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11 - The Decrease of Self

After this Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he remained there with them and was baptizing. John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because water was plentiful there, and people were coming and being baptized (for John had not yet been put in prison).
Now a discussion arose between some of John's disciples and a Jew over purification. And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.” John answered, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom's voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.”
He who comes from above is above all. He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way. He who comes from heaven is above all. He bears witness to what he has seen and heard, yet no one receives his testimony. Whoever receives his testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true. For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.

As a young man, my greatest desire was to be a performer. Truth be told, I cared very little about the particular type of performance art I was in – I enjoyed acting and singing, so I would have been equally happy in either field. The point was simply to have an audience.

Around 16, I began to discern some sort of call to ministry. I frequently brushed this off in favor of my chosen path of performance. My mom at this time would often have to remind me of the problems caused by my ego and of the need for humility. Annoyed though I was by this, I also recognized the truth in it; every time I interacted with one who displayed the incessant need to talk of their own greatness, I was certainly annoyed by it. I began to recognize a plank in my own eye in this regard. I was just as guilty of extraordinary ego feeding as anyone else.

At 20, I had finally surrendered to the call God placed on my life. In reading the words of John the Baptist, I understood the significance for myself: “He must increase, but I must decrease.”

Many a time have I heard a preacher utter in prayer, “God, get me out of the way” in an attempt at setting their hearts aright before the Lord, but I think such prayers misunderstand what it is to preach and to minister. God does not just “get us out of the way” in His efforts to overcome human ineptitude – He chooses instead to work both with and within us. The point is not for our humanity to disappear entirely; our humanity is good! God looked at His human creations and called them good. Christ took on human flesh as an expression of extraordinary humility. To be human is good in its own right. The goal is not an absence of humanity, but a presence of Christlikeness.

Obedience to the Son creates conformity to the image of the Son. As our old self passes away, the image of Christ is cultivated within us and we are able to grow in His presence. It’s why Paul speaks of death in ourselves so frequently; the former things must be done away with so that Christ may be magnified in greater measure. In Romans 6:4-8, Paul presents it this way:

“We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.”

Similarly, Paul presents this in Galatians 2:20:

“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but 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.”

And again, in 5:24:

“And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”

Notice the duality of expression here. Although it is often the case that the self is presented as dead, there is also the reality which Paul acknowledges that we live anew. We are no longer what we once were; the new self, which is being remade in the image of Christ, is different than what once was. We decrease and Christ in us is magnified.

In His goodness and kindness, Christ makes a way for His people to leave behind the sins which once held us captive and to walk instead in newness of life. For us, to live is Christ and to die is gain – the life which we now live, we live by faith in the Son of God. The death we will die is no true death at all, but an entry into the eternal presence of our Father. We must decrease. He must increase.

Lord Jesus, may every beat of my heart yearn for Your presence. Be my passion and my pursuit. Let me not think of the desires of the flesh or the will of my own self, but may I be found in alignment with Your will in all things. I must decrease that You might increase. As You pour into me in greater measure, may those around me be filled with the light of Christ and know that You are Lord of all. May holiness and purity define my walk all the days of my life, and let me dwell in the house of the Lord forever.


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