Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Recognition, part 5: surrender

And He was saying to them all, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it. For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes in His glory, and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. (Luke 9:23-26 NASB)

As if His words about His own suffering, rejection, and death were not frightening enough, Jesus began to tell His disciples what He expected of them. It sounded as if hard times were coming to them as well. Self-denial, cross-carrying, life-losing. None of that sounded appealing, but Jesus did not make it sound optional.  He did not make it sound optional because it is not optional.  

We begin with the section about following Christ. "If anyone wishes to come after Me," Jesus said. The word translated as "if" is ei and is a conditional participle. If you want to follow indicates a question about it. If we want to follow Jesus, then there is something we will do. This doing is not optional. 

In fact, if we want to follow Jesus, there is something we must do. If we want to follow Jesus, we must deny ourselves. The word translated as "must deny" is arneomai, and means we will disregard our own interests, desires, wants in deference to those of Christ. Arneomai means we submit to Christ in all things. It is the beginning of "not my will, but thine be done". 

It is, of course, easy to hear these words but much harder to do them, because we hardly know what it means to deny ourselves. This is not the kind of self-denial that rejects cake and chooses chicken. This is the kind of self-denial that sacrifices something much desired (but within our grasp) and, instead, uses that time or resource for the Kingdom of God. Rather than renovate a room in our home, we might use that money to provide shelter for a homeless family, and not renovate the room at all. That is a kind of self-denial for Christ. Rather than stay home on a holiday weekend, we and our family might volunteer together at a local soup kitchen. With less affluent resources, we might share our small amount of food with someone who has none, welcoming a relative stranger into our home. We must grasp the things we have with open hands, allowing Jesus to use them as He wishes. 

This denying of self involves much more than money and things, much more than the sacrifice of time or resources. Denying ourselves begins with disregarding our own preference of attitude, as well. Haughtiness, pride, and selfishness must be relinquished in favor of the humility and generosity of Christ. 

There will be no self-denial until it begins in our heart, and there will be no following Christ until self-denial begins. It is a shocking statement, and one we would prefer to reject, isn't it? Read the words of Jesus again.  "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me." There is no coming after until there is the denying of self. 

We do well to ask our Lord to shine light on our own attitudes and desires so that we might see ourselves as He sees us. Whose desires reign in our lives? Our own or those of Christ? Do we want to please Him first or ourselves? Oh, dear ones, if we are to follow Jesus, this hard look at ourselves must be done, and then the hard work of relinquishing our desires for His. Following Jesus is the sweetest part of life, but it cannot happen as long as we follow ourselves. Choose this day whom you will serve. Choose well, dear ones. Choose well.