“Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven …
“Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (verses 32-33, 37-39)
Denying self for Jesus’ sake. That’s what this is all about.
It’s captured in that familiar, yet breath-catching, phrase about taking up one’s cross to follow. This isn’t a poetic way of saying that each of us has a burden to bear and that we just need to shoulder it and press on. No. In the ancient world, taking up your cross didn’t imply an ongoing, struggling journey, but rather a dead-end. To take up your cross meant to embrace death. Just like Jesus.
So, we lay down our own life and live Christ’s life. Paul would later say, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God” (Galatians 2:20). He understood Jesus’ statement.
Yes, but what does it mean practically? Am I really doing it? And how do I know?
There’s the complication, of course, that these statements about crucifixion are metaphors – I haven’t literally died, nor have I been nailed by an executioner to a cross. I am still, at this point, very much alive. I continue to “live in the flesh.” Yet I hear Jesus’ command. So, how do I know if I’m truly living the crucified life?
For each of us, it’s an ongoing journey, step by step for the rest of a lifetime, seeking to live for Christ. But Jesus’ statement here already gives some concrete answers.
First, there’s the issue of acknowledging him before men. As I die to self, I won’t hide the fact that my first allegiance is him. With transparency, I will allow my opinions, values, attitudes, behaviours, and commitments to reflect Jesus unashamedly. I will bear witness to his Gospel and his goodness. One commentator helpfully says such witness “will vary in boldness, fluency, wisdom, sensitivity, and frequency from believer to believer,” but I won’t hold back.
Second, denying self means putting Christ above every other relationship. Yes, I am to love others fully, loving them as myself, but I am to love Jesus more. If self has been crucified, any conflict of interest will be resolved in his direction. I hold his opinion higher than father, mother, sister, brother, son, daughter, friends, employers, mentors, all. His will is decisive.
Third, rather than striving to maximize my own potential and career and achievements and connections and comforts, I will willingly set each aside in order to fully serve him. Those moments of decision will come unexpectedly, but “seek first his kingdom” will be the ongoing directive. The quest for “the good life” will be defined by him.
I have been crucified with Christ. I no longer live. Christ lives in me. The life I now live I live by faith in the Son of God. That nails it. Here is the power for self-denial. Christ in me, the hope of glory.
Live your life in me, O my Lord – fit me to the image of your own. Live your life in me until all that’s left to see is your love, your glory alone. Amen. (words of an old song I learned years ago)
Reflect: Dying to self is an ongoing process. Is the Lord putting his finger on something at the moment? What is it? Will you yield?
Photo by Soul Winner's For Christ: https://www.pexels.com/.../back-view-shot-of-a-man.../