And [Jesus] said to all, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. (Luke 9:23-26)Cornelius Plantinga unpacks this daily rhythm of mortification and vivification in very helpful and practical terms.
Everybody wants liberty. The problem is that everybody wants it on his own terms. But salvation doesn’t work that way. God doesn’t save people (from slavery, from addiction, from sin and shame) and then cut them loose to do what they want, because without the guidance of God “doing what we want” is a recipe for falling right back into slavery.
So, to prevent a relapse, God preserves those who die and rise with Christ in baptism.... How? The Spirit of God empowers believers to “keep the rhythm going” where dying and rising are concerned. Yielding to the Spirit of God, a believer seeks the death of her old self and the resurrection of her new self. That is, she puts her arrogance to death and raises her humility to life. She puts envy to death and raises gratitude to life. She puts rage to death and raises gentleness to life. When she breaks this good rhythm for a time, she confesses her sins, which is another form of dying because it kills us to admit we are in the wrong. What’s wonderful is that when a person goes through the “little death” of confession to imitate Jesus’ big death at Golgotha, she also rises toward new life, like Jesus walking out of his tomb. Confession of sin is an enormously freeing thing to do.
Once reformed, a Christian life needs continual reformation. Even our reforms need reforming, and especially when we grow proud of them or despairing of them. And the central rhythm of reform is dying and rising with Christ, practiced over and over till it becomes a way of being.
Take compassion as an example of dying and rising. A compassionate Christian feels distress at another’s suffering and wants to relieve it. His willingness to “weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15) represents the death of scorn (“He made his own bed; let him lie in it.”) and the death of aloofness (“Why should I care about people tortured by a military dictator in some country I can’t even pronounce?”). Compassion represents the death of our old self, with its emotional stinginess, and the birth of our new self, with its emotional generosity. The compassionate person unites with Jesus Christ in “losing his life to find it” by getting out of his shell and into the full range of the world’s joys and sorrows.
Meanwhile, the recipient of compassion gains vitality too. Love vivifies us. … If the givers and receivers of compassion are believers, they will connect their exchange to the suffering love of the Son of God, who did not remain aloof, but made himself vulnerable “for us and for our salvation.”
(Engaging God’s World, 83-87, emphasis added)