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The Maze



It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where

you might be swept off to.

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

October. Oklahoma. Late afternoon.

Our group stopped at the edge of a corn maze in the heart of a pumpkin patch. The unusually warm air stuck to our skin, its dense mugginess like an unwanted blanket. Before us stood a wall of green corn stalks and a wood pole. Nailed to the pole were two arrows, one pointing left and the other right.

We went right.

Dancing leaves brushed our ankles and clipped our red cheeks. Our shoes often sunk into soggy dirt. We laughed, talked, and debated our way through the maze of corn.

At length, we found the path to freedom and appeared from the tall stalks. Sweat dripped off our brows, heads held high. We stood on solid, open ground.

We were lost, but now found. We were trapped, but now free.

Meanwhile, according to the sounds of voices moving atop the corn, there were still many maze inhabitants searching for the path to freedom.

They were still lost. They were still trapped.



In a way, we're all lost and trapped in a maze.

Consequently, every religion, ideology, or philosophy has sought to present us with a directional arrow that leads to the path to freedom. Their arrows, although varied in color, shape, and angle, basically articulate the same premise: For freedom, humanity must embrace, endorse, and exert the inner Self. That is, their arrows point not to the left or right, but they point back at us, our very selves, as the path to freedom.

“Ah!” they declare, as if they’ve discovered something of novelty. “It's who we are—that which is found within us—that can set us free. Indeed! Find self so as to free self.” (Cue the latest Disney movie, self-help podcast, or dreadfully dull fictional book-by-numbers.)

However, there is another arrow. It points to a different kind of path, one going in the opposite direction. Only few take its course. Those who do discover that the path deals not just with the symptoms of our lostness, like all the other paths, but the path also deals with the problem—or source—of lostness itself, unlike all the other paths.

This Way reveals that we must not look internally but externally. This Way reveals that to free self one must deny self. This Way leads humanity out of the maze, no longer lost but found and no longer trapped but free.

Let me explain.




From the eclectic soup of religions, ideologies, and philosophies comes an attractive misbelief that our culture has become quick to eat up.

“Hey,” the misbelief argues, “deep down inside, we’re all good people. Sure, we make bad choices on occasion, but beneath the surface, we’re all good people.”

What’s more is that should we continue to embrace, endorse, and exert our inner Self, which is, according to them, inherently good, then our good choices will inevitably outweigh the bad ones. From there, who knows? Maybe we’ll finally get rid of the bad altogether, thereby achieving some kind of utopia where everything is good, right, and pleasant.

It’s this misbelief that produces the mantra, Find self so as to free self. It’s this misbelief that produces endless cliché expressions like You do you or Live your truth. It’s this misbelief that seeks to strip away any hint of self-negativity, replaced exclusively with positive you-name-it for the inner Self. After all, there’s nothing wrong with us—with the inner Self—with the who-we-are. Right? If anything, we only need a bit of behavioral redirection to achieve perfection and give way to our utopia.

I must note here that we cannot swing the pendulum the other way to some kind of continual state of self-loathing, self-hatred, self-implosion, or self-condemnation, which too many have held over themselves or others. (More on this in a moment.)

Still, though, we cannot take a bite out of the misbelief that says deep down inside we're good people. While we were created good, we now have a devastating and dark problem coursing through human nature.

We have a who-we-are problem, an inner Self problem.

Embracing, endorsing, and exerting our inner Self like it’s some sort of self-made little deity would be tragic (or will continue to be tragic), because it is the who-we-are that is the true source of our lostness. On a micro and macro level, the who-we-are—the inner Self—is the true source of why there is darkness, division, destruction, decay, and death (etc.) running rampant throughout our bodies and every component of the physical world.

To go down that path is to find that the eclectic soup has only given us an upset stomach and the need to turn around at another dead end in the maze.

No, we need a much bigger fix than behavioral redirection. We need a new path, the other path, the Way. We need a complete transformation. A transformation that cannot come from the internal but the external. A transformation that cannot come from us but from outside us. A transformation in which the old departs and the new comes, in which we are born again into a new who-we-are, a new self.

