Monday, January 17, 2011

The Road to Discipleship Part 1 - Deny Yourself

This week I want to talk about the steps of discipleship.  I have addressed this issue as part of posts many times, but this week I want to take each step in detail.  I think it is important in this day of salvation without repentance to address what Jesus expects of us as his disciples.  Later in the week I will address our call to make disciples of all the nations, but first we need to have a solid understanding of what a disciple is.
Then Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.  Matthew 16:24 NKJV
One short verse contains all we need to know to become a disciple of Christ.  In it we see the three steps.  Today we will address the first step, that being to deny yourself.  Two simple words proclaim something not so simple to do.  Even the desire to come to Christ is a measure of elevating ourselves. We come to Christ because we do not want to be judged for what we did with the realization that Jesus is the only way of salvation.  But is not denying ourselves what we do when we come to Jesus?  Coming to Jesus is taking ourselves off of our own throne and putting Jesus in charge of our lives.  Coming to Jesus takes our striving for righteousness out of our hands and accepting the righteousness of Christ being bestowed upon us.  Coming to Christ is the admission that we are failures and can not measure up to God's standards and lest Jesus save our souls we are bound for eternal damnation.  Coming to Jesus is a grand irony in that the only way to save that which is so precious to us (our own self) is to give it to Jesus and allow Him to destroy it and recreate it.  What we once were before Christ was irredeemable and the only hope for us is to allow it to be crucified on the cross with Christ to be resurrected in His newness of life.  
Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin. Romans 6:3-7 NKJV
So, in a general sense, denying ourselves is the very act of coming to the Lord, but that merely makes us converts.  What about denying ourselves makes us a disciple?  This is where the rubber meets the road for many Christians because we want our cake and we want to eat it too.  We want the salvation that comes from our Lord, but we want ourselves to remain on the throne of our lives.  This kind of Christian is the product is prosperity and "grace" preachers filling so many churches today.  They preach a kind of Christianity that tickles the ears of our desires in that we can have Jesus and that life we desired before Christ.  We are told not to worry about our sin and only expect the material blessings the Lord has in store for each of us.  Sadly, that material blessing becomes an illusion obtained by few leading the masses to a disenfranchised life in the Lord.  They spend there time "believing" on God for the desires of their heart fixated on promises never made by God being parroted by these apostate teachers.  They never learn the concept of denying ourselves and therefore do not see the promises of God in light of that first important step.  Let's look at two of their favorite verses through the eyes of a disciple.
Delight yourself also in the LORD, And He shall give you the desires of your heart.  Psalm 37:4 NKJV

If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!  Matthew 7:11 NKJV
On their own, these verses seem to promise that those desires of our selves continue after salvation and that God will grant us those requests. Passages of Scripture, though, do not exist in a vacuum and must be understood in the light of other Scripture.  In this case, there are several that shed light on the meaning of these passages.
I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them.  Ezekiel 36:26-27 NKJV

And those who are Christ's have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.  Galatians 5:24 NKJV
These passages do much to put into its proper context the verses that give us the promise our heart's desires.  The fact is that the aforementioned promises apply to the Lord's disciples.  To be a disciple, the first step is to deny yourself.  That old self with those old desires are crucified with Christ on the cross and thew man with a new heart has new desires.  Denying ourselves means denying those selfish desires that we once had.  Those desires include living our own way and lavishing in our earthly treasures.  Some may make the point that they want to be blessed financially in order to be more generous, but if that were the case, those people would give all the surplus given to those who are in need.  That whole argument is a self justification for the desire for riches.  I remind those of Jesus when he gave much more credit to the woman who gave out of her poverty than those who gave out of their abundance.  That old widow and her two mites represents someone who has her trust in the Lord.  The pharisees giving out of their abundance represents the rich man of today who is happy giving his 10% to the Lord and lavishing in the 90% that he keeps.  His trust and heart are in his riches and that 10% he gives shows he gives out of a self-justifying obligation and not pouring his life and goods out for the Lord. 

We, as those desiring to be disciples of Christ, must first crucify our flesh with its passions and desires.  Our passions are those things we strive for before we come to the Lord.  Passions are not always sinful, but they must all be destroyed for the passions of Christ.  We may have a passion for saving animals, but God's passion is for saving souls.  We may have a passion for civil freedom, but God's passion is freedom from eternal condemnation.  We may have a passion to help the poor, but God's concern is for their souls and even though we are still called to meet those needs, we are called to do so as a means to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Whereas we once reveled in our own sin, our passion now has to be against sin.  We must stand for righteousness.   Our passion must be for righteousness not only in our own lives, but in the world around us.  I remind you all of Jesus chasing the money changers from His Father's house.  Unrighteousness must burn our new righteous hearts.  If we continue to follow passions of the old self and not in the new self where our overriding passion is the Gospel, we must check to see if we are truly denying ourselves.  If we continue to celebrate sin around us and we show no passion for righteousness, we must check to see if we have truly denied our selves. 

We must also crucify our former desires.  Those desires that we had before coming to Jesus must be crucified and be reborn so that all our desires are not flowing from our own hearts but from the Spirit of God now living inside us.  We used to desire sin, we now desire righteousness.  We used to desire worldly possessions, but we now must desire eternal treasures in Heaven.  We used to desire the praise of man, but now our greatest desire should be to hear the Lord say "Well done, thou good and faithful servant."  We used to desire the things that pleased our flesh, we now must desire that which satisfies our souls.  We can have the desires of that new heart, but that new heart's desires are not the things of this dying world.  If we continue to desire sin, we have a problem.  If we continue to desire earthly treasures, we have a problem.  If we continue to desire the praise of man, we have a problem.  Denying our selves means denying those things that satisfy what we once were before Christ. 

We will see tomorrow as to why this is such an essential first step.  We will see why getting our selves out of the way allow us to take the next step in becoming a disciple of Jesus.  For today, we will stop at denying ourselves.  In the end, what this means is, first of all, coming to Jesus and asking Him to be Lord and Savior.  It is the act of putting our faith in the Lord while admitting we can not do it on our own.  We take the crown of our lives off of our own head and give it to Jesus.  We take our hearts, full of their wicked desires, and give it to Jesus.  We become partakers in His crucifixion as our old self is crucified with Christ and we are partakers in His resurrection in that Jesus brings us back as the new man with a new heart.  Denying ourselves means denying those selfish desires that once ruled our lives.  Instead of striving for the those things that please our flesh, we seek after those things that please our Lord and in return satisfy our souls.  We once lived a life in the flesh and lavished in the earthly things all destined for destruction and judgment and we now life a life in the Spirit lavishing in the promise of our eternal treasures as we are destined for eternity in paradise with our Lord.  In this context, the we can better understand what it means to deny ourselves and even more what our Lord says next.
For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. Matthew 16:25 NKJV

2 comments:

  1. This goes hand in hand with absolute surrender! This is my prayer: All HIM and HIS will, none of ME and MINE!

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  2. This is very similar to the women's study this week in 1John 2 Verse 3 says that "Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments." We as believers will delight in His law and desire to obey. if we are looking to justify our sin, we better check our heart.

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