Why Must We Deny Ourselves?
I confess I like my stuff. If I’m covetous of anything, it’s my time. I have always believed that time is one of only two true valuable things (love being the other). I am most unloving when I see “my” time being taken from me.
But this just isn’t how I’m supposed to be.
“Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me,’” Matthew 16:24.
As I ponder this verse, I consider that one can’t possibly follow Jesus if one insists on going his own way. The only way to follow Jesus is to go where he goes and walk as he walks. That means the things that would cause one to step aside would have to deny that desire to stay with Him.
The most wonderful benefit to self-denial would be that you will arrive where Jesus is. Whatever this life has to offer, the Kingdom of Heaven is far greater (Romans 8:18). Matthew 16:24 is an eloquent summary of so many lessons that add up to the same concept.
When one denies himself, he shows his love for Christ by following him, and he shows his love to others in the sacrifice of those desires. I spoke about this at length in the previous chapter.
When one denies himself, he humbles himself for Christ. Those who humble themselves are lifted up by God (1 Peter 5:6-7). They receive God’s favor (James 4:6). Humility breeds wisdom (Proverbs 11:2). The humble one receives God’s guidance and instruction (Psalm 25:9).
When one denies temptation, they glorify God. We show that while temptation strikes, we rely not on our strength, but on God’s. When we are weak, He is strong (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).
The book of Job in itself is a story of a test. Job is made an example for those who would deny temptation and continue to seek God even during the worst sorts of suffering of heart and body.
These are verses and thoughts I need. Time is indeed precious. It is indeed fleeting, but that makes it that much more important to use that time to glorify God. I promise, I’m not saying a man can’t take a few minutes to read or relax. God gave us the sabbath specifically so that we could rest (Mark 2:27).
I read The Heart of Anger by Lou Priolo to better help one of my sons through junior high, and I learned so much about myself. The relevant portion is that you can identify the idols in your life by what you’re willing to sin to have or what you’re willing to sin because you didn’t receive it.
As adults, we look at children throwing a tantrum and think about how spoiled they are. Why don’t we use that same judgement on adults or, more importantly, ourselves? This is a great failing in my life. Where I should have trained my heart and body to seek Christ, I trained myself to use every moment I possibly can to advance my goals. Yes, one should strive to accomplish the tasks set before them, but the main goal should always be to follow Christ. Every tertiary goal we have should still be directed toward honoring God.
At this point in my journey I’m so trained in one manner I often find myself reacting to my sinful training before I even realize I’m seeking after what I want and not thinking about God at all.
We can even be sinful in our seemingly religious actions. This was the rebuke Christ offered the Pharisees in Matthew 23. All they did, they did for the appearance of piety, not to honor God. It was a pretense offered to only receive the acknowledgement of man rather than to glorify God. I’m ashamed to say I think I would have made a fine Pharisee. I love lists. I love standards. If one were to tell me, “Do X, Y, Z, and all will be well,” I’d blow that list out of the water.
But we should already know that there isn’t anything we can do to earn our way into Heaven. Our forgiveness is a gift of grace (Romans). When we deny ourselves, we accept God. When we seek His kingdom and His righteousness, He provides for us (Matthew 6:33).
The more we make life about us, the less our lives are about God. No one can deny this truth. If our mind is on ourselves in what we do, it can’t possibly be on God. No one can serve two masters (Matthew 6:24).
I don’t pretend to be the most selfish man on earth. But I’m aware enough of my own heart to know how covetous I am of “my” time. But if I think of it as mine, it can’t be God’s can it? I’m battling this so often and so often finding that I’ve lost before I realized the opportunity I had to glorify God.
I’d challenge anyone to look at the things in life they value. If there is a thing so important, you’d harm, ignore, or resent others to obtain it or because you didn’t get it, you should probably think long and hard about what that thing is truly costing you.
I guess the thing I should do is try and challenge myself. If I’m angry that I’m being “interrupted,” I should ask myself, “Is what I’m doing worth the Kingdom of Heaven? Would I give up my salvation for this?”
To be clear, salvation can’t be lost! The challenge question is a check on my heart to glorify God in denying this part of myself rather than needing to ask forgiveness for once more sinning in whatever way I might be sinning.
It’s better to think on the Kingdom of Heaven and realize nothing here can compare than to realize and lament the fact that I’ve sinned to do or have something that just doesn’t matter.
For our panel: What are some other things people can do to take stock of the idols in their life? What other verses can one turn to when they find themselves as I sometimes find myself? For those who struggle so much to let go, are people such as I not saved simply because we’re struggling to let go? Are addicts condemned simply because of the difficulty of turing away from their addictions? If the answers to the last two questions are “no,” what verses can we turn to for comfort and strength as people struggle with and remorse their sin?