Matthew 16:24-26, Mark 8:34-37, and Luke 9:23-25 (NRSV)
Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?
Self-denial is not a mask for self-contempt, but the necessary means for achieving self-mastery; for self-mastery makes possible our self-giving and self-fulfillment. Sin is not wanting too much, but settling for too little. It’s settling for self-gratification rather than self-fulfillment. -Scott Hahn
You will soon be asked to let go of some part of your false self, which you foolishly thought was permanent, important, and essential! You know God is doing this in you and with you when you can somehow smile and trust that what you lost was something you did not need anyway. In fact, it got in the way of what was real. – Richard Rohr
Follow me. One of the most compelling sentences in the Bible. Two words, when spoken by Jesus, create a sense of power and mystery and awe. To follow is to enter into the unknown, to give your life over to another. We rarely want to do this. Yet at the same time it is exactly what we desire: to be led into a better place, a better world, a better life. – Daniel Wolpert, Leading a Life with God
Following Jesus does not mean imitating Jesus, copying his way of doing things. If we imitate someone, we are not developing an intimate relationship with that person. Instead, following Jesus means to give our own unique form, our own unique incarnation, to God’s love. To follow Jesus means to live our lives as authentically as he lived his. It means to give away our ego and follow the God of love as Jesus shows us how to do it. – Henri J. M. Nouwen, A Spirituality of Homecoming
The point of following Jesus isn’t simply so that we can be sure of going to a better place than this after we die. Our future beyond death is extremely important, but the nature of the Christian hope is such that it plays back into the present life.
~ N. T. Wright, Simply Christian
Lord, spare me from my wishes, that I may be free for you.
Spare me from my little self, that I may be my divine self.
Spare me from my life, that, dying, I may become yours.
– Excerpt of a prayer entitled Spare Me by Steve Garnaas-Holmes. For more on the ideas of denying our “little self”, ego, and false-self click over to another reflection by Steve Garnaas-Holmes entitled Deny Yourself.
“Denying yourself” in its Jewish context means resting in the righteousness of Jesus and denying yourself of the righteousness that comes from performance of the law.
– Simon Yap, What is the meaning of “denying yourself”?
Yap invites us to consider Leviticus 16:29; Numbers 29:7; Leviticus 23:32; Leviticus 23:27; Leviticus 16:31.
What we are all searching for is Someone to surrender to, something we can prefer to life itself. Well here is the wonderful surprise: God is the only one we can surrender to without losing ourselves! The irony is that we actually find ourselves, but now in a whole new and much larger field of meaning. – Richard Rohr
In the spiritual life, the word ‘discipline’ means ‘the effort to create some space in which God can act’. Discipline means to prevent everything in your life from being filled up. Discipline means that somewhere you’re not occupied, and certainly not preoccupied… to create that space in which something can happen that you hadn’t planned or counted on. -Henri Nouwen
Extended Quote from Steve Garnaas Holmes
To deny yourself is not to punish yourself, or to take on misery. It’s not to live in denial, to turn your back on who you are, but the opposite. We falsely see ourselves as finite, discreet individuals, separate from the world, in danger at any moment of disappearing back into the abyss. It’s not the real truth, but an image of our “self” that the ego uses to manage our consciousness. And we believe it. We spend our lives—mostly unconsciously— protecting that little “self,” and in particular its power, security and esteem. (Hence Jesus’ temptations in the desert.) It’s what St. Paul calls “the flesh.” He doesn’t mean our body; he means something even smaller, contained within our body, limited by our fears and appetites.
But we aren’t such little “selves.” We are part of something infinite. By the life of Holy Spirit in us we are members of the infinite Body of God, who dwells in us and we in God. We are sustained not by our own protection of our little lives but by the life-giving fountain of grace welling up within us to eternal life, flowing with perfect, infinite compassion.
To “deny ourselves” is to deny whatever fears keep us from loving fully. It is let go of our self-centeredness, to say no the illusion, to transcend our ego, to abandon our little skull-caged, death-leashed bit of fear and desire and instead become the infinitely alive and loving children of God we truly are. As those who embody God’s love we give of our lives for love; we are not afraid even of death, because we trust that with love and grace God overabundantly renews life in us. So we follow Jesus out of our selves and into infinite life: without fear we take up our cross, practice compassionate self-giving and join Jesus in loving the world into its newness. You are love; you are Beloved. Deny anything less, and love without limit.
Extended Quote from Nadia Bolz-Weber
Sermon on Losing Your Life and How Jesus Isn’t Your Magical Puppy
This saying of Jesus that we are to deny the self and lose our life to gain it has been abused and perverted. Perverted into messages like “If you want to be a follower of Jesus you must deny your Queerness, pick up your cross of heterosexuality and follow him.” Or “deny your dignity and pick up your cross of continued domestic abuse and follow him.” Or “deny your experience and pick up your cross of trusting religious authorities to tell you what to believe.”
I wanted to convince you that when Jesus says deny yourself, that maybe it’s really denying the self that wants to see itself as separate from God and others. Deny the self that believes that spirituality is a suffering avoidance program. Deny the self that does not feel worthy of God’s love. Deny the self that thinks it is more worthy of God’s love than it’s enemy is. Deny the self that thinks it can do itself. Deny the self that is turned in on the self.
Because I really want you to know that dying to that false self no matter how painful, will bring you real life.
Click here for another incredibly honest and faithful sermon on the “deny yourself, take up your cross” passage by Nadia Bolz-Weber, entitled “A Sermon on Addiction and the Problem with our Me-based Solutions.”
Click here for a reflection on how denying yourself intersects with social justice by Steve Garnaas Holmes.
For quotes on “taking up your cross”, click here
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