Theme: Saying “No” to Self
This week’s lessons teach us that Jesus’ command for Christians to take up their cross is not something that happens later in the Christian life, but at the very beginning. Indeed it is a critical idea of discipleship itself.
Scripture: Luke 9:23-26
In my judgment, the real reason why so many people do not talk about self-denial and cross-bearing as essential ingredients of Christianity is that we just do not like these ingredients. We like having our sins forgiven, at least if excess sin is destroying our lives and weighing on our consciences. We like the promises of Christianity. We want to be told that God will heal our broken relationships (especially if we do not have to do anything about them), resolve our inner conflicts (if it does not require discipline), and prosper our work. Some forms of gospel preaching actually promise prosperity. We like that. But denial? Taking up a cross? Suffering? We dislike that teaching. We refuse to hear it. So a preacher who wants to see his church grow and his ministry prosper soon learns to stop talking about it. Instead he tells people things that will build up their self-esteem.
So the cross is neglected, and professing Christians are allowed to go their own ways, live for self, and, at best, miss the fullness of the gospel. At the worst, such persons are allowed to think they are saved when actually they may not be Christians at all.
One of the most important things to be said about Christ’s stringent definition of discipleship in Luke 9:23 is that the elements He mentions cannot be separated from each other, even less made progressive steps in the Christian life. That should be obvious from the way Christ states His demand. If He had intended a progression, at the very least we would have expected Him to put “follow me” first, then the matter of self-denial and perhaps lastly the matter of taking up His cross. But that is not what He does. Jesus first speaks of anyone who might want to come after Him or be His disciple, then He spells out what that coming after Him entails. It entails: 1) self-denial; 2) taking up the cross; and 3) following — all three. Moreover, as the following verses show, if a person rejects those elements of discipleship, he may be trying to “save his life” and “gain the world,” but the result will be the losing of his very self. He will be rejected by Christ when He returns in glory with His holy angels.
It is evident why this must be true as soon as we think about these terms. When we think about what it means to deny oneself, we are at once brought to the radical distinction between a God-oriented life and a life of unrepentant self-seeking or sin.
Self-seeking is the opposite of self-denial, and the problem with self-seeking is that it has been the essence of sin from the beginning. It is what caused the fall of Satan. Satan said, “I want my way, and that means that I am going to displace God. I will rule the universe.” God said that Satan would actually be brought low. Jesus said, “I will go down in self-denial. I will abase myself in order that others, those I love, might be lifted from sin to glory.” As a result, God promised that Jesus Christ would be exalted. He would be given that name that is above every name, so that every tongue would confess that “Jesus is Lord.”
What reason does Dr. Boice offer for why people do not talk about cross-bearing and self-denial in the Christian life?
What is the progression for disciples in Luke 9:23? Which one does Jesus place first?
Application: Is there an area in your life where you are not demonstrating cross-bearing? What will you determine to do this week to live out the principle of self-denial?