Yet, for that to happen, the false conclusion this misbelief produces must be dealt with.



The misbelief—that deep down inside, our inner Self, the who-we-are, is inherently good—has produced a deceptive, destructive, and devastating conclusion that has kept many lost and trapped, running into another one of the maze's same old dead ends.

Because many have accepted the misbelief, they've jumped to the false conclusion that God loves us…just the way we are.

“Come then,” they say with a level of pride, “he created us this way, and thus he must love us this way. After all, internally we are good people. Didn’t you know? So, then, why would God not love us…just the way we are?”

And, unfortunately, even those in the Church are not immune to jumping to this false conclusion.

For example, a few years ago, I was sitting in a giant room on a Tuesday night in July. 7,000 teenagers had gathered in an impressive building for a worship service at a Christian youth camp. Chatter and laughter occupied the air. Then, the pre-service began, satisfying the restless souls. Minutes later, the crowd was swept up into a musical set.

Eventually, in between songs, the base player took to the microphone. In an attempt to be attractive to the young crowd, he said—quite endearingly, mind you—the words I’ve heard countless speak unflinchingly: “God loves you…just the way you are.” Thousands nodded in agreement, a glistening gloss painted over their eyes.

Now, don’t misunderstand. While half this statement is true—God absolutely does love us—the other half is not. God does not love us...just the way we are. Yes, God invites us to come to him just as we are, but he doesn’t love us…just the way we are.

Nowhere does Jesus remotely get close to saying, “Come as you are and stay as you are because I love you…just the way you are.” No. Far from it. It's out of his love for us, knowing what will happen to us if we stay as we are, that Jesus taught, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny self [deny the inner Self, the who-you-are] and take up his cross [allow the inner Self, the who-you-are to be crucified, because it needs to be killed] and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it” (Lk 9:23-24).

Meaning, the simple, beautiful message of Jesus is that God became who we are (2 Cor 5:21), in order to crucify who we are (Col 2:14), so as to give us a new who we are (2 Cor 5:17; Jn 1; 3)…because he loves us.



Consider Numbers 21.

The Israelites had turned away from God. They had sinned. They had rebelled. That rebellion invited snakes into the camp, and their venomous bite sent a poison coursing through the Israelites’ bodies, causing death. The Israelites were lost in that poison, so to speak, trapped in its condition and consequence.

How might they be saved from this problem?

God told Moses to create an image of a snake—a symbol that represented the curse—and to hang that snake on a pole. Whoever looked upon the snake would be healed and set free from the poison, thereby saving them from the poison's death.  

What happened in Numbers 21 is what has happened on a cosmic level with all humanity. All of us have turned away from God (Rom 3:9-20, 23; Ps 53:1-3). All have sinned. All have rebelled. We have all thought something, said something, or done something we shouldn’t have done, said, or thought. We’ve all made bad choices, as it were.

Yet, it’s not just that we have sinned. It’s that we are sinners.

We are, by nature, sinners (Eph 2:3; Mk 7:20-23; Ps 51:5). Outside of the Light, we are darkness (Eph 5:8). It’s not just that we have committed sins, it’s that we have sin in us. The presence and power of sin is in our souls, hearts, minds, our very nature. As Jesus said, “It’s what’s coming [out of us, out of our very hearts] that’s defiling us” (Mk 7:20-23).

That is, according to Jesus, deep down inside, we’re not good people. The inner Self, the who-we-are is not good. We threw good away when we chose self over God, our image over his image, our morality, truth, and identity over his morality, truth, and identity (Gen 3).

This rebellion invited snakes into the camp, if you will. As a result, we have a poison in us. This poison is not just producing all sorts of bad thoughts, words, and actions (Gal 5:19-21). It has also brought its decay and death with it.

