By Carly Reiner
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” Matthew 16:24
I have been thinking a lot lately about what it means to be a disciple and to deny myself. When I read this verse it doesn’t exactly sit well. Self-denial and cross bearing doesn’t seem like something I want to dive into. You don’t see too many sermons preached on this verse…maybe because it seems painful and maybe because there aren’t necessarily practical guidelines on how to do this. Our society today is not one that values self-denial, but rather self-indulgence. We value strength, security, and power. In this broken system, we create illusions that blind us to the things that are truly life-giving. Self-denial can sound like a negative thing, something that breaks us down or is self-deprecating, refraining from things that bring us “pleasure”. However, I don’t think that’s what Jesus means when he talks about dying to self.
Jesus asks us to lose our lives in a much different way, in a way that exposes the truth about the way things really are. We are not dying to the self that God created us to be, but rather the self that the world has molded us into and the sin that has corrupted our very nature. It requires shedding light on the things that we have been depending on or placing value in that do not give us life or further God’s Kingdom. We must put to death the things that breed our selfishness, our images of power, our desire to be right, our quickness to seek revenge, our tendency to put up walls between ourselves and those who are different from us, our laziness, our materialism, our urge to save our own lives. Shedding light on these things can feel like death and can often look like death to the world around us, but it is through this death that we gain new or resurrected life. Self-denial is a way of letting go of our pursuit to find everlasting joy in earthly things or things that impede our relationship with God. It is another way that God call us to herself, to pursue our deepest joy.
Following Jesus means submitting, accepting our own weakness and powerlessness and allowing God to transform those things through surrendering control of our own lives.
The reality of Christ dying on the cross reveals to us the uselessness of power as the King of the universe came and died the most humiliating death possible in order to serve us…that we may have life. He never said to anyone, “Do you know who I am?” but instead humbled himself so that we might receive redemption. In the same way, through the same process of death and resurrection, we are being sanctified and God is transforming the world.
So..we must wake up every day with humility and with a heart to serve. We can start in the smallest of ways, like cleaning up after someone or helping out a friend or stranger. There are so many things I could do in my daily life to deny my selfish motives and instead serve the people around me. We must open our eyes to any ways we can serve others and try our hardest to put others before ourselves, even the people that aren’t serving or loving us…especially those people. From these acts of service and love, the Kingdom of God will follow and our hearts will begin to be transformed.