“Jesus is the greatest gift of all.” Those of us who grew up in the church have heard the phrase so many times we may easily dismiss it. Jesus, sent by God to save us from our sins, is our greatest blessing. But that’s not quite true, is it? Salvation isn’t enough – or at least it wasn’t meant to be. Many are holding the free gift of salvation in their hands, unwrapped, because they fail to understand the true nature of the gift.
In order to cultivate that kind of love, we must love God for who he is, not what we can get from Him or through Him. Only then will our love be free from all entitled conditions and earthly expectations – whether it be having a successful career or feeling #blessed. Do we really believe that the Immanuel Presence – “God with us” – is enough for us in this life? Observe the mentality of the persecuted Christian – trial or tribulation may come, but their devotion to the Lord cannot be shaken. Those who become martyrs don’t spend their last breath cursing a God who failed them in this life – they spend it praising the One whom they loved more than their own life.
It is our fleshly inclination to stay seated on the throne of our own lives. When we see God simply as the means to our own happiness or success, we fail to recognize Him as our Lord. This is the malady of an entitled spirit. We want God’s help, but not His interference. We will “flatter Him, but never obey Him” (AW Tozer). David discovered the secret of an unentitled heart by recognizing God for who he was – the lover of his soul, yet sovereign over all. He trusted God’s faithfulness and love, but revered His authority and power. In order to do likewise, we must remove the only entitlement we are born with: the right to rule our life – to serve our own kingdom on our own terms.
Maintaining peaceful relations between the church and the world might have been feasible in our grandparent’s generation, when American culture was still somewhat seasoned by the moral flavors in the palate of Christian tradition. But today it is becoming increasingly clear that there is a MAJOR distinction between Christ’s agenda for the earth and the priorities of fallen humanity at large. If the more “forward-thinking” churches do somehow manage to salvage Christianity’s public image so that a few non-believers will be won over by their impressive lack of embarrassment in the eyes of the world, we might be tempted to congratulate them for accomplishing such a difficult feat.
We were never called to invent a way to follow Christ while keeping worldly allegiances intact. If we happen to be found pleasing by the world and all its man-centered mechanisms in the midst of following Christ wholly and without a single compromise in word or deed, it should be cause for great marvel, and would no doubt be an act of the Spirit intended to accomplish a deliberate work of the Father. Jesus was a friend of sinners, but he did not become so by downplaying or denying His uncompromising identity as the Way the Truth and the Life.
Peter’s choice of the upside-down cross was the truest symbol of unentitled devotion because he refused to exalt himself even in imitation of Christ, thus representing His completely self-denying identity. The only response of a true disciple when confronted with the cross of Christ is to lose all sense of pride in your own glory, to release your earthly expectations and take up your cross and follow Him in the pattern of unconditional lay-down-your-life love.
I would purport that it was not the prodigal son’s request to obtain his inheritance early OR even that he squandered it all. Rather it was that upon receiving his inheritance, the younger son went far away from his father’s house to live for himself; and by doing so, he effectively severed all relationship with his father. Therefore we see that the true sin of the prodigal son was that he quantified his sonship in terms of the sum of money to which he was entitled by birthright and failed to recognize the true value of his sonship – the relationship with his father.
Following Christ’s pattern involves removing all sense of self-entitlement and surrendering the right to your own life. We must rid ourselves of the fleshly instinct to self-serve, self-preserve, self-exalt, self-protect, self-defend, self-sustain, self-obtain, self-fulfill, self-determine, and self-reign. Only then can we begin the incredible journey of learning to hear the voice of God and respond in humble obedience. Furthermore, unentitled love is the only weapon powerful enough to defeat the principalities of darkness and transform a human heart into the true likeness of God.
What did Jesus do in response to his equality with God? He laid down his right to be God. Jesus was the only person truly entitled to equality with God, and yet He chose to separate Himself from that reality by literally dying to Himself and thus denying His own right to exert His Godlike power and authority. Our Lord traded His divine entitlement for the will to die. Jesus’ death was a fulfillment of the true character of God, a tangible way to tell the world that the true divine instinct does not rise towards power and preservation but denies the tempting urge to grasp at it. God sent the person of Jesus to be the complete and perfect imprint of His own self-denying identity.
It is this kind of self-awareness, self-consciousness, self-focused “proprietary ownership” of our own bodies that provides the underlying framework for the entitlement mindset. The only antidote to this mindset is for us to take our eyes off of ourselves, to stop thinking of our fleshly bodies as some thing which belongs to us and instead continually recognize that we do not belong to ourselves and that the One to whom we DO belong has a glory and a purpose that is far greater and more profound than our paltry grasp of our own self-conscious existence.