One of the most prevalent sins of our world today is the sin of selfishness. I am a part of the Baby Boomer Generation (those born between 1946 and 1964) and sometimes we are also called, ‘The Me Generation.’ We received that nickname because for many of us, everything is about gratifying self. For what it’s worth, the ‘Millennials’ (born between 1980 and 1995) was labelled by TIME Magazine: ‘The Me Me Me Generation.’ We’re not getting better. We’re getting worse.
In contrast to selfishness, consider what our Lord said about ‘selflessness.’ “Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it.” (Mark 8:34-35)
One of leading characteristics of genuine Christianity is a selfless and self-sacrificing attitude. It is very important for us to note that Jesus said that if we are going to be one of His disciples, we must ‘deny ourselves, and take up our cross, and follow Him.’ Self-denial and selflessness are not optional for a disciple of Jesus. Let’s consider what our Lord is saying to us.
1) Deny Self
To deny self doesn’t necessarily mean that we set out to live a life of poverty. To deny self means that we lay down our will, so that we might embrace the Father’s will. Jesus prayed in the garden, “Not my will, but thy will be done.” (Luke 22:42) For Jesus, ‘not my will’ meant a literal death on a literal cross. But for us ‘not my will’ can mean a lot of things. Take for instance a situation where someone does something to hurt you. The natural reaction is to hurt them back. But a disciple of our Lord will deny themselves that privilege and instead say, ‘not my will, but God’s will be done.’ Instead of getting angry, the disciple of Jesus will seek to love and forgive their enemies.
2) Take Up Our Cross
There is good reason to believe that the disciples did not understand the full weight of what the Christian’s cross meant at this point. To them the cross simply meant death.
When Jesus referred to the cross, He was not just referring to death; He was more importantly referring to the death of self-will for the one who is completely surrendered to do the will of God. For Jesus, this meant a literal death on a literal cross. For each of us it means a death to self and a choice to embrace the cross of Jesus and all that it accomplished. Such a choice will not only mean that we will deny ourselves and our personal rights; it may also mean that we will suffer and even die for the cause of Christ.
3) And Follow Me
Becoming a follower of Jesus not only means that we die to self, it also means that we live for Him. Scripture says that Christ died for our sins, but on the third day He arose again. When Jesus told His disciples to deny themselves, take up their crosses, and follow Him; He was not just saying that their life of selfishness was now over, He was also saying that their new life of surrender and service was about to begin.
Denying self, taking up our cross, and following Jesus is not optional for the believer. It is an absolute necessity if we are going to be one of His disciples.