Lesson ONE: JUST CALL ME JACOB
In the first lesson of our series, #DeathtoSelfie, we look at the life of Jacob. In order to find our own true
selves, we need to let go of who we pretend to be and take hold of God.
Genesis 32:22-31! Genesis 25:21-26! Luke 9:25! Matthew 20:16! Exodus 3:14-15
-In Genesis 32, Jacob wrestles physically with God for a whole night. All his life, Jacob had been wrestling. He
even wrestled with his twin brother Esau while they were still in their mother’s womb.
-This series is called Death to Selfie because a selfie illustrates the conflict that
exists inside each of us. Just as Jacob wrestled with his family, with God, and with himself to find himself, we
wrestle in the conflict between who we think we’re supposed to be and who we really are.
ME FIRST IS MISERABLE
-Jacob was always trying to be first. When he was born, he came out grabbing onto his brother’s heel. Even as
was a baby, he subconsciously wanted to get ahead.
-Jacob had a me-first mentality. As Pastor Steven pointed out, we live in a me-first culture, in which we all
subconsciously strive to be recognized. We don’t always take pride in a particular possession; we take pride in
having more of that possession than someone else. We want to be thinner, smarter, or better than others.
-Jesus asked in Luke 9, “What good is it to gain the whole world and lose your very self?” We all grasp at
things like status and security, but in the process of grabbing at stuff, we run the risk of losing our very selves.
GOD CANNOT BLESS WHO YOU PRETEND TO BE
-When Jacob was younger, he tricked his father into giving him the blessing that was meant for his older
brother. In Genesis 27-28, he even dressed up in animal skins and pretended to be Esau to steal his blessing.
-Pastor Steven preached that we also put on costumes to get things we think we need. We all have a gap
between the person we want to be and the person we are, so we create a fake identity to bridge the gap.
-Jacob got the blessing by pretending to be someone he wasn’t. But because of his deception, he had to
spend the next 20 years on the run from Esau. He got exactly what he wanted, but he never got to enjoy it.
-God cannot bless who we pretend to be. We don’t fool God with our disguises,
and the blessings we get when we pretend are not even real blessings that we can fully enjoy for ourselves.
CHANGE IS CONFLICTING!
-Jacob was 97 years old when he wrestled with God. Having conned his way through life, but this was his
turning point. After wrestling all night, God told him to let go. But Jacob refused to let go until God blessed him.
When God asked his name, he said Jacob. In that moment, God renamed him Israel and blessed him.
-Jacob had finally gotten a hold of God, the only One who could truly bless him, and he wouldn’t let go. The
first key to finding our very selves is to make the decision not to let go of God. God is
the only One who can truly bless us. Don’t tap out on Him and give up on His promises. Hold on. Never let go.
-When God asked his name, Jacob answered truthfully. He didn’t pretend to be someone else, as he had in
the past. The second key to finding our very selves is to admit who we really are.
All God wants is for us to come to Him as we are. Then He gives us a new name, a new identity in Christ.
-However, even after Jacob’s name had been changed, the Bible continues to call him both Jacob and Israel.
This is because change is conflicting, and it’s a process.
HE’S THE GOD OF JACOB TOO
-In Exodus 3, God told Moses that He is the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. He
didn’t say Israel, He said Jacob. He wanted to be known as the God of the guy who was a deceiver.
-God is not just the God of the parts of us that are pretty. He’s the God of our failures and our selfishness.
Everything in our lives will change when we admit, “I’m just Jacob,” God says, “I will be the God of Jacob too.”
To die to self is to set aside what we want in this moment and focus instead on loving God with everything we’ve got and valuing others as highly as we value ourselves (Matthew 22:37-39). This moves us away from self-centeredness and closer to becoming openhearted followers of Christ who care deeply for others. It’s much easier to pay attention to the concerns, interests and needs of people (Philippians 2:3-4) when our own interests no longer consume us.
Jesus described the dying-to-self process (to “deny self” is the exact scriptural phrase) as part of following Him: “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me” (Matthew 16:24, NASB). But dying to self isn’t bleak and terrible. Jesus continued: “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it” (Matthew 16:25, NASB).
In dying to self, we find genuine life by depending on God, who provides much more than we can imagine. Likewise, Jesus taught in John 12:24: “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (NASB). Part of the life that we find and the fruit we bear is not only living a richer life with God but also becoming more generous to others, reaching out to them with love and joy.
Sometimes people mistake dying to self for death of self. But self-denial is not self-rejection. God treasures your divinely created self. He doesn’t want to obliterate the part of you that makes you uniquely you. God works within you and reshapes you into the person your renewed-in-Christ self is meant to be: not selfish with what you own, not concerned about how circumstances affect only you, and not crabby when others seem to get what you want.
What Dying to Self Looks Like
As we die to self, we no longer try to get our own way or try to get people to look up to us. We stop offering unasked-for advice, as if in self-importance we think we always know better than others. We let go of trying to make a good impression on others. We find freedom from the self-focused life Evelyn Underhill describes: “We mostly spend [our] lives conjugating three verbs: to want, to have and to do. Craving, clutching and fussing, we are kept in perpetual unrest.” Quite simply, when we die to self, we’re no longer obsessed with self.
Dying to self actually makes life easier because, for example, we can be content even when we’re overlooked. Several years ago I led a woman through a one-on-one, 10-week time of study, conversation and prayer about becoming a disciple of Jesus. When she announced in church that she had decided to give her life to Christ, she talked about the people who had influenced her. I thought she would mention my name, but she didn’t. I considered standing up to excuse myself so she would notice me! But I knew the Spirit, not me, had done a great work in her life. I also saw this as an exercise in dying to self by not squeezing myself into the spotlight.
Could I honor others above myself (Romans 12:10)? But this issue went even deeper: Could I be secure in God’s love without public recognition? Could I let God be in charge of my reputation? Was God’s approval enough for me? After this early exercise in dying to self, I eventually found myself relying on God more in small things. I was finding life–the companionship and partnership with God that I longed for.
A Next Step
Start simple, start small–knowing more significant challenges lie ahead. Ask God how you might deny yourself a little something every day: In our me-first, materialistic culture, it might mean something as down-to-earth as refraining from sweets or other junk foods harmful to you. Or not becoming defensive when ridiculed, humiliated or questioned. Or not buying the latest phone you really want because your current one is fine. As you follow through with these choices, watch how God meets your needs and you find life. You forget about the food as you engage someone in conversation; you find that someone else sticks up for you; you’re relieved you don’t have to struggle to learn how to use a new phone! These daily behind-the-scenes denials train us to be selfless in small ways so that when we find ourselves in bigger struggles of faith, we more easily set aside our self-focused desires and think about others instead.
One small death-to-self lifestyle choice God has led me into involves staying away from the women’s clothing racks when I shop at a certain discount store. The clothes are such deals–inexpensive and up-to-date! The first time I sensed God leading me to do this I paused in the aisle that led toward the clothes. If I stepped any closer, I knew I’d find something I supposedly needed. What if I skipped it just for today? I already have 10 times more clothes than many people in this world. So I walked away.
Since then, it’s become easier. Now it’s freeing not to clutter up my schedule and closet buying things I don’t need. These small self-denials train my character away from self-indulgence and result in giving me more time and resources to seek God and what He is doing in the lives of others (Matthew 6:33).