Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Self Denial


Matt.16: 24 Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.
25 For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.
26 For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?

Lk.14: 33 So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple.

You might think that what is a core element of a life which follows Jesus would have a prominent place in the community of faith. But, sadly, even the concept, much less the practice, has been systematically ignored until little remains of what used to be an identifying feature of the lives of believers. And the result is that the church has lost its identity with Christ, and subsequently the world of darkness no longer can see our light. As the culture has changed so has the church. And these changes are not just benign technological advances, but they are part of a continuum of seeking the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.

Living and practicing our faith underneath a bushel of cultural conformity, we continue to observe a faith which is unremarkable within a culture of remarkable hedonism. And true sacrifice and self denial is not only past history as a practice, they are actually rejected by the modern church as either unnecessary, inconvenient, or part of a less enlightened view of the faith. The concept of self denial is basically ignored completely and only mentioned when reading certain portions of Scripture. This is not only sad, but it is outrageous to suggest that following Christ does not include such disciplines.

But since our Lord spoke these words, and since He clearly linked them to discipleship, we must either ignore them completely, dilute them to accommodate our desires, or diligently seek the Spirit’s guidance to uncover their meaning and their application. But any authentic pursuit of Scriptural teaching must be done without reservation and with more than just a pursuit of doctrinal knowledge. To invite revelation through the ministry of the Spirit we must seek the Scriptures as immutable mandates for our very lives. They must give strength and direction to our spiritual walk as well as continue to deepen our conformity to Jesus Christ. Anything less is little more than a curious assessment of an ancient literary work.

Even our own understanding must be denied.

Prov.3: 5 Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.
6 In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.

Before we can be led into the glorious truths of God’s Word that can transform our lives we must bring our lives to the Scriptures as broken vessels in need of much more than just some good advise. What helps or what seems reasonable is many times not what is needed. We are need of a transfiguration which should deepen daily and is allowed to ransack and destroy the strongholds of our own flesh. But without the denying of self all we have done is attempted to make our flesh and the Spirit coworkers.

There are many outward things from which people deny themselves. Every lent millions give up something in order to appear pious or please God. But these outward sacrifices without the denial of self are just self congratulatory legalisms. Denying yourself is more than just denying your fleshly appetites. I have seen Buddhists deny their bodies and their appetite, but when it comes to denying yourself according to the Scriptures and in the power of the Spirit you are in a completely different place. This kind of sacrifice requires more than just denying your flesh, although that comes with it.

This self denial is a miracle of grace which puts us to death and resurrects us with His life.

Gal.2:20 20 I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.

This is a verse which is all too familiar to most believers, but how many have taken the time to meditate upon the depth of its meaning and the personal implications of its application? This is not just some Mickey Mouse Christianity that enjoys a good message with no more life changing power than a late night infomercial. This is serious spiritual business with a Redeemer and His redeemed. Everything in us recoils at such a concept and in fact many streams of so called Christianity teach a form of self love and self worth. But how can you love or hate that which is dead to you? Can a corpse take an offense? Does a corpse lust after new cars or money or the wife of a neighbor? What kind of humanism have we constructed and then pasted the name of Jesus upon it?

But after decades of ignorance and false teaching, and after decades of careless practice and living, eventually any concept will be lost or at least diluted beyond recognition. The western church does not even know what sacrifice and self denial even is anymore. It is foreign to our mindset. And since its practice has been long since put to rest, to resurrect the teachings of Jesus is not a simple reread issue. To once again wade into uncharted waters of truth requires us to abandon any preconceived perspectives or human examples we hold in high esteem. If the Spirit can strip us of our ingrained understandings and allow us to receive God’s Word in a radical and unbiased way without the alterations of of a fallen culture, then and only then can we receive God’s Word in its purest form.

Is it really possible to abandon your hopes and dreams? Is it possible we can reject our own understandings and reason? Can we really ignore the dictates of our own flesh? Can we die to ourselves here on earth? Perhaps we can ask the thousands upon thousands of martyrs who willingly gave their own lives for Christ. There are many books which might give us some insight into just what a surrendered life might look like. One I wholly recommend if you desire to take a step on this journey is “Through Gates of Splendor”. Or read the account of Blandina HERE. But let us not read them as spiritual entertainment, but as instruments of conviction by which we can draw closer to the Master through our own death. God give us the strength to deny ourselves by walking to that hill outside Jerusalem and embrace our own funeral. That, my friends, is not death...but life.


Anonymous said...

God bless you brother,

Anonymous said...

Rick, Can I encourage you to keep this message of the cross before us? One can love homosexuals and still not be crucified. One can abstain from politics and still not be crucified. One can give up all they have to feed the poor and still not be crucified. Only when He lives in us do we live.