Chris Burden, a conceptual artist who popularized body art, died 5/10/15 of a melanoma. He may have been shocked to find death coming from cancer. He had often exposed himself to danger in pursuit of his art.
Others in the subgenre documented the changes in their bodies as they gained or lost weight, had surgery, or suffered through illness or disease. Burden lived on the edge: had himself shot with a rifle that felt like a truck hitting “my arm at 80 miles an hour”; had himself nailed “over the hump” of a VW Beetle; for his Master’s Degree in fine arts stuffed himself into a student locker. Above him a 5 gallon jug of water dripped into his mouth, and below a 5 gallon receptacle contained the outcome. Five days later he emerged, having passed the final test of his degree work. San Diego Union-Tribune, 5/12/15
He suffered for his art. He didn’t deny himself for his art. Every danger to which he exposed himself revealed an ego that demanded expression. When he died he had become famous as the “best-known practitioner of body art.” Which he achieved by daring his body to withstand pain, torture, and deprivation—while his ego always fueled the dare.
A Christian can serve Jesus all his life, and die at a ripe old age, without having such scars from his service. Any scars will generally be invisible, in the brain and heart, seen but by God, the result of struggles between one’s ego and Christ’s demand of self-denial. And if in Christ’s service we bear bodily scars, as the apostle Paul noted of himself in Galatians 6:17, it will be in serving spiritual causes in a hostile world, not in actions we volunteer to suffer, as Burden for his art. If needed, we’ll suffer; if in suffering Jesus is glorified, fine; but we’ll practice the self-denial Jesus demands rather than merely suffering for our faith.
What is necessary for discipleship; and what will likely be the only visible expression of the unseen cost of serving Jesus, will be a Christ-honoring life achieved by practicing self-denial—the something antithetical to our ego. Which draws the attention of seekers to him, not to the servant. Paul wanted that kind of discipleship. Do we? Only an egotistical mortal would make himself the object of attention. Why would a Christian, who has the self-denying Christ staring in his eyes?