Growing up in a church setting, I’ve often heard teachers of God’s word constantly remind the congregation of the importance of praying and reading the Bible every day, of being an active member of the local church and of evangelising — all essential disciplines and marks of a true follower of Christ.
But there is a more important commandment in Scripture that Jesus Himself points out to His followers, which I believe we don’t often talk about or even hear sermons about. We see it in the gospel of Mark 8:34: “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.”
Jesus is asking His followers to make two intentional decisions: 1) to deny ourselves and 2) to take up our cross and follow Him. I’d like to focus on the first of these for now, but I think it’s safe to say: most of us have an issue with this.
You see when we were born, we were born with us on the throne. By nature, we were born with the desire to be the lords of our own lives. All our decisions, cravings, desires, priorities and dreams are centred on what we really want to do. It’s all about ‘me’.
If you think about it, this is exactly what sin is — a thought echoed by theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg in his book Systematic Theology, where he defines sin as ‘self-centeredness’. Almost all our decisions and movements in life are motivated by our own pleasures and what will ultimately satisfy us. But what Jesus is saying here is: listen, it doesn’t work that way. If you are to follow Me, you have to completely reject yourself as the lord of your life — and replace you with Me.
In practice though, many of us — even those who’ve been Christians for years — view our relationship with Jesus as a partnership. Many of us profess that Christ is our Lord and Saviour, but yet don’t fully grasp what lordship really means. When Jesus asks us to deny ourselves, He is not asking us to ‘add’ Him to the picture, but rather to submit every single aspect of our lives, so that He gets to exclusively be the Lord of our lives. When that happens, our appetites, desires, priorities and dreams are all groomed by Him, through Him and, ultimately, for Him.
When Jesus asks us to deny ourselves, He is not asking us to ‘add’ Him to the picture. He’s asking to exclusively be the Lord of our lives
But let’s be honest. One of the greatest struggles for Christians is to deny ourselves, because we love to be on that throne. Here are some helpful truths that I’ve been learning in that regard that I hope will help you too.
This discipline of denying ourselves is not going to develop out of the blue. But when we constantly and intentionally seek Him and remind ourselves of our place in the big picture, then it becomes a more natural response in our everyday lives.
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