Self-denial is called to be the center of the Christian life. Everyone knows that, right? I mean how many times do we read Christ clearly instructing others that this is the only way that we can follow him? Remember His words:
“And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it” (Luke 9:23).
I would assume that if a poll went out to churches, the large majority of participants would confirm that they are “denying themselves”. However, self-deception is a very real thing. I think a little self-reflection is a good habit we should all develop.
Though I am sure most Christians would report denying themselves to some extent, I can remember an incident where a person approached Jesus with this same self-confidence. Recall the conversation that was had with the rich, young ruler:
“18 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” 20 And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.”And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Mark 10:18-21).
In pursuing Jesus, the young man seems to be requesting a nod of approval from our Lord. Jesus inquires of his keeping of the commandments, which, the young man replies with his “perfect” report. As with most of the individuals who fail in the biblical narratives, we are that young ruler. We all have our own lists of commandments that we “have kept from birth”. Oh, if Jesus was just to ask me, “Have you murdered?” I would be ready to proudly shout, “NOPE!” This shows, just as in the text, that we are good at denying things in our lives that are easy for us to deny. There are commandments that are required of us to keep, that, by grace, are easier for us than others.
I wrote this blog with the challenge for us to take a step back, in our own lives, and look at that which is difficult. What are the things that Christ would call us to deny, in our lives, that would make us go away sorrowful and disheartened (Mark 10:22)?
A technique that could be helpful in reflecting upon this area your life, is to write yourself into the narrative. “and Jesus, looking at (James), loved him, and said to him, “you lack one thing: go, and rid yourself of all your gym membership, and dedicate your time to the poor”. Ouch. This is hard to read for me. However, I have done this some time ago, and because of it, I use this as motivation to all my interest in fitness to not become a thing I wouldn’t mind loosing, if it became something that took over priority in my life.
What is yours? It may take some time. Perhaps self-reflection isn’t enough. Speak to your spouse, Christian friends, or your elders. If you do some self-reflection, honestly look to see what has priority in your life? Start with the ten commandments, as in this story, than perhaps the works of the flesh listed in Galatians 5: “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality,20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these (ESV)”.
John Calvin reminds us: “We are not our own; therefore, neither is our own reason or will to rule our acts and counsels. We are not our own; therefore, let us not make it our end to seek what may be agreeable to our carnal nature. We are not our own; therefore, as far as possible, let us forget ourselves and the things that are ours. On the other hand, we are God’s; let us, therefore, live and die to him (Rom. xiv. 8.) We are God’s; therefore, let his wisdom and will preside over all our actions. We are God’s; to him, then, as the only legitimate end, let every part of our life be directed.” Let us take these words seriously, repenting to God, and truly follow Him.