And he [Jesus] said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.” Luke 19:22-24
The world tells us that happiness comes from self-indulgence. Scripture tells us that satisfaction and joy come from self-denial. Even more radical, the true, abundant life we were created to live starts with death.
It’s ironic that the verse that may promise greatest level of joy in life is the one we like to hide away and talk about the least. You seldom see a church marquee announcing that, “Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me” is the title for next Sunday’s sermon. Few alter calls announce this condition as part of the decision to follow Christ. This is not a “seeker friendly” Scripture. Yet it is the heart and soul of the Gospel. Why do I make such a claim?
Our hearts can only know one ruler. Our lives can only follow one leader. Our passions can only focus on one object. Our allegiance can only fall to one Lord. Our choice to follow one ruler means absolute rejection of all alternatives. The object of our love requires us to forsake all others. Commitment to one path and one leader means leaving every other possible route behind. In the end, committing our life in one direction means absolute death to all other competing possibilities. I know we wish this wasn’t so. We wish we could keep our options open, play the field and explore all possibilities without closing the door on any of them. But in our spiritual lives, a vacillating loyalty is a choice for self-indulgence over the walk of faith.
What is at stake in this decision is the gift of true intimacy with God. It is only when we deny all of the selfish alternatives that we find the life that is lived in the presence and bright countenance of the God who created us for himself. If we want to know the joy of that life, we have to lose all other counterfeit alternatives. In essence, we have to die to the life that is focused on the self. And out of this death come freedom, certainty and the peace of God that passes all understanding.
This amazing life awaits us all on the other side of death, not our physical death, but the death we are called to die every morning. It is a glorious death and once we experience it we will thirst for it again and again. For as we die to our self, we bury along with it the fears, anxieties, worries and despairs of this old false life. And we enter into an intimacy with God we will only know on the far side of this joyful death.
Have you died today?
Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Colossians 3:2-4
Take a 3 x 5 card and write Colossians 3:2-4 on it. Put it someplace we will see it first thing every morning; next to your alarm clock, on your bathroom mirror or tape it to the dashboard of your car. Then make a commitment every morning to consider what it will mean for you that day to claim this death for yourself that you may truly live for Christ.
Gracious Lord, I confess to you that I have lived too much of my life for myself. As long as I live for myself, I can never experience the kind of intimacy and relationship that you wish for me. I’m tired of going it alone. I have to be honest, this kind of death to self scares me. There’s so much of myself I want to hold onto, to trust in and rely upon. So help me Lord, through the power of your Holy Spirit, to completely let go and die to myself. There’s so much in this life that you have for me and I will never experience it or know it until I know you fully. So take my life Lord, I give it to you fully and completely. I name and set aside all those things in my life that are screaming at me for my allegiance. I am ready to lose my life, this old, painful, fear- filled and anxious life. And I am ready to find the new life you have for me in Jesus Christ. Take my life, Lord, it is yours. In Jesus’s name. Amen.