This is the week that New Year’s Resolutions begin to fall by the wayside. Those things are tough to keep. So many of them, here in the United States, tend to focus on things like eating less and losing weight, drinking less alcohol, drinking fewer soft drinks, etc. I think these resolutions are so hard to keep because they focus on depriving ourselves of things we have come to enjoy. If we make a resolution to do more of something we enjoy, people laugh it off as a joke. I remember the year I told people my resolution was to eat more chocolate. It was one of the few resolutions I ever kept, but people always laughed when I told them. For some reason, a resolution must include the idea of depriving ourselves of something we think is good, or it’s not seen as a good resolution.
We understand the need for discipline in those areas, but we just aren’t good at following through. It’s hard to discipline ourselves when we really like doing something. What happens with a lot of people is that they end up talking about how bad something is, and then indulging in that practice in secret until they become fully addicted. When they’re finally discovered, their hypocrisy is blown up as front page headlines – at least amongst the group in which they live and work. The problem in all of these instances of denial is that we keep denying things, hoping that it will make us better. When Jesus dealt with this issue, He hit the heart of the matter. “Then he said to them all: ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.’” (Luke 9:23)
So much of our denial of things is based on becoming a better person. Our thoughts run along the lines of “If I stop drinking alcohol, I’ll be better.” “If I stop eating so much, I’ll be a better person.” Jesus cuts through that stage of denial and points out that we need to deny ourselves. In denying ourselves, we are to take up our cross daily and follow Him. Nothing we do can make us fit to be in God’s kingdom. We can’t be good enough, we can’t deprive ourselves of enough fun things to make God love us. The only denial that works in God’s kingdom is recognizing that and throwing ourselves on the mercy of God. And oh, how sweet is His mercy. It is when we deny ourselves and turn to God that we experience His love and grace. That doesn’t mean that life will be easy, though. In fact, things get harder.
Not only are we to deny ourselves, we are to take up our cross daily. I’ve heard people talk about various things as being their “cross to bear.” It may be a wayward child or a spouse who messes up a lot. If those are your “crosses” you haven’t denied yourself because you’re still thinking about yourself. The cross is a death sentence. For the Christian, it means that we have recognized that we are not only denying ourselves, we are submitting to God to the point of death. I am a condemned man who lives only to do the bidding of my Lord. I deserve to die for my sins. It is only when I recognize this and begin each day by taking up my cross that I am able to fully accept the grace and forgiveness of God. While there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, it is only because we have accepted our rightful death sentence and denied ourselves that we can say that.
Lord, there is nothing in me that would cause You to love me. You love me because of Your greatness. Help me to remember that. Help me to deny myself and the idea that I have any ability to gain favor with You. Help me as I live under this sentence of death to place my faith and trust fully in You.