Seriously. This is why the world is the way it is. This is why we are the way we are. From a molecular, atomic level to the expansiveness of the Universe, all creation—micro and macro—has been subjected to this venomous bite and its decay and death. Hence, the Universe is “dying” and running out of energy, just as we are dying and running out of energy.

In other words, there’s something terribly wrong with our world and with our very selves.

There’s a poison, a darkness, an evil, a wickedness, a rebellion flowing through unseen veins and wreaking havoc on the physical everything.

It’s the curse of sin. And its sting is death.



We have no one to blame but ourselves. We invited the snakes into the camp when we turned from God. We brought this poison on ourselves. For the wages of sin [what we have earned by our own doing and by who we are] is death…" (Rom 6:23).

“Well!” some will now seek to speak, arms crossed, chins high. “So, then, God must hate sinners—for what they are and what they have done, and I tell you—”


Again, we cannot swing the pendulum to the other side and adopt some kind of continual state of self-loathing, self-hatred, self-implosion, or self-condemnation, which too many have held over themselves or others. That is not the message of God’s scriptures or Jesus’ cross. If God so loved sinners that he believed they were worth his breath and blood to rescue, then those who follow his Way must likewise love ourselves and love others just as he loved us, sinners (Jn 13:34).

This brings up a weighty tension, however (and a seemingly awkward contradiction). How could we, let alone God(!), possibly love sinners, or even ourselves, when sin—the enemy to God’s holiness, his very character and nature—is so present and powerful in us all?

This tension is felt throughout God’s scripture and finds its climatic resolution at Jesus’ cross.

We read verses like Psalm 5:5 and 11:5 and learn that God hates the character, conduct, and consequences of sin in humanity and in his created world. That is, he hates the presence, power, and productivity of sin in each one of us and in his created world. As the scriptures tell us, we are “enemies” to God in our minds, when outside of Christ (Col 1:15), and we stand under God’s wrath and condemnation, when outside of Christ (Jn 3:16-21; Eph 5:1-20).

On the other hand, the scriptures also make it clear that while we were sinners Christ died for us, and that Jesus’ cross is how God proved his love for us, sinners. Meaning, it’s only at the cross where we discover and know what love is (Rom 5:8; 1 Jn 3:16; 4:10). It's only at the cross where we find that these words take on a whole new meaning: "Who are we that he is mindful of us, sinners" (Ps 8; Heb 2)?  

To find the resolution to the tension, we must sit at Jesus’ cross and consider. For it is at his cross where we find that very tension between God’s disdain for sin and sins—his wrath on such deadly darkness—and God's love for sinners colliding together at a singular point in space and time. It is a meeting that has forever changed God's created world, the humans that inhabit it, and the overall trajectory of them both (Rom 8; 1 Cor 15; Rev 21; 22).

It is a meeting that declares a message of love for all humanity, for all sinners.

Not hate.



The foundational message of the gospel is that at Jesus’ cross, God dealt with the who-we-are (Sin) and the acts produced from the who-we-are (Sins). He dealt with the source and the symptoms of that source. He dealt with the poison and its product. He dealt with the symptoms of lostness and the problem of lostness itself. Once for all, for all, he who knew no sin became sin (2 Cor 5:21), and his love—declared, proven, and shown in and through giving up his breath and blood for sinners—takes away our sin and covers the multitude of our sins (1 Pet 4:8; Heb 10:1-18; Jn 1:29).


For example, remember the Numbers 21 event?

Jesus applied this event to himself (Jn 3:14; 12:32). Specifically, he applied the snake on a pole to himself on the cross. In essence, Jesus acknowledged that we have a poison (or curse—i.e., sin) in us, which leads to death. And God hates the condition, character, and conduct of that curse—the presence, power, and productivity of that sin.  

But God.

But God, for he so loved us, sent Jesus for us.

The second person of the Trinity—the Word—became flesh, the fullness of God in human form (Col 1:19; 2:9; Jn 1:14; Matt 1:23). And, again, he who knew no sin became sin—he became the curse—and was hung on a tree (Gal 3:13). Jesus has been lifted up on the pole, just like in Numbers 21. He was the Passover Lamb given for sinners, his enemies, the rebels (1 Cor 5:7).

