I am a selfish person. Although I can come across as giving and caring, at the heart of who I am, my default position, is to care for myself and my own needs. I can disguise it, dress it up, and pretend it's not there, but eventually, someone's going to see it. I'm going to be found out.
If I live my life according to the message that our culture gives me, it's probably not a huge problem for me to be so selfish, as long as no one else gets hurt, and as long as I pretend to care about all the things that everyone else seems to care about. As long as my selfishness can "be contained," I can pretty much do whatever I want and no one will bother me. But things changed when I gave my life over to Christ.
The love that Christ showed to the world in offering himself up as a sacrifice should compel us to seek out ways that we can do likewise. But really, come on, those are just words, right? When Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, he didn't really mean that kind of love of Christ, did he? He meant the foot-washing kind and the healing the sick kind, right? He didn't mean the "I will give up everything that I have to show Christ's love to others" kind of love.
Ouch. Not sure about you, but that hit me square between the eyes. Paul's words to the Galatians make this clearer, "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." As a follower of Christ, with Christ as my example, I am to follow that example that has been emulated for me.
Here's the rub for so many people though, they think that if we no longer live, then we lose ourselves. That's exactly Paul's point, we should lose ourselves, or at least the parts of us that need changing and refining. There's this backwards idea among Christian circles that a profession of faith is the end, it seals the deal, you're into heaven and there's nothing to worry about. Fact of the matter is that it's just the beginning. Sanctification is a process, not an event, we will continue to be sanctified until we are finally complete in Christ and made new.
I think that we pick and choose where we think it's all right for us to die to ourselves. We pick the safe places, the comfortable places, the places that don't require a ton of work on our parts, and if we really do all that, are we really dying to ourselves? I don't think so. It's kind of like people giving things up for Lent, if it's something that they don't really care for, can it really be seen as "giving it up"?
There are places in my life where I can easily die to myself, and others that are really hard. If I try to do it myself, I'm going to fail every time. It is not me, but Christ in me that compels me and allows me to die to my own selfish desires. If we're really honest with ourselves, we will find that there are hidden pockets of selfishness running rampant in our lives, those are the places that God wants to get a hold of and change us. It's not comfortable, it's not easy, and it's not often fun, but in the end, we'll look a lot less like the selfish people we are and a lot more like the followers of Christ that we claim to be.