I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase, “Whoever cares the least has the most power” at some point in your life. It’s even more likely that you have seen this power subtly at play within the context in some of your relationships. Its undeniable presence leads one to believe that it is an entirely natural phenomenon. And so it is – natural to our flesh. Even the secular world is not so foolish that it fails to recognize the danger of mankind’s primal selfish instinct. Remember the Greek mythological figure of Narcissus, who was so in love with himself that he could not love another human being? He ended up staring at his reflection in a river so intently that he fell in and drowned.
The closest thing the world has discovered as a solution to human selfishness is reflected in the ever-popular phrase “All you need is love.” The only problem is that the type of love our flesh is capable of expressing is tainted with a selfish hue – no matter how violently we would protest or attempt otherwise. Saint Augustine once wrote a book called The City of God “to remind believers that in the world there are always two ‘cities’, two alternate ‘kingdoms.’ One is a human society based on selfishness and gaining power. God’s kingdom is the human society based on giving up power in order to serve” (Timothy Keller). The essential difference between the two is that the worldly kingdom is founded on self-entitlement and God’s Kingdom is built upon the bloody back of a Savior who willingly surrendered His divine entitlement to save the world from their own self-initiated destruction. Jesus demonstrated an unentitled posture when he laid down his life in selfless love, showing the sons of Adam and the daughters of Eve that the true image of God was not one of grasping, but of surrendering.
If Jesus did not count His divine entitlement a thing to be grasped for Himself, who then are we as Christians to consider being made in His glorious image something to be taken for ourselves? The Church has far spent too much time counting her spiritual inheritance a thing to be GRASPED, rather than something to LAY DOWN in a Christ-like fashion. Instead of carrying on the legacy of Christ’s selfless love, the Church often finds itself falling into the worldly patterns of love. Why? Because it fails to recognize the difference between a love that is entitled and one that is unentitled. An entitled spirit is a stumbling block that prevents those who are made in the image of God from sharing in the inheritance of Christ. The thing that ultimately separates humanity from “partaking in the divine nature” is death. Death to our fleshly instinct to “grasp” at our own self-serving form of godlikeness and instead allowing ourselves be crucified and resurrected in Christ’s model of selfless love.
Consider this: the only thing we are technically “entitled” to at birth is our very life’s breath. All humans enter and leave the world naked – stripped from all material things they may gather to themselves in the short span of time they toddle around their little plot of earth. Therefore the true expression of an unentitled spirit is not just to surrender certain dreams or material possessions, but to lay down your life in full. We are not called to be kind, serve others, and help those in need simply in order that we might be “good witnesses” to the world. To reject our fleshly instinct to serve ourselves is a direct mandate in response to Christ’s demonstration on the Cross. It is not a tender suggestion, but it is quite literally the requirement for our Christian faith. “For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself,” says Galatians 5:14. Squishy words if you don’t know what kind of love this is referring to… Powerful when you recognize that this literally involves a complete and continual self-denial, echoed in your every day decision-making and interactions with those around you.
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.
In an intimate time of journaling in the Spirit, I felt the Lord say to me, “Lay aside your fear, turn away from doubt and embrace this higher love that is ready and waiting for you to reach out and take hold of it.” Slightly confused, I asked “what is this higher love?” I felt Him respond, “It is the kind that gives with no thought of receiving; that cares not for self-preservation – ONLY for laying down your life.” Since that day, God has continued to show me that in every single situation I find myself in, there are literally only two responses I can choose to live from: the fleshly instinct to preserve myself or the willful decision to lay down my life. The first response comes from an entitled spirit, the second from an unentitled heart.
Here we have the crux – quite literally – of the Gospel of the Kingdom of God. The call to die does not end at the altar of salvation. “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow Me.” Luke 9:23 For while we were once crucified with Christ, we are now called to die to ourselves every day thereafter. In every situation and relationship we have a choice: grasp for self-preservation out of a spirit of entitlement or lay down our lives in unentitled love.
Love gives naught but itself and takes naught but from itself.
Love possesses not nor would it be possessed;
For love is sufficient unto love.
When you love you should not say, “God is in my heart,” but rather, “I am in the heart of God.”
– Kahlil Gibran