AS SELFLESS AS CHRIST
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.
These words have been completely lost to the westernized church. And if and when they are addressed it is with a cultural context which allows for a stream of selfishness which eviscerates the implications of its teaching. To deny self. How can we unravel that kind of spiritual disciple if we do not seek it with prayer and fasting and with a relentlessness that not only will not be denied, but with a complete openness to anything and everything the Spirit may reveal? The question is do we truly desire to follow Jesus? And if we allow our lips to claim such a desire are we willing to open our hearts and search the Scriptures and consume them into our hearts and submit our lives to their open admonitions? Or will we alter a miniscule part of our lives by avoiding drunkenness and adultery and with that recline in a self serving mirage and claim we are following Jesus?
If a man ordered an expensive bottle of wine at a restaurant and the Sommelier brought him a bottle of grape flavored Kool-aid and the man tasted it and declared it acceptable would you not call that man a fool? Well what do you call a church which drinks a watered down, culturally flavored faith and yet declares it to be the true wine of His Word? But the church receives it wine from the Sommelier of this world and not the Sommelier of the Spirit.
Everything associated with denying self makes the flesh recoil with indignation. There is nothing sensational about denying ourselves and it will not bring any accolades or even encouragement within this ecclesiastical culture of self indulgence. But to be like Jesus must begin with denying yourself. And if that is so then what does denying yourself mean within your heart and outwardly manifested? Why is that not almost an obsession with the visible church which so easily uses His name as a doctrinal tattoo? Well the answer is simple.
Many years ago the church decided that the New Testament picture of Jesus was way too constricting and unreasonable, and the kingdom of darkness would not receive such a picture without some cultural modifications. And so a new and improved version of Jesus was sculpted, and even though He remained somewhat the same in our little doctrinal portraits, the way we lived and practiced the faith changed dramatically while still clinging to our doctrinal scraps. It was an unconscionable sleight of hand.
This is no round table discussion or a minor difference of perspective. No, this cuts to the very core of who Jesus is and how His followers should emulate Him in spirit and in truth. And given the depraved nature of our culture any true imitation of Jesus would have to be startling and even stunning when revealed within that culture. But as it stands the Jesus now preached and practiced fits in very nicely in a fallen culture, and even can comfortably join hands with unbelievers in any number of earthly causes. It should shake us and cause us to run to His Word and His prayerful presence.
To deny self in the spiritual essence goes much deeper than avoiding certain sins. It goes to the thoughts and intents of the heart. And only the Word can accurately and powerfully assort all those kinds of things which so often come with built in compromises. Our self demands attention and acknowledgement and it will use all kinds of subtle and open techniques which are designed to cut in the front of the line without being observed. This is no easy battle. This requires spiritual labor and a heart which is willing to submit to the inspection of the Spirit. Things like sincerity and Biblical knowledge and doctrinal prowess are used as conscience salves and keep us from the sacred treasure of penetrating repentance. And the comparison with others always gives us a skewed perspective of ourselves and provides a false comfort which suggests we can reduce the speed of our spiritual gait from a gallop to a showboating cantor.
Of course the pristine looking glass into self denial is the cross. If we hold our lives to that standard what changes would have to be made? If the sinless Son of God endured the contradiction of sinners against Himself, then where is any wiggle room for us? You see, unless we are willing to pursue that kind of selflessness then we must lower the bar to where we can achieve a manageable facsimile that awards a gold medal for finishing in last place. Is the example of Christ achievable? No. Is it pursuable? Yes and amen!
The mind and heart of the flesh must be uncovered and then crucified by a systematic diligence which does sentry duty to see and bring down every thought which rears its ugly head against the knowledge of the Lord Jesus. Few have the stomach for such things. The labor is intense and the road gets weary. But the glory is rare and unmistakable. The devil will repeat his offer to Jesus and tell us we can have the kingdoms of this world. He will even openly lie to us that God desires us to have such things. Yet we must be prepared to refuse him and deny the alluring aspects of this world which will already have a prominent place in our flesh. Read Romans chapter 7 and see just how vicious is this inward battle.
Picture a battle is raging and there is dust and swords and screams and even bloodshed. But in the middle of this battle is a shadow of peace which cannot be touched. And in an astounding mystery there sits a soldier within that pocket who wields a Sword but who also simultaneously rests from the battle. It is a picture unknown in the temporal but available in the Spirit. But look more closely and see the sword he wields is not made of steel with a fancy handle. It is made of light which is the Word of God and this soldier does not wield it with his hands. He wields it with his heart.
And all around him the battle rages, fighting for personal rewards of gold and silver and the recognition of this world. But look! All those things find no interests in our soldier’s heart. He has found eternal gold and silver and precious jewels within the Savior and he has no need of that which perishes. He denies his flesh which pushes and tempts and tries many ways to seduce this soldier into leaving the shadow of God’s wings and enjoying the leeks and garlic of this present life. Oh once in a while this soldier has strayed from that shadow and tasted of this world only to realize it is a sweet tasting poison.
And when he repents and runs back to that shadow the Spirit welcomes him and cleanses him and he once again lifts his eyes above the fray and sees Christ who has already won the battle and the war. And this soldier refuses the labor of his own hands and embraces the finished labor of God’s Som. And there in the midst of atrocious violence and profound temptation and seducing spirits, this soldier finds peace that the world could never give him. He has denied himself and found Christ to be his all in all.
Oh that we all may die so we may truly live.