Self-denial, shared burdens and total surrender: A Good Friday reflection

April 14, 2017

“Jesus doesn’t put the word ‘self’ in front of ‘identity,’ but in front of ‘denial.’”

Those words, spoken by Sam Allberry last week during a panel discussion at The Gospel Coalition’s National Conference, gripped me. In our current culture, saturated with quests for self-esteem and self-definition, even the church sometimes falls into the trap of focusing on individual ambition and gratifying one’s own desires rather than walking a path of holiness and sacrifice. Whether it’s talking about how you can have your best life now or advancing the idea that following Jesus makes everything better, too many Christian leaders today seem to conflate secular notions of fulfillment with biblical benchmarks for human flourishing—a trend that is not without consequence.

“The gospel framework of repentance and faith is true for everyone, and we must understand the cost of discipleship for each of us,” Allberry explained. “Jesus says you must lose your life to save it. This means that at some point in your Christian discipleship, it will feel like Jesus is trying to kill you. It is going to feel like losing your life to follow Him. We all need to recover that understanding and ask how it applies to our own lives.”

This message was as clarifying as it was convicting. And although Allberry shared this in the context of a discussion on same-sex attraction and gender identity, I think his words offer both challenge and encouragement for us all no matter our specific circumstance. We each wrestle with unmet needs, unfulfilled desires and unanswered prayers, and in the midst of searching for answers in difficult seasons of life, it can be easy to lose sight of our unique calling to take up our cross and follow Christ wherever he may lead.

And as we encounter Holy Week and reflect on Christ’s death and resurrection, I am reminded in a new way of three significant truths:

Jesus suffered and died for our sin.

“The answer to any bodily brokenness is ultimately the broken body of Jesus,” said Allberry. “This is our only hope of wholeness. There has never been a greater body dysphoria than what Jesus experienced on the cross when the one without sin became sin for us.”

Even in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus experienced intense anguish, expressing grief and distress at the prospect of his pending crucifixion and separation from God the Father. Jesus repeatedly asked God to “take this cup” from him, a prayer that seemingly went unanswered. Yet in the hours before his crucifixion, in the face of agony, even as he was sweating drops of blood, Jesus demonstrated perfect obedience and total surrender to the plan of God—a plan that required his death on the cross. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21).

We are not our own.

“The Jesus charting the course for you is the Jesus who loves you more than you love yourself and knows you better than you know yourself,” said Allberry. “The question to ask is, ‘Are you willing to trust Jesus and to follow where He leads, wherever that may be?’”

May we not mistake God’s apparent silence for his absence, and may our prayers be rooted in a desire to carry out his will rather than our own.

As we grow in Christian discipleship, we understand more deeply what it means to experience Christ’s redemptive power and surrender to his design—trusting him with our eternal destiny, as well as with other areas of our lives here on earth, even when it means going against everything culture seems to celebrate. At the heart of this discussion is the sovereignty and supremacy of Christ. In his Kingdom, we’re called to serve him as our Master and Lord, as evidenced when the Apostle Paul admonishes believers, “You are not your own; you were bought at a price” (1 Cor. 6:19-20).

The Church must function as the body of Christ.

“The church must provide the kind of family and community that the Bible calls us to be,” Allberry explained. “We all depend on the grace and generosity of God, and therefore the church must cultivate a culture of openness about the struggles and weaknesses we experience in the Christian life.”

As believers, we’re commanded to, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2). Yet, the church has sometimes become a place where additional burdens are placed on those who are already weak and weary. We all need community, but we cannot carry each other’s burdens if our primary posture is one of hypocrisy and condemnation, rather than authenticity and compassion.

We’ll likely hear a lot about the body of Christ in the coming days, and Allberry’s words offer a hopeful challenge for each of us. As we reflect on Good Friday and contemplate Christ’s ultimate sacrifice on the cross, may we be filled with a renewed sense of wonder and gratitude for his transforming power in our lives. May we fully embrace the freedom found in the truth he embodied, even when it involves self-denial.

May we not mistake God’s apparent silence for his absence, and may our prayers be rooted in a desire to carry out his will rather than our own. May we cling to God’s promise to walk with us every step of the way, living from a posture of victory one day at a time, even when this means learning to live with unanswered questions. May we also deepen our commitment to operate as the body of Christ, bearing one another’s burdens however daunting the road ahead appears.

Most importantly, may we be reminded of Jesus Christ’s invitation to, “Take up your cross and follow me” (Matt. 16:24), an invitation that requires absolute surrender and a continual dying to ourselves as God conforms each of us to his perfect image. After all, it is only in death that we can truly experience life—on this earth and for eternity.

Ruth Malhotra

Ruth Malhotra is Public Relations Manager for Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Alpharetta, Georgia. She is a member of First Baptist Church Atlanta, and her areas of interest include religious liberty, higher education, and global missions.  Read More by this Author

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24