Summary: On the one hand, Jesus says "deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me." On the other hand Jesus says "I have come that they may have life and have it to the full." The message explains how is self-denial is a life "to the fullest".
Today we’re going to look at a topic that is very personal. The scripture is from Luke 9:23
“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”
Just hearing these words is difficult. Putting them into practice seems utterly hopeless, unrealistic. We cringe at the very thought of self-denial. It is so contrary to our human nature. We wonder if anyone can take Jesus seriously. I mean, who ever heard of self-denial? We are much more comfortable with words like “self-fulfilment” and “self-actualization”.
And yet, “self-denial” is right there, annoyingly, and not just once, but repeated in the gospels. It seems to me, if we are to be serious disciples of Christ, we need to seriously consider these words: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”
These are among the hardest words of Jesus.
There’s a second statement that Jesus made that I’d like to focus in on this morning as well. In John 10:10 Jesus says, “I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.”
I find it interesting that on the one hand, Jesus is calling us to self-denial. And on the other hand, Jesus says he has come to bring us life, and not just average life but life to the fullest.
So we wonder, which one is it? We can hardly imagine that a “life to the fullest” is a life of “self-denial”. So which one is it? Does following Christ mean life or does it mean self-denial?
If we believe worldly wisdom, then a “full life” and a life of “self denial” are not compatible. The world’s idea of life to the fullest means a life of self-gratification; exactly the opposite of self-denial.
It means putting yourself first, above anyone else… even if it means hurting other people. It means looking out for your own interests. It means satisfying the cravings of the flesh. It says “eat drink and be merry” or as some men would put it, “wine, women & song”. It is a life that is always wanting more, and in the end, it is a life that is never satisfied. In fact, in the pursuit of self-gratification, one finds himself enslaved. We are enslaved by our need for more power, more position, more toys. It’s never enough!
I’d like to suggest this morning that the only way to a full and free life, a life free from the enslavements that come with the pursuit of self-gratification, is a life of self-denial.
1. Self-Denial sets us free to follow Christ.
Jesus said, “if anyone would come after me…he must deny himself … and follow me.”
The whole point of this statement about self-denial is that we would be able to follow Christ.
The truth of the matter is that we cannot follow Christ while we are following the world.
We try to get the best of both worlds. We want all that God has to offer, but we also want all that the world has to offer. We want them both. But we can’t because they conflict with one another.
Jesus said, "No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” Matthew 6:24 (NIV)
If/when we embrace self-denial, we become free to follow Christ. Why? Because the things of this world no longer have a grip on us. We’re no longer bound to them.
The old hymn writer said, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in his wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace”.
Self-denial sets us free to follow Christ; free from the things that hinder and the sin that so easily entangles.
2. Self-Denial sets us free to be content.
The mind-sets of the world are mind-sets of power, control, competition, revenge, etc. It’s all about me!
The world would have you believe that if you only have more “things” you will be happy. If you have more “power and control” you’ll be happy. If you can get revenge on those who hurt you, you’ll be happy. But all these things do is they rob us of our contentment.
These mindsets put us in perpetual bondage… because there is always MORE we can have, more we can control, more power to obtain, more toys to collect. It just never ends.
Pretty soon we loose focus of the things that are really important. Our priorities get mixed up and in the end we find that self-gratification only leads to discontent.
Paul wrote to Timothy: “But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.” (1 Tim. 6:6-9)