Forget about the Law of the Jungle. It’s not the survival of the fittest. It’s die or be dead.
The key to life is not that you should find yourself, or be yourself, or make a name for yourself. If you would live, you must die to yourself; whereas, if you live for yourself, you will surely die.
That is the great irony and the profound paradox of Christianity, and that is also your dilemma. Any sort of life that is taken, instead of being given and received, is no life at all, but sin and death.
Christianity is not simply one lifestyle choice among others. It is the only way of life. But it is life in Christ by the way of the Cross. Everything depends on His Cross. Your life depends upon it.
Christ Jesus, the Crucified One, is not a means to some other end. He is your Life, your Light, and your Salvation. He and His Word are the only true delight. But the surprising thing about Him is that He must die (and rise again). And if you would live, you must die with Him.
Deny yourself, therefore. Take up the Cross, and follow after Christ.
If you would live, you must be His disciple. You must be a Christian. Not in name only, though that name is most precious and significant. But you must be a Christian in deed and in truth. For the Son of Man is coming in glory to judge and repay everyone according to his deeds. Set your mind, therefore, on God’s interests, not your own. Live as a Christian. Die and rise with Christ.
Holy Baptism makes all the difference. Because Baptism, along with catechesis, makes disciples.
It is in Holy Baptism that you have been named with the Name of God, that you have been given the Name and Spirit of Christ Jesus, and that you have thus become a Christian disciple of His.
Children are named by their fathers, and in time, God-willing, a woman may be named again by her husband. But in Holy Baptism you are named by your God and Father in heaven, and by your heavenly Bridegroom, with His own name, which is alive and life-giving and stronger than death.
It is in Holy Baptism, also, that you have been given to bear and carry the Cross of Christ Jesus. And as a Christian disciple, you are crucified, dead, and buried with Him by His Cross, in order to rise with Him in His Resurrection unto life. This is the first way that you take up His Cross, and the means by which you are able to take up the Cross and follow after Christ from day to day.
Taking up the Cross of Christ does not mean suffering for its own sake, like some kind of holy masochism. As we’ve been learning from the Martyrdom of St. Polycarp in Bible Class these past few weeks, Christians do not go looking for trouble and death. They do not throw themselves to the lions any more than they would throw themselves down from the pinnacle of the Temple.
Take up the Cross, rather, by exercising faith in God and love for your neighbor. Receive from God whatever He gives you. And share with your neighbor what you have received from God. That’s what the Christian life looks like, and so, that’s where and how you take up the Cross.
Do what you are given to do. Fulfill your vocations faithfully. Within your vocations, serve your neighbor for Christ Jesus’ sake, whether you receive thanks or a slap in the face as your payment.
Bear your neighbor’s burdens in love, and bear with your neighbor in forgiveness. If you suffer in doing so, and for doing so, bear that suffering patiently in faith and love. In all that you do and suffer, glorify the Name of Christ that you bear, and so glorify your God and Father in heaven.
Trust the Lord, whom you follow, whose disciple you are. If you lose your life for His sake, you’ve actually lost nothing; for you shall yet live with Him forever in His Kingdom.
But if you turn aside from Him and seek to avoid the Cross, in a futile effort to save yourself, then you really shall be lost. Then you shall die, and not just once, but forever and ever.
So, then, do not guard and protect yourself, but get back in line behind Jesus. Deny yourself, take up the Cross, and follow after Him. Repent, and live, so that you not be lost and die eternally.
Return to your Baptism, to the Cross and to the Name that were given to you there by your Lord and God and Savior, Jesus Christ. It’s all right there. Your life is there — in the death of Christ, and in His Resurrection — in your Holy Baptism. There’s no need to repeat it, for God’s Word and His gift are perfectly sufficient. Just return to the significance of your one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins. It remains sure and certain, as steadfast as the Cross and Resurrection are.
Die to yourself. Die to the world. Die to sin. Die to the devil, all his works and all his ways. Die, not to atone for your sins or to redeem yourself, but because Christ, by His death, has atoned for all your sins and has redeemed you. Live unto righteousness in Him, not to satisfy the Law, but because He has fulfilled the Law, and has risen from the dead, and lives and reigns forever.
The example that He has left for you to follow in His steps is the way of divine and everlasting life, which is by the way of His Cross. Not that you must (nor that you ever could) save yourself by your own good deeds or by your suffering, but that He has saved you by His suffering and death. He has taken up the Cross and carried it before you, in order to forgive you, and to give you life.
He who is coming in glory to be your Judge, has already come into His Kingdom in the glory of His Father. Not to condemn you for what you have done wrong, but in the flesh and by His Cross, in order to reward you with His own righteousness according to His good deeds on your behalf.
He has redeemed you, purchased and won you, from all your sin, and from eternal death, and from the power of the devil. He has given His life in exchange for your body and soul. He has tasted death upon the Cross, so that you do not taste death forever, nor at all apart from His Resurrection.
Indeed, His Resurrection on the third day is your righteousness in the presence of God the Father, and therefore also the guarantee and the first fruits of your own resurrection from the dead.
Take and eat, therefore: Not death, but the Body of Christ Jesus, who suffered many things for your salvation. And drink the Blood of Christ, who was crucified, died, and was buried in your stead, who has also risen from the dead and lives and reigns to all eternity.
Taste and see that He is good, and that, as He lives, so shall you.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.