Last week we studied why we should want to surrender to Jesus. We examined scripture to try and grasp the love of God through his salvation plan. Our relationship with God will never be perfect on this side of heaven because we are sinful. As sinful humans, we are always caught in a battle of two wills: God’s will and our own. Our sinful nature will always be at odds with God’s perfect standard, and we will struggle daily to hand over command and control to God. But if we want to grow as followers of Christ and lead a Christ-centered life as his apprentices, we will have to let go of our own will and way and be driven by God’s purpose and glory. Our personality, possessions and plans must all be laid at the feet of Jesus.
“Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”Matthew 16:23-24
This week we start with the first instruction Jesus gave his disciples regarding those who would want to follow Christ: We must deny ourselves.
This instruction is completely counter-cultural to our modern self-centred influencer society. We are bombarded by messages of self-made hustlers who worked themselves up to be gazillionaires of their own empires at the expense of all those who stood in their way. We even like to motivate each other with phrases such as “God helps those who help themselves” but if this were true, we as Christians would be in constant competition with each other to secure God’s success. Yet Psalm 75:6-7 tells us that everything comes from God – all success and promotion is from him.
Jen Oshman has spoken out about this culture in many podcasts and has published a book on the topic. She explains in this article that believing in yourself is both exhausting and damning. It is exhausting because our belief is only as good as we are. As long as we don’t get tired, make mistakes or fail we will be successful. But part of our humanness is our fallibility. “Ironically, believing in yourself will not lead to freedom or wholeness or the pinnacle of your dreams, but rather to enslavement. Enslavement to self.”
Secondly, believing in ourselves is damning because we are placing ourselves above the power of God who made a way for us to be saved. We elevate our own power above that of Jesus which will prohibit us from being reconciled with God. “Until we fall on our knees, come to the end of ourselves, and surrender to the goodness of our loving Father, we remain in the domain of darkness, destined for hell, justly earned by the wages of our sin (Col. 1:13; John 3:36; Rom. 6:23).”
When we can humble ourselves before God and admit that we are helpless sinners whose only hope is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, then we can find ourselves in a reconciled relationship with our creator through the work and forgiveness only possible by Jesus Christ.
Everything we can ever hope to be and live for must come from Jesus Christ.
For the love of Christ controls us because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.2 Corinthians 5:14-15
I just cannot say it any better: “We were made to be more than self-made. We are God-made. God-rescued. God-loved. Only as we orient our lives and dreams around him will we experience true and lasting joy.” (Jen Oshman)
During the week we will examine in detail what it looks like to deny ourselves to follow Jesus.