"Then Jesus said to His disciples, 'If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.'"
The denial of self is the key focus of this directive of the Lord. He states that living a Christian life is a life in which you deny yourself to gain your life.
Jesus states in unequivocal terms that the Christian life is a life filled with stepping on and killing some things that you really want to do. Taking your desire for fame, ease, sex, wealth, pleasure, power, authority and specifically killing what you could do, what you want to do, and doing God's thing instead.
It has been said that there are two crosses in the Christian's life: The cross of Christ where we receive forgiveness and the cross where we nail our own sinful impulses. We do not coddle or excuse or try and include our impulses to selfishness in our life plan, but instead we kill them and move in a different direction.
You deny selfishness and your own way of living life to adopt God's way -- to adopt the Lord's way and put on His yoke. It is His way that brings the gains in life, but it feels like a loss at the first.
A person must deny himself the selfish pursuits that he had before he became a Christian and now put those times into pursuit of the Lord through the spiritual disciplines.
People must deny themselves a selfish way to be married and to truly love their spouse by meeting their deepest needs by adapting to their temperament and orientation.
People must deny themselves the selfish way to arrange their time and to love and train their family.
People must deny themselves the focus on their fame and wealth in their career that they might have wanted and instead put God, marriage, and family ahead of career. The family must be ahead of the golf game and the other pet hobbies.
People who want to truly follow Christ cannot pursue business and vocational pursuits with only their own benefit in mind. They must not be selfish in search of profits but operate by a code of ethics that God lays down.
“God, how would you want me to live my life today?” It is now more, “How would I want to live my life?” It is through this searching out of God's loving way of life that the person really gains life.
Did I live a life of love and giving today or did I make everyone else adjust to me today?
It is important to realize that it is not a denial of the goals of life that is mentioned here. It is our selfish ways of pursuing those goals. We all want to be blessed by God to have a great marriage, to have a great family, and to have an impacting career. But our own way of pursuing these goals is on our terms and in our ways with a huge focus on ourselves instead of a focus on God's ways and the needs of the others in the relationships.
Too often we see people who have attained the very things that many count as success and are not fulfilled and convinced that their life is meaningful. Often it’s because they have achieved the fruits of success through selfish means.
I was commenting to Dana the other day how great life with her is and how wonderful and blessed we are in following the Lord. I was also commenting after seeing some friends from long ago how different our lives are than we thought they would be. Our lives are better but we had to give up many of our own ways of going about life, marriage, career, and family. Many of the activities and interests that I always thought would be a major part of my life are no longer in my life, but my life is richer and fuller. My soul is more connected to God, to my wife, to my children, and to other Christians because of denying myself my own selfish pursuits. Even as God has asked me to give up "big things," it has been turned into a bigger blessing to let those things go.
God is in the business of saving souls -- bringing fullness and meaning to the immaterial aspect of your soul. In each of our lives He asks us to give up our way of doing things in order to really be blessed. All of us have heard, invented, or been taught certain wrong pictures of a perfect life or the way to the perfect life that must be denied. We must be willing to come unto Him and learn -- take His yoke for He is gentle and humble in heart. It is His ways that bring the blessings.