Is it still bothering you that there are actually three i’s in Christianity when I said there was none? I thought so. Actually, I said there is no I. The simple capitalization of a letter can make a world of difference. What I actually mean is that there is no selfishness involved in being Christ-like.
Luke 9:23 (NIV)
Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”
In this passage, there are three commands that are required for us to be disciples of Christ. The latter two commands are discussed in this article and are not really what I want to focus on today. The first, however, is unfortunately very easy to pass over without much thought. Jesus says that His followers must “deny themselves.” Of course, we should focus on Christ more than we focus on ourselves. That makes perfect sense. But I can’t help but think there is more to it.
According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, deny means to “to restrain (oneself) from gratification of desires.” In other words, to deny yourself means to avoid getting the things you want…on purpose. How often do you see people doing that? Have you ever caught a friend cheering for the other team because he wanted his team to win so badly? I seriously doubt it. Have you ever asked anybody if they plan to get an iPhone and they respond by saying, “Nah, I don’t think I will. I want one too much.”? No chance. Our society tells us that if we want something and have access to it, we should have it.
I think Christ commands us to behave differently. I truly think that God wants us to deny ourselves. Many people believe that, while the scripture clearly says disciples should “deny themselves,” it simply means that we need to love Jesus more than we love ourselves. There's nothing wrong with having what we want as long as put Christ first, right? I will choose not to say that. Based on this scripture, I think it is impossible to put Jesus first and still have all the things we want.
I think there are times that we need to not have what we want on purpose. Making the decision to deny ourselves and our desires helps us to develop discipline. Discipline makes it easier for us to focus on what we are truly called to do, even when things get tough.
Denying ourselves makes it easier for us to take up our cross and truly follow Jesus. Every time we actively choose “not me,” we shed a layer of selfishness that holds us back from being the disciple that Christ wants us to be.
How have you denied yourself lately?