23 Then he said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. 25 What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self ? 26 If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. Luke 9:23-26 (NIV).
This is a passage that I keep going back to and meditating on. What did the Lord really mean when He said these words? Was He speaking to anyone that wanted to be a Christian? Was he saying that these are the requirements to be a true believer? I think modern Christianity has lost the concept of self denial… It seems to be more about self-fulfillment in many cases. God is just used as a means to earthly success – sort of a genie. But God is holy and He sacrificed everything for us. He calls us to be holy by His power (not by our own). And He calls us to give up everything for him. This is only possible because we “remain in the Vine”. Remember, no branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the Vine. We must remain plugged into Christ. He is the power source. Not for self fulfillment, but for self denial and avoidance of worldliness. 1 John 2:15-17 says “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world: the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes, the boasting of what he has and does, comes not from the Father, but from the world. The world and it’s desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.” Worldliness is the opposite of denial of self. Being in love with the things of the world is in direct opposition with being in love with the things of God. See James 4:4: “You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.” So, I think this is probably the main struggle for Christians and maybe a stumbling block for seekers, the call to deny your self, to avoid worldliness. This characteristic is what should make us Christians stand out in an unbelieving world. The way we live our lives should be different than those of non-believers. As Jesus said in the sermon on the mount “Are not even the tax collectors doing that?” and “Do not even pagans do that?” We, as a body of believers, are simultaneously called to “let our light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” AND to “be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men…when you give to the needy, do not announce it…so that your giving may be in secret…when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites…go into your room, close the door and pray”. This is difficult to accomplish, but as Jesus said “What is impossible with men is possible with God”. We must pray to the Lord to have the power to fulfill His purposes and to glorify and praise Him (Isaiah 43:7; 43:21). Not to make ourselves feel better and stroke our egos, but so that the lost of this world would find true life in Him. “Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!”