If you haven’t read Part 1 of 3, I suggest your do so before reading this.
Jesus is calling his followers to live lives of self-denial. Self-denial really isn’t about so much about denying ourselves certain luxuries or a type of food for Lent – it’s giving
up my right to lead my life the way I want. It is to turn away from self-centeredness and looking out for me first. It is allowing the Holy Spirit to help us put our sinful
nature to death, and it’s a death we have to keep dying to every single day. If this sounds pretty negative about ourselves, then you’re getting it – it is negative.
My self-centered motivations are a constant battle. The world around us tells us it’s ok; in fact, this is the way we’re supposed to live. But God, our Creator, through His
Son Jesus Christ, tells us this is the result of our nature being held captive by sin – we do it and all too often don’t even think it’s a problem. After all, I deserve stuff, and I
need to take care of myself.
But it is this whole lifestyle and attitude that Jesus says needs to be crucified. But alongside this calling of self-denial is a second important calling – self-affirmation.
Jesus clearly sees our selfish nature at work in each one of us, and a lot of Christ followers take this and turn it into condemnation – they get down on themselves.
But Jesus also sees much in us worth affirming, that we need to affirm.
First, look at Jesus’ teaching about people. Yes, he saw the evil and ugly things inside us, but he also talked about the great value we have to God.
Jesus: “‘Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are?’” (Matthew 6:26 NLT2)
In fact, Genesis tells us that God created human beings in God’s own image. Being God’s image bearers makes us unique in all of God’s creation and gives us great worth
in God’s eyes.
Second, we need to look at Jesus’ attitude toward people.
- Jesus went out of his way to honor folks the world looked down on and rejected.
- He talked to women in public in kind and loving ways, and no male did that then.
- He welcomed children and outsiders into his midst, and that was unheard of.
- He reached out to heal victims of leprosy and other ailments.
- He was a friend to the least, the last and the lost and ministered to them daily.
- Jesus constantly showed his deep concern and love for us.
Third, we need to remember Jesus’ mission and death for people.
Jesus: “‘For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.’” (Mark 10:45 NLT2)
Jesus saw his whole life as coming to serve us and save us, by sacrificing his life for us. The cross is the clearest picture we have of the degree to which Jesus loved us
and affirmed our value and worth to God.
So, what we see in the cross is both an affirmation of the great worth of ourselves to God but also a call to us to deny ourselves – does this make sense? We need to value
ourselves, but we also need to deny ourselves. And our struggle here is because we too often see ourselves as a simple entity that is either totally good or totally bad, totally valued or totally denied. The truth is, we are each a complex mix of good and bad, of glory and shame.
Our “selves” are partly the result of Creation, being created in the image of God, and partly the result of the Fall, where this image was defaced & badly marred by sin.
Jesus calls us to deny and crucify our fallen selves that are marked by sin and incompatible with him, and follow him instead. At the same time, Jesus calls us to affirm
and value our created selves that are compatible with Jesus, so that when we lose ourselves to self-denial, we actually find our true selves.
True self-denial, that is, the denial of our fallen self, is not the road to destruction but the road to self-discovery. (Stott, p. 275)
So, whatever we are by Creation we need to affirm – our ability to think, our sense of moral right and wrong, our sexuality, our family life, our ability to enjoy creation, our
own creativity, our stewardship of life and earth, our hunger and desire for community, our awareness of our awesome God as well as our built-in urge to then also
These things are all part of our created humanity, and though they have all been tainted and twisted by sin, Jesus came to redeem these things, not destroy them – they
are worth affirming!
Likewise, whatever has come to us through the Fall must be denied and destroyed – our irrationality, our failure to live moral lives, our lack of sexual self-control,
selfishness that hurts every area of our lives, including our families, the laziness that keeps us from developing our God-given gifts, our harming the environment, the
self-centeredness that harms true community, and our refusal to truly and daily worship God but instead all too often worship our self.
These things are the result of the Fall and the introduction of sin into our lives.
Christ came not to redeem these things but to destroy them, and with the help of Christ, through the power of his Holy Spirit, we must deny them and have nothing to do with them. (Stott, pp. 275-276)
But, we need to take the reality of created and fallen a step further – through Christ, when we welcome him into our lives, we are also redeemed, and this gives us both
more to affirm and more to deny.