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A deep self-sacrificing concern for others exhibits itself again and again when lives are at stake. A neighbor rushes into a burning house to help a young mother retrieve her sleeping baby. Husky men, with uncommon strength, lift a car off a helpless traveler who is pinned down. Ski patrols risk their lives to dig out hapless back-country skiers, heedless that they may be swept to their deaths by a second avalanche. They don't call this "love" in the news, for it's not sentimental love. They call it bravery. But, in fact, it's a force that motivates rescue in spite of personal risk and even death. Like God's love.

Agape love has substance because it grows out of attitudes of service and self-sacrifice. In the setting of our deranged world, with its atmosphere of selfishness and greed, opportunities for us to display true love abound. When Adam and Eve cut themselves off from God, His love sprang into action. This was when self-sacrifice first became a definition for "love." He loved His doomed race so much that He voluntarily rushed to the raging ocean of sin, sending His Life Guard to the rescue. In this act of deliverance, which offered rescue for all, the Life Guard lost His life.

Love is a frame of mind. It is ready to help another person achieve her or his highest and best without regard for personal danger and cost. Love is also the rescued person's response of gratitude. May we say that the beneficence of love is not complete until it is returned. God enjoys being loved! "Love the Lord, all you his saints" (Ps.31:23).

Christianity is a religion of love. Where love has shed its irresistible rays into the dark places of earth through Christian witness, the kingdom of God has flourished. Where love has not accompanied Christian witness, God's name has been profaned.

When Jesus said that we the rescued are to love the Lord our God with all our hearts and all our souls and all our minds and all our strength, He made it clear that we should stand back and marvel at the height and depth and length of our Father's love for us and to respond in kind. Just as Jesus manifested the love of God for us to the point of a very painful and lonely death on a criminal's cross, so He urges us to be willing to manifest our love for Him to the point of inconvenience, loss, even separation from loved ones, and death.

What Kind of Love Is This?

Before travel by air was available, Christian missionaries and their children traveled by ship-often by freighter-to other continents. Their term of service was not two years but seven years. Those they left behind in the homeland could have no assurance that they would ever see the young family again. Africa, Asia and the islands of the Pacific bear the graves of children and adults who were last seen by their loved ones waving good-by from a homeland pier. God did not require the parents and relatives to make that kind of sacrifice for Him, but when they did, He saw in their devotion a reflection of His own traits of love and devotion. He beamed with joy.

This concept of serving in love regardless of cost appears strikingly in this teaching of Christ: "Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me" (Matt. 10:37, 38).

If you and I choose to make this concept a guiding star in our lives, where is that choice made? It is made in the mind, in the decision arena of our inner self. This love concept is not an action. It is a choice. If it is a settled choice, it has grown out of our personal spiritual soil of holiness. Holiness is all about making choices, choices that are based on this principle: there will be nothing of self in my choices, only Christ.

In the setting of our other holiness choices, choices like this indicate that we are becoming more like Christ. We are loving Him and others as He has loved us.

Jesus also said, speaking directly to His disciples, "'If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me'" (Matt. 16:24). To understand this startling teaching, we must highlight these facts: (a) Jesus expected His followers to be ready to deny themselves for Him, and (b) taking up a cross is anything but private. Although the decision to carry a cross is a choice of our inner self, it has very public effects.

Many of His followers turned away from Him throughout His ministry. And today millions of Christians would turn away if this high calling sounded from their pulpits. Will we desert Him too?

Am I Willing to Be Crucified With Christ?

The Apostle Paul wrote many times about being "crucified":

Gal. 2:19, 20: "For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." The love of the Son of God supplanted the law of works for Paul, so he patterned his spiritual life after Christ's attitude of obedience-by-love and killed what was against the law of love. His motive was that He "gave himself for me." The result was he now lived by faith in the Son of God.

Gal. 6:14: "May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.." He detached his power cord from the world and attached it to heaven.

In 2 Cor. 4:11 he states his reason for crucifying himself for Christ's sake: "We [Paul and his missionary companions] are always being given up to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh." Here is a very important truth that we have talked about over and over again in this book: As we pursue holiness, we succeed in becoming complete in Christ to the degree that we cut all ties to worldly ideas. Why? "So that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh." This is exactly the aim of consecration (holiness): for you and me to portray Jesus in His full radiance so our Father will be glorified!

Paul gives us another reason for choosing dedication to God so complete that it can be called a "death." "Whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him. . . . I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead." (Phil. 3:7-11).

(Please read this passage aloud twice before reading further.)

Unfortunately many throughout Christian history have interpreted self-denial as a call to leave society and live a primitive life, denying all comforts. They have misunderstood the purpose of self-denial. This character trait is to be secretly hidden in the inner sanctuary of the soul, a readiness not an immediate action. Because it is the opposite of appetite and lust, it helps prevent spiritual contamination. When, at the call of the Lord, it becomes public in service to others, its purpose is to glorify God, not call attention to itself.

Knowing Christ Becomes Our Highest Value

When we first accept Christ, "the world" and Christianity are like Siamese twins in our inner beings. They are two different personalities joined awkwardly into one body. We maintain control, giving license to worldly habits of thought for a while and looking favorably on Christianity for a while. Day by day we keep them both alive.

Paul would have none of that. When, as a seasoned soldier for Christ, he looked within, he saw that over time he had separated the Siamese twins and put distance between "whatever gains I had" and "the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord." "I want to know Christ" meant to experience "the power of his resurrection" and "the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death."

Those who choose "the surpassing value of knowing Christ" have counted the cost and measured the rewards. Jesus did. Peter did. John did. Paul did. James did. And many more up to this day.

Why did they? They believed that God so loved the world. They believed that nothing can separate us from the love of God. They embraced that love, and they learned how to love back. Self-denial and love go together. Self-denial is relinquishing in one's inner self something of great value for the sake of another person. Christian self-denial cannot exist without having as its purpose to help someone else. That is love.

"Could we with ink the ocean fill,

And were the skies of parchment made,

Were every stalk on earth a quill,

And every man a scribe by trade,

To write the love of God above,

Would drain the ocean dry.

Nor could the scroll contain the whole,

Though stretched from sky to sky." (1)