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The Little i

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In a sermon titled “The Beauty of Nothing,” persecuted Romanian pastor Richard Wurmbrand made a fascinating observation:

You have been brought up with the English language. We who have learned English being grown-up men, we wonder very much at how you write words. In English you write the word “you” with a small y. The word “he” with a small h. The word “she” with a very small s . . . But “I”—capital letter “I”—is something very, very important. A capital letter.

My subsequent research led to an amazing discovery: No other language capitalizes solely the first-person of its pronouns, the I. Only English.

Whatever the historical or grammatical reason for this, I didn’t have to wonder about the spiritual application: Because of sin, we are all by nature “capitalists.”

Even after accepting Christ as Savior, few believers can deny the truth:

I am still a capitalist. I still strive to make myself bigger than others on the page of life, towering over “you” and “us” and “them.” I can be arrogant and attention-seeking or self-absorbed and aloof. Either way, I itch to be writ large.

Wurmbrand’s observation gripped me. It was humbling and true. And to me, the remedy was plain. I needed to become wholly de-capitalized. I needed to become like Christ.

God, Lowercase

[Christ Jesus], being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross! (Phil. 2:6–8, NIV).

The I AM became i, God the Son making Himself lowercase for me, for each of us. The only one who truly deserves to be capitalized became the only perfect i the world has ever known.

This was the i who valued others above Himself. The i who was among us as one who served (Luke 22:27). Who was approachable and gentle. Who continually looked up to the Father in glad submission and deep worship.

Jesus was the i I needed to imitate, I was sure. I needed to be reduced, “I to i.”

But Wurmbrand disagreed.

Come and Die

After noting the English capitalization of “I,” Richard Wurmbrand continued: “Jesus tells us whosoever wishes to come after Me should cease to write ‘I’ with a capital letter. Whosoever wishes to come after me should deny himself . . . Not be anymore; not ‘I live,’ but ‘Christ lives in me.’”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer agreed. He wrote in The Cost of Discipleship,

The cross is laid on every Christian. The first Christ-suffering which every man must experience is the call to abandon the attachments of this world. It is that dying of the old man which is the result of his encounter with Christ. As we embark upon discipleship we surrender ourselves to Christ in union with his death—we give over our lives to death. Thus it begins; the cross is not the terrible end to an otherwise god-fearing and happy life, but it meets us at the beginning of our communion with Christ. When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.

And far more importantly, God’s Word agreed. Jesus 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 for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:34–36).

God calls us not to a reduction in size but to what He also required of His Son: death. The loss of the earthly life we would have lived on our own. The loss of the self we would have been on our own. “I” needs to die and be replaced with the Holy Spirit, Christ’s holy i, in each of us.

Oh, this fascinates me, grips me, and challenges me. It goes beyond, “He must become greater; I must become less” (John 3:30); no, I must die and my life be hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3:3).

The Apostle Paul wrote,

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Gal. 2:20).

I couldn’t argue with Wurmbrand, Bonhoeffer, the apostle Paul, and Jesus! Certainly death, not decapitalization, was needed.

But How Do I Die?

C&MA founder A. B. Simpson wrote a booklet titled 31 Kings or Victory Over Self. He likened the many aspects of our self-life to the 31 kings Joshua and the Israelites defeated to claim their Promised Land (Josh. 12). Simpson went on to identify 31 manifestations of self, declaring, “[These self-sins] are all tyrants, which, if allowed to remain, will ultimately bring us into subjection to sin and separate us from the Lord.” He described the self-conscious I, the self-indulgent I, the self-willed I, and many others, but they’re all the SELF-ish I.

“We must definitely and thoroughly enter into the meaning of the mighty word, ‘Ye are not your own,’” Simpson insisted. “We must surrender ourselves so utterly that we can never own ourselves again.” Until we can say with Paul in Colossians 3:3, “For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.”

But I cannot make it happen; I can only agree to it. I can only get alone with God and follow the path to death that Jesus walked.

It will take me through Gethsemane, where my will is laid down. On up to Calvary, where my life—all its years and days and hours and seconds—are laid down. Surrender may be immediate, death instantaneous. Or it may be a long process, often revisited, slowly achieved, and nearly despaired of. But however long my lingering on the cross, if self is not taken down prematurely, the reality of death, of His life taking over in me, will come.

Is It the End?

Simpson wrote of being “spiritually decapitated,” of going beyond even the surrendering of our selves and our lives to the cessation of our natural thoughts, instead waiting on the Lord to give us His mind. Of such a level of self-abandon Simpson wrote, “This may seem to you like annihilation; but you will come to it if you are going to enter into the deepest, sweetest, strongest life” (Springs in the Valley). It may seem like the death of dreams and goals and all the work we’ve put into becoming who we  are now. But Jesus assured us that “whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matt. 10:39).

It’s not the end of who i am. It’s the end of whose i am. The end of the life I would have lived in the flesh, on my own. But it’s the beginning of the real “me” i was created to be, of a never-ending adventure, of a freedom and an abundance of life I could never have imagined.

As Simpson went on to affirm in 31 Kings, “The death of self blots out a universe of wretchedness and brings a heaven of joy.”

What Will “I in Me” Mean?

It will mean Christlikeness. The little i, Christ in me by His Spirit, is as He was: servantlike among people, childlike before His Father, quietly effortless in pace and power. It will mean valuing others above self, prizing the Father’s will, continually submitting to Him, and waiting on His timing.

The little i will mean rest from trying to write myself larger. Rest from overachievement, undervaluing, controlling, and much more.

And the little i will mean that i can, in some imperfect yet significant way, say with Jesus, “When he looks at me, he sees the one who sent me” (John 12:45).

Death to self, replaced by Christ’s i—this is the inconvenient yet sublime truth we need to be continually held to by Christian pastors and teachers and media and mentors. For it’s an instantaneous work and a work in progress. Because Satan tempts and the world lures and choice is never taken from me, death must be affirmed and reaffirmed: “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must put aside your selfish ambition, shoulder your cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9:23, NLT, emphasis mine).

i don’t want to live a hybrid style (sometimes I, sometimes i) with its confusing and distracting consequences. i want to consistently embrace and declare the astonishing truth that Jesus, the capital of heaven, became lowercase for us. He lived His entire earthly life as i and died to capitalize only His Father, make Him seen as the only I. He will do that in me and in you when we die to I and let the Spirit of Christ, the holy i, live in us. In the daily of life. On the ordinary street.

2 responses to The Little i

  1. Thanks for sharing this. I will never see I in the same way! And how much we need this to be humble the way He wants us to be! Today I will try to be I. ♥️
    I wrote a little I and it was automatically “corrected”!!! Wow!

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