Jesus said to them all, ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.’
These words are part of Jesus’ basic teaching about what it means to be a Christian. They tell us that we must make a choice between two things. One of them is a very great thing and the other, while it often seems to be a great thing, isn’t very great at all. The truly great thing is Jesus. The apparently great thing is Me.
And Jesus says this is life’s greatest choice. Will I follow Self? Or will I follow Jesus?
That’s the choice we made on the day we became Christians. But it’s also the choice we have to make each day. Did you notice that little word ‘daily’? Jesus implies that this is a choice that we have to go on making every single day. Each day my Self has desires, longings and thoughts which have to be denied – or at least they do if I want to follow Jesus. They will be things that I want or things that I want to do but they will be incompatible with following Him. And so every day I will find myself saying “No” to my Self in order to say “Yes” to Christ.
Obviously, this isn’t always an easy choice to make, which is why the Christian life is often described in ways which evoke effort or hard work: being a Christian is a fight, it’s like running a race, it’s like a being a slave or a soldier or a farmer. Let me mention one thing that makes this choice harder and one thing that makes me want to choose Jesus anyway.
The thing which makes the choice between Self and Jesus harder is the world we live in. The world we live in thinks that the most important thing a person can do is to follow Self. The way to find happiness and fulfilment and meaning in life is to find your Self, to be your Self, to express your Self, to assert your Self, to pamper your Self, to love your Self, to be true to your Self and maybe – while you’re doing all those things – to take a selfie of your Self (obviously). Self is very important to the world we live in and the idea that you might make a basic choice in life to deny your Self seems like madness.
Nevertheless, there is One Thing that will make us want to do it. One Thing that makes the fight for Self-control and Self-denial worthwhile. One Thing – namely, Jesus Christ Himself. By making Himself the centