Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal. John 12:24–25
There is a death that must occur while on the journey of authentic manhood. For some time now, I have wondered how to understand John 12:24–25. In earlier years, I thought it simply meant to not be so selfish, to follow the example of Jesus. Of course this is true, however I have now come to believe that this verse, and particularly the idea of death to self, is core to the entire teaching of the Bible and central to the mission of Jesus.
Jesus’ death on the cross and his resurrection is the way God facilitated reconciliation for every person. Jesus paid the price for sin so that we could go free. This is absolutely true. However, it is also true the life of Jesus, including his death and resurrection, is actually an example for us to follow.
So, rather than viewing Christ’s mission as a mechanistic sacrifice that fulfilled God’s requirement, I began looking at Jesus as an example of how life works. Early on in life, there is a natural ascension a building of one’s life. But later there is a critical tipping point in the direction of the cross. This movement towards the cross is what can be called the way of descent. It is this idea we want to ponder as it relates to our journey of authentic manhood.
The way of descent is essentially about letting go of my grip. It’s easier said than done since everything about letting go is so counter intuitive. I naturally want to hang on. Not only that, but I naturally want things to go my way. I want to be in control.
The only reason I would even remotely consider letting go would be a belief that there was something there to catch me when I fall. It is this belief in something unseen that allows me to loosen my iron-clad control. It is an inward assurance that gives me permission to loosen my grip by whispering to me, “God will catch you, regardless.”
So, the way of decent often occurs like this. At some point, most likely during the second half of life, you start to realize your limitations. This is scary. You resist, fight back, sometimes kicking to have your way, to hold your position, to be right. But in time you gradually begin to wear down and in turn you find yourself face to face with your limitations. This in itself is an exercise of faith. Once this occurs loosening of the grip is relatively easy. You become able to allow yourself to fall. God is in no hurry. The process can take a relatively short time, or up to an entire lifetime. It all depends upon how long you want to maintain your grip.
When you let go a marvelously strange and wonderful thing occurs. You find yourself released to love.Yes, the exercise of faith is intimately entwined with your capacity to love. It is love, in the sense that you find your self free from your need to control. You no longer need to be right. I would even venture to say that you find yourself no longer needed to be needed. Love in your heart is the result and it comes as a welcomed and pleasant surprise.
So it is a necessary process. Just as the crucifixion and resurrection are necessary to bring eternal life. The path of authentic manhood through the way of descent, will create in you a resurrected life, free from the need to control, from the need to be right, and released to love in ways you never thought possible.
This is the framework of how I now understand John 12:24–25. It is the facing of our limitations and the necessary descent through loosening the grip. It is allowing it to happen even though it is counter intuitive. It is the letting go of control with the belief I will be caught and ultimately all will be OK.
For example, let’s say you’re talking with someone and that person makes a personal verbal attack, a very common experience for us all. Rather than retorting back with gunfire, you now have power to let it go at that moment. You are able to apply understanding rather than react. “It doesn’t make any difference. I don’t have to defend myself.” You are able to see the attack as sourced from woundedness. You are able to feel compassion. In a true sense you allow yourself at that moment to be conquered just as Jesus allowed himself to be conquered at His moment. This is a response of wholeness and power. You have won a big victory, primarily over your need to control. It releases love in your heart. It is an amazing thing.
Allowing yourself to be conquered has nothing to do with allowing yourself to be walked on. Allowing yourself to be a doormat has residue. On the outside you may appear to be humbly sitting down as if you were allowing yourself to be conquered, but inside you are standing tall in defiance. Nothing has been conquered at all. There is negative residual energy, wounding, self pity, and resentment that if left unchecked will surface at a later time.
Being conquered doesn’t always mean you are silent. Sometimes you are verbal. The point is that you are able to do what is needed at the moment, and then, at that very moment, you are able to declare it is as done. There is no residual. There is no aftermath. There is no taking away, either a wound, or resentment from the moment. As Jesus our model proclaimed, “it is finished.”
Allowing yourself to be conquered is, at the moment, making the decision “I can let this go, and it is history, it is gone. I can move on.” That’s the difference. The only way a person can experience this is through the way of descent. In Jesus’s words “except a grain of wheat falls to the ground, it abides alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”