THE DENYING OF SELF
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?
27 For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works.
Lk.14: 26 If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.27 And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.
Lk.14: 33 So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple.
And the question is, "Are these not Scripture?"
We live in a culture, a mindset, and a community where “me” is the supreme focal point. There are no words with which to draw out the colossal depravity of this self centered culture. It sees everything through the prism of personal desires and lusts and opinions. This kind of life has grown so strong and has become so accepted that rare is the person who even questions any of it. In fact, this hedonistic culture will collect armies comprised of unbelievers as well as professing believers who both will die to defend itself.
Even the smallest irritation, discomfort, or inconvenience elicits many levels of complaint. We have never learned to deal with those things with patience and understanding. Could we not make a long list of things when driving that aggravate us? What do we feel when the drive thru line at the fast food restaurant is not moving? How about a slow moving line at a retail store? If we go to a store and they are out of what we wanted how does that affect us? We cannot find our favorite shirt; our favorite television show has been preempted; the food we ordered has not been served promptly; we receive an unexpected bill; and on and on it goes.
These things affect us almost on a daily basis. We have become greatly distressed over inconvenience on almost any level. That which affects us adversely is consciously and subconsciously considered an unjust affront to us personally. We feel as if we are being mistreated even when it is a common occurrence that happens to everyone. You see, it is all about us. And within the church suffering is explained and prayed for as if it all comes from the devil. Yes, this culture of prosperity, indulgence, and self satisfaction has seeped into the mindset of the church. And after many years that mindset has even found its way into Biblical doctrine. In other words the western believer sees God’s blessing as a promotion or a raise or a bargain or success or anything which enhances the life and standing of an individual believer.
But that has never been the way of Jesus nor is it the core teachings of the New Testament. No longer does the church desire to walk in His steps. What would Jesus do is an embarrassing phrase used in jewelry and bumper stickers without actually understanding the essence of that statement. Emulating Jesus, or even allowing Him to live through us, is much more than being pro-life or anti-gay marriage or even carrying your Bible to school. We have gathered a set of ways in which we can pat ourselves on the back because we have taken a “stand for Jesus”. But following Jesus is not a battle against the culture or even the kingdom of the lost. This life demands we deny ourselves to please our Master as well as give our lives for those who do not know Him.
And that is the profound paradox which has been lost to the church. We are not called to purify any culture by attacking the lost and defending our own sense of morality. No, never. We are called to be salt and light to those imprisoned souls who live in darkness and need to see Jesus. But the church has saddled the moral horses, and with democratic swords blazing we have sought out the miscreants who dare to be and act like the sinners they are. And if we see their efforts fail, and if we see legislation pass, and if we see conservatives elected, then we assure ourselves that we have won God’s battle. But in reality, a pitiful and unredemptive reality, we have won our own battle and left the gospel to our powerless statements of faith. In the midst of a spiritual tragedy of immeasurable proportions the church shouts the victory and plans the next building program.
There is magnificent and deep spiritual path which is filled with true life through a denial, a rejection, a renouncement, and even a death of oneself. To say this is an easy path which can be attained by head knowledge or a limited commitment to Christ would be to lie. To find the treasure of His glory and have it permeate your being requires a hunger and a thirst which in and of itself must be sought out diligently. To bring your thoughts into the obedience of His will and Word is always painful and unpleasant to the flesh. And once you embark upon such a journey you quickly see just how strong, subtle, and even vicious your flesh can be. If this were a onetime event we might be able to dive in with a great effort and determination and with a season of fervency crucify our flesh once and for all.
But that is not the path to which we are called. We have been called to a daily path which walks in the very midst of darkness and it has a battle within which reveals the flesh as resilient and relentless in its pursuit to direct our path along a road which has it as our master. It despises Christ and everything about His kingdom. It appears religious and moral but it has the spirit of antichrist as its fellow traveler. Everything about your flesh seeks to gently and with reasonableness lead you away from Christ and consistently lead to yourself. It is a path filled with affirmation and fulfillment and all kinds of temporal allurements. And perhaps the most profound deception along this path is that it has all kinds of signs which indicate you are following Jesus.
And yet there remains a glorious path filled with mystery, majesty, and spiritual treasures that abide within the Eternal Christ. The dimensions of this path are past finding out. This path is trodden upon with eagles wings, and even though it has nothing that appeals to the flesh, it strengthens the inner man who is made after His image. The world knows nothing of the resplendent essence of this self denying life. In a world which seeks its own to deny self is considered an aberration or a eccentric practice of some eastern religion. But that which confounds the wise and is invisible to the natural man is an incredible foretaste of a coming revelation which cannot be fathomed. Is not that which we should and we must seek?
But, alas, the church which still uses His name has studiously avoided anything close to self denial, and in fact, now embraces “self” as the fourth member of the God head. We have sold our birthright for an earthly stew. And thinking that this stew has been cooked and served by God, we have missed the banquet set before us that denies self and revels in and feeds upon Him. It is almost impossible for words to illuminate our minds to the monstrous infidelity in which the church is involved. Like a man whose adulterous relationship with his neighbor has gone on for so long he now can justify it in his own heart, so has the church justified and even championed its spiritual adultery with the kingdom of darkness.
Oh how much glory have I myself missed and fed my soul religion instead of Christ? I cannot undo the many times when I subtly rejected Him in favor of myself, but I can repent and proceed into the future with an unwavering hunger to deny myself and walk in the Spirit. All of us are faced with a choice. It is the same choice the Spirit has desired to set before us every single day of our redeemed life. Will we follow Him and crucify our flesh, or will we embrace ourselves and say we are following Him, or more likely will we walk a path which unsuccessfully makes the flesh and the Spirit co-laborers?
Oh what a treacherous people we are! Oh how great a sin we continue to commit! Jesus has become Lord of the doctrine but not Lord of our lives. And in a diabolical sleight of hand we have somehow worked ourselves into our precious doctrines, and while parading our orthodox talismans we have played the harlot. Like an adulterer who claims passionately his love for his spouse because he doesn’t want to lose her while he still sins with another, we have loudly proclaimed our love and faithfulness to our Bridegroom while we frolic between the bed sheets of this fallen world. It is a titanic betrayal which seemingly has no bounds. This spiritual situation is an earthly prison that reaches between unseen bars and passes plates of cotton candy which taste good for a moment and then vanishes. And there is no spiritual nutrition at all.
But we can never fully grasp the spiritual extravagance contained inside a spiritual life which completely embraces Christ at the expense of success, prosperity, and even the general respect of the community of faith. The undiscovered treasure that can be found in Christ when we deny ourselves completely and only think and speak and do what he Himself directs and empowers is a spiritual realm which is unspeakable and filled with glory.
And so to deny ourselves is to embrace and experience and reveal Him, Jesus. Isn’t that what the Christian life actually is? If it is not Jesus then it is a written religion which has a self help power and not the power of the Holy Spirit. And if that is all there is then let us eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die. But if it is Jesus, then let us die today and eat, drink, and be joyful unto Him. Your flesh is God’s enemy. And if you allow that serpent to live, and if you clutch him to your breast, he will certainly kill you before you kill him.
Deny yourself and step into a bondslave’s freedom called Christ.
(Please, I did not post this to generate any back and forth discussions or even for anyone to add their own Scriptural insights. Any comments should have a spirit that says "Oh me. Help me Holy Spirit to deny myself this coming year and submit completely to You".)