And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” Luke 9:23-24 ESV
This is probably one of the most problematic passages that Jesus ever gave us because of the sheer fact that it goes against our human nature. I mean, seriously, who starts out a young child’s life by saying, “Deny yourself. Forget about your desires and wants.” Instead, from an early age, we are taught to pursue our dreams and to go after the things we desire. We are taught to look out for number one at all costs.
The word “deny” that Jesus uses here means to literally “disown” or “to reject.” This creates a dilemma for us. In other words, after a lifetime of being told to pursue our dreams, most Christ followers are shocked to hear Jesus say, “Deny those dreams because they aren’t really what you want after all.” And what Christ teaches doesn’t get any easier. Immediately after telling us to deny ourselves, he tells us to give up our lives in order to find them. Again, the language here is brutal. The word “lose” in Jesus’ language didn’t imply misplacing it or forgetting where it was. Instead, it meant to “destroy utterly” or “to kill” it. He was saying that we needed to dismantle our lives to the point where we could never pick them up again and try to put them back together as they once were.
Here is our dilemma. Modern American Christianity has become a religion of convenience. We have church buildings that are incredible monuments to our particular variety of worship. We have programs for every age group and every status of life. Some preach a prosperity and a wealth that more closely resembles a fairy tale than the gospel. What we don’t hear very much about is this particular kind of death that God calls us to, the one that says “not my will but yours.” Instead, many of our preachers have turned to a softer version of following that calls for slight inconveniences to our way of life. Jesus called for complete destruction of our desires and a complete acceptance of His.
Not an easy teaching to be sure. Who am I fooling? This is hard. This flies in the face of the American dream. It flies in the face of all I’ve worked for and all I’ve dreamed about. But today, after reading this verse for the 1000th time, I’ve learned that what I dreamed wasn’t really what I wanted after all. I’m coming to the end of myself after all of this time. What I wanted–what I needed–was found by following Christ in His death and receiving the kind of life that could never be found any other way. Such is the way of the Kingdom of God.