Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Life-Giving Gift of Self-Denial ~ Part 1

In my journey through the gospel of Mark I have had some delays that have provided much greater opportunity to prepare my own heart for the journey. This has brought me to consider, The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God”,[1] in light of, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”[2]

The primary focus is on this: how is it that the good news of the gospel is experienced only through the denial of self?

This isn’t so much a question for theological or doctrinal discussion, but an expression of longing to know how self-denial really works in the grace-through-faith gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.[3] It is also of huge significance that denying ourselves opens the door to experiencing the greatest love, joy, and peace, that anyone could ever know, meaning that we are fully conscious of such loving, joyful, and peaceful experiences of life.

With that in mind, here is the first half of giving closer consideration to what Jesus meant with his plumbline statement that we can only truly come after him when we deny ourselves, take up our cross every day, and follow him wherever he leads.

“If anyone would come after me,”
  • “If” = everyone must see this, that no one automatically comes after Jesus. No one is born coming after Jesus. Everyone Jesus came to, John the Baptist included, had to receive this invitation, that there is an “if” presented to us, and none of us are doing this unless we do it as described. In other words, no one is doing this unless they are doing this
  • “anyone” = without exception. There are not many denominational varieties of ways to follow Jesus. There simply is no variation in this. What Jesus says here about coming after him is the same for anyone and everyone. People could not turn Jesus’ instructions into their own variation with one man getting into the boat when Jesus said to do so, while another waiting until his parents had passed away before he joined Jesus in what he was doing.[4] Paul could not have a variation of following the Messiah that allowed him to pick which Messiah he would follow, which he would reject, and how he would mix that with his own religious activities. Everyone who follows Jesus must follow him in this specific way
  • “would” = do this in practice instead of just in doctrine, or ideal, or philosophy, or theological discussion, or critical commentary, or anything else that allows for talk without activity. We are not hearers and talkers of the word alone, but those who put works to our faith.[5] Jesus’ true disciples are not talk, but power.[6] It is the man who would follow Jesus who is a disciple rather than the one who says he will do so one day given enough time to get his life in order. “Would” is such a solid word of experiential activity rather than nebulous thoughts and ideas and dreams. Words about our devotion to Christ mean nothing; it is what Jesus finds us doing that matters
  • “come” = Jesus has come to the world with the love of God, and with the grand work of redemption by which lost sheep can be found, sinners can be saved, the dead raised, and slaves delivered out of the domain of darkness and transferred into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son.[7] But once he comes into the world with this gift, and declares to us that the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand,[8] all who will experience the life of this kingdom must come to him.[9] There is not one person Jesus comes to in order to affirm us in what we are already doing. Jesus comes close enough for us to know he is near, and then calls us to come to him for liberation from our sin and condemnation
  • “after” = we are not like happy little puppies who follow their master by running ahead and always checking back to see if the master is still there. The very nature of relationship between Jesus our Messiah and us who belong to him is that he comes first and we come after. He is leading the way and we follow. He is providing the redemption and we are receiving it. He is fulfilling all righteousness in himself and we are coming after him in order to experience that same righteousness by grace through faith. We can only understand relationship to Jesus Christ as a people who come after him, always looking to where he already is, and what he is already doing
  • “me” = this is final and unchangeable. This is a singular person. It is Jesus Christ, Jesus of Nazareth, Son of God, Immanuel, God with us, Prince of Peace, image and word and radiance of God. Jesus is not inviting us to options, or into a club in which we get to pick the variations we want included. This is not a story we get to decide how it ends based on which pages we include. Jesus makes everything about our focus on him because he is our Creator, the center of all things, the giver of life, and we can only have and experience life in relationship with him. We do not get life from relationship to Christianity, or to the right denomination; we get life from relationship to Jesus Christ, and so we must know what it means to be in relationship with him, to have a life described as coming after him.
“let him deny himself”
  •  “let” = to take us from the idea of coming after Jesus to the reality of coming after Jesus there is something we must let happen. It is not enough to agree with the idea of it; we must let it be exactly as described. We must humble ourselves before the mighty hand of God so we receive what is from him instead of only believing about it, or deciding our own way of handling it. This is the difference between the sinners who submitted to John’s baptism in preparation for the Messiah and the religious elite who would not submit. Some “let” the humility move them to submission; others did not let their pride fall before the gracious work of the gospel
  • “him” = the individual person. While people often did come to Jesus in group settings, it was something decided by each person. No one can humble another person. Each one must let the work of the gospel do its same powerful work in him or her. We cannot think we are coming after Jesus just because our parents are coming after Jesus, or our pastor is coming after Jesus, or the founder of our denomination was coming after Jesus a long, long time ago. Only when the individual person lets something happen in his or her life does this become a reality for them
  • “deny” = as one who has experienced what it feels like to be denied by a loved one or friend, I can see what it means to deny ourselves in Jesus’ instruction. To deny is to cut off relationship with someone. When Peter denied Jesus three times he simply gave a testimony that he did not have any relationship with Jesus whatsoever. In one way he was lying, for he had a very close relationship with Jesus; in another way, he was speaking of what was true in that part of his life, that he had discovered a deep part of himself that had no relationship with Jesus, and so was willing to deny him in order to preserve his life. However, without digressing further, to deny requires a cutting-off of one relationship in order to have another. It is unavoidable. There is no way around this. We cannot think that Jesus will let us bring this particular entity into our relationship with him. We cannot bring the gods of Egypt, and Canaan, into the Promised Land. If he is the one we are coming after, we must deny a particular former allegiance in order to enter into relationship with Jesus Christ our Lord
  • “himself” = the greatest enemy of our souls. While we are under condemnation for our sin, and the evil one is constantly plotting our demise, the chief enemy of our souls is our own self in its determination to do everything independent of God. For that reason, in order to follow and experience Jesus, we must deny our own selves the right to lead the way. We cannot follow Jesus when our own selves are demanding our complete submission. Only as we deny ourselves the right to lead can we find the greater joy of following Jesus Christ as he leads us in the perfection of his will.

Watch for part two when it comes!

© 2017 Monte Vigh ~ Box 517, Merritt, BC, V1K 1B8 ~
Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the English Standard Version (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.)

[1] Mark 1:1
[2] Luke 9:23
[3] While we will journey through the gospel as revealed by Jesus Christ prior to and including his crucifixion and resurrection, everything is in context of what we know is revealed in the rest of New Testament Scripture. Ephesians 2:8-10 describes what must be woven through all our understanding of what is taught in the four gospels, that the gospel saves us by grace through faith, and then leads us into the good works we can only do as those who are born again by the grace of God without any good works of our own to help our new birth along.
[4] Matthew 8:18-23. In this account, Jesus told his disciples to get into the boat. A follower would have simply done so. However, one of the men asked if he could first stay home until his parents had died and then come and follow him. Jesus’ answer was clear that his instruction to get in the boat superseded this issue of self-interest. It is noteworthy that, once the conversation was over, Matthew writes, “And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him” (vs 23).
[5] James 1:22
[6] I Corinthians 4:20
[7] Colossians 1:13-14
[8] Mark 1:15
[9] Cf Matthew 11:28-30

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