What If the Way Up is Down?
Spiritual life begins to grow when I take off my fig leaves.
“Whoever would be great among you must be your servant” (Mark 10:43, ESV).
There is something about the flesh that desires greatness. It craves praise and recognition. That natural element of my human condition seeks to stand on the high ground, above others morally, economically, academically, socially, intellectually, culturally, etc.
In every way possible, I want others to magnify my name.
But just like the sin of greed is rarely confessed, the sin of self-glory is rarely exposed for what it truly is — the dethroning of God as the object of human adoration.
In a word, we want to be awesome.
In the literal sense. I want people to be in awe of my _________________. Just fill in the blank with your favorite trait or accomplishment.
For example, I may want people to be in awe of my eloquent preaching, of my woodworking ability, of my skill at closing the sale, of my academic or ecclesiastical titles, of my penchant for decorating, of my moral reputation, of my parenting expertise, of my toned physique, of my crazy water-skiing tricks, of my safe driving, of my drinking coffee black, or even of my theological knowledge and gospel fluency.
Everyone’s flesh puts something in the blank as its aspirational righteousness.
It is this trait, accomplishment, or ability for which I long to be known and praised. Most of us have a handful of “righteousnesses.”
Is it wrong to be a good woodworker, decorator, have academic degrees, and be a good water-skier? Of course not!
The issue is how achieving these things may affect my heart.
The Pharisees in Jesus’ day “loved the praise of men.” The public morality and scrupulous law-keeping was motivated not by love for God but love of self.
Call it pride. Call it self-glory. It’s the original sin.
Remember, Adam and Eve in garden ate the forbidden fruit because the serpent promised them they would become like God. They would possess his glory. They would be awesome.
Ah, the same sin for which Satan was cast out of heaven.
And all of us are guilty. At least I am.
Nevertheless, Jesus encourages us to pursue greatness. Just not the kind of greatness the flesh, the world, and the devil promote.
In Mark 10:43, he says, “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant” (ESV).
He models this kind of greatness by taking the place of the servant during the famous Last Supper, where he washed his disciples’ feet, giving them an example to follow.
That foot washing experience would only be a shadow of the ultimate act of greatness Jesus would perform the very next day, where on a cross, the King gave himself unto crucifixion for those who, in the flesh, had sought to usurp the King’s glory with the self-glory of self-righteousness.
On a cross, King Jesus covers himself with my sin and covers me with a true righteousness—his very own.
From that posture of gospel security, I am able to see my attempts to make my name great as nothing more than wearing fig leaves.
Since in Jesus I no longer need fig leaves, I no longer have to struggle to make my name great.
The gift-righteousness of Christ is the end of the struggle.
Rather than making much of myself, I can make much of Jesus, magnifying not my name but his!
This is where spiritual life begins to grow.
Confessing my idolatrous pursuit of human greatness and growing in an awareness of Jesus’ greatness, I discover that the way up is the way down.
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