may daily live for Him. While we may truly speak of glory inaugurated by the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, identifying with following Him in this world involves suffering. Indeed, there will be no end to cross-bearing this side of Heaven.
The theology of the cross simplifies the spiritual life by standing as its primary reference point. Everything in Christian spirituality relates to it. Through the cross we begin our spirituality and by the power and example of the cross we live it. Ask God to show Himself afresh to you through the Bible’s teaching of the cross and where this theology needs fresh application in your life.
*Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, vol. 31, Jaroslav Ian Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, eds. (Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press, 1999), CD-ROM edition.
The material originally appeared in Donald S. Whitney, Simplify Your Spiritual Life (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2003), 29-30.