Empty Myself To Be Filled

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  • Empty Myself To Be Filled

    You may have heard or sang this song by Chris Sligh:

    Empty me of the selfishness inside
    Every vain ambition and the poison of my pride
    And any foolish thing my heart holds to
    Lord empty me of me so I can be filled with you.

    A contrite prayer composed in a Christian song that elevates the worshipper to new heights. A mantra chanted by the devout every Sunday during worship and during prayer at night. Most Christians would be in sober agreement with this phrase and thinking.

    But is the common phrase "empty me" biblical or theologically correct? Do you ever stop and evaluate what you are singing in songs written by modern lyrists? Did the Lord teach "empty yourself to be filled with me?" Did you know that to "empty self" is in part the core teaching of Buddhism? Nowhere in the bible does Scripture suggest the concept that we can will to become "empty" to become more like Christ.

    The astute Bible student will immediately reference Philippians 2:5-8 in defense. "Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross" (NAS).

    Jesus did not empty himself of anything if you understand the passage correctly. The average reader violates one of the fundamental rules of exegesis. He reads the text: "Who being in the form of God, emptied Himself," and ascribes the emptying for sake of the divine nature. The immediate context for "ekenosen," however, is about Christ's human nature.

    In summary Paul provides one statement regarding Christ's divinity, contrasted by a statement regarding his humanity, followed then by "ekenosen," which is then followed by four statements regarding Christ's humanity. The context clearly indicates that it was only as man that Christ emptied himself. As an example, the athlete becomes more by pouring or emptying himself into his training, so the pre-incarnate Christ became "more" by pouring or emptying Himself in a human nature that could suffer and die for our sins. He did not empty himself as a vacuum to fill, but committed himself to his call in total submission.

    "But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all. And you too, I urge you, rejoice in the same way and share your joy with me" (NAS Phil. 2:17-18). In His identification with Christ Paul parallels his own pouring out with Christ's. Paul's sacrifice was finite and future, thus "poured out." Christ's was infinite and an accomplished fact; Paul chose the strongest words to describe the magnitude of the sacrifice, He "emptied Himself." "How did He 'empty Himself?'" asks Augustine. "By taking that which He was not, not by losing that which He was."

    So then, what do we do if we are not to empty ourselves? Romans 6:11-13 sums it up, "Likewise reckon you also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. Neither yield your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God."

    The emphasis of the book of Romans is the Christian is not to empty as to fill, but to fully die as one with Christ, for there is nothing of your mortal being that can be reclassified or modified. We cannot will to do good to please God, for nothing in our willful nature is able to contrive perfection by effort, we rather must submit as a dead person plus nothing. Mark 8:34-35 reads "Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said, 'If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life [dies] for me and for the gospel will save it.'" Death on the cross with Christ in death, not a prayer for being recycled.

    Galatians 5:24 "And those who belong to Christ Jesus have put to death their human nature, with all its passions and desires."

    1 Peter 2:24a "And he personally bore our sins in his own body on the cross, so that we might be dead to sin and be alive to all that is good."

    Colossians 3:3-7 "For, as far as this world is concerned, you are already dead, and your true life is a hidden one in God, through Christ."

    Romans 6:11 "In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus."

    Romans 7:4-6 "So, my brothers, the death of Christ on the cross has made you "dead" to the claims of the Law, and you are free to give yourselves... to another, the one who was raised from the dead [Christ], that we may be productive for God."

    Romans 8:12-13 "It follows, my friends, that our lower nature has no claim upon us; we are not obligated to live on that level. If you do so, you must die. But if by the Spirit you put to death all the base pursuits of the body, then you will live."

    I think for the skeptic, the picture might be becoming clearer now. Many more scriptures can be brought to bear to illustrate the scriptural position of death by association. T. Austin-Sparks wrote "We have not to die; we are dead. What we have to do is to accept our death... [In] baptism... we simply step in there and say, 'That position which God has settled with reference to me is the one which I now accept, and I testify here in this way to the fact that I have accepted God's position for me, namely, that in the Cross I have been brought to an end.'" We accept our death in Christ as or present position. There is nothing in these passages about "emptying to be filled."

    So where does this departure from biblical doctrine come from? Thich Nhat Hanh calls the philosophy the "Living Buddha and Living Christ." Many facets of modern Christian prayer, meditation and contemplation are tightly patterned after Eastern methods of spirituality, which essentially departs from the biblical standard. Mystical theologians such as Cassian, Evagrius, Origen, St. Antony, St. Augustine and St. Benedict have historically been forerunners of similar teachings. The Desert Fathers went further to incorporate Lectio or prayerful reading, Meditatio and Oratio or the "I-thou dimension" of God. Mysticism added a mystery religion to the spiritual classifications. "Celebration of Discipline" by Quaker mystic Richard J. Foster for example, has been one of the fallacious manifestos of Christian Spirituality for the faith for far too long.

    This subject seems complex due to the profound depth of mental conditioning over the centuries. Fundamentally, the Scripture must always be the check point for the accuracy of spiritual things taught among men. It will shock the average Christian to learn how much error has been received as truth for not having understood what the bible actually teaches. We should never be our own counsel or teacher, guessing what the spiritual life should like or what the bible teaches. Nor should be ever take any teacher at face value, accepting anything taught as final truth. As the Bereans (Acts 17:11), test all things.

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