At the cross, it was the will of the Lord to crush him for Sin and for Sins (Is 53). At the cross, he nailed our sin and our sins to a pole, so that we, sinners, like John the Baptist, might look upon Jesus with love—with faith—and say, “Behold! The Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:29).

So that we might follow the directional arrow on the pole, painted in red, and take the Way to freedom.



Presently, whosoever looks upon Jesus and believes in him will be healed, set free from the poison of sin and its death (Jn 1:12-13; 3:16), saved from the who-we-are and given a new who-we-are, a new self (2 Cor 5:17).

The entire world is now invited to embrace, endorse, and exert Jesus’ Deity over our inner Self, Jesus’ image over our image, Jesus’ morality, truth, and identity over our morality, truth, and identity.

In other words, we all are invited to deny self—the who-we-are, our inner Self—pick up our crosses, and come follow him. We're invited to come and die, that we might, in and through him, live, having been found in him and set free by him.

We're invited to follow the Way, so that we might experience not behavioral redirection…but radical transformation…from water to wine, darkness to light, death to life.  

In and through Jesus, because of his cross and his bodily resurrection, God has brought a resolution to the tension. He has brought the "bigger fix" to our who-we-are problem, to our inner Self problem. He has brought transformation, in which the old departs and the new comes, in which we are born again into a new who-we-are, a new self.

He did all this...because he loves us.

Meaning, again, God became who we are (2 Cor 5:21), in order to crucify who we are (Col 2:14), so as to give us a new who we are (2 Cor 5:17; Jn 1; 3)…because he loves us.


Therefore, it doesn’t matter what your external conditions or circumstances are. What matters is your internal transformation from darkness to light, death to life. What matters is this: have you received Jesus, thereby having been born of God through the Holy Spirit of God (Jn 1; 3; 4)?

The path to freedom is not finding self so as to free self. It is to confess with your mouth that Jesus is your Lord and to believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead (Rom 10:9). It’s about acknowledging and accepting that we are sinners, dead in our trespasses, who can’t save ourselves (Eph 2). It’s about coming to the cross of Jesus and allowing him to crucify the inner Self, the who-we-are. It’s to deny self, pick up your cross and follow him. It’s to turn from the wrong path and surrender your life to the true path.

That path—that Way—is a person. His name is Jesus.

It's true that many will depart from Jesus one day, never to see or talk to the true and eternal God ever again (Matt 7:21-23). Many will forever stay lost and trapped in the maze of sin and death.

But what about you?

Will you stay lost? Will you stay trapped? Or will you receive Jesus' invitation to come to him just as you are and be united with him in death (Rom 6:5), allowing him to nail the who-you-are to the tree, so that he can give you a new who-you-are that is found in himself? Will you come to him that you might no longer be lost but found, no longer trapped but free?

No one else can do it for you. No one else can decide. He's given you the choice.

Receive or reject. Follow or deny. Believe or disbelieve.

The arrow is nailed to the pole before you.

What will you choose?


At the pumpkin patch, there was a wood stand that overlooked the corn maze. Anyone, from outside the maze, could climb to the top of the stand and direct the inhabitants of the corn maze to the right path, and on to freedom.

Jesus' voice is coming from that stand, calling sinners—inviting sinners—to follow the right path, to turn to him and follow him...on to freedom...because he loves us.

So, again, what will you choose?









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03 mar
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The beauty of the Gospel never gets old. To know the height & depth of the Father's love for us even in the midst of our darkness is still more than I can imagine & am forever thankful for! Thank you for giving such a powerful word picture & presentation of that great Love laid out throughout Scripture!

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Jonathan Gilliland
Jonathan Gilliland
04 mar
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Magan, glad it spoke to you, as it did me! Thanks for sharing your thoughts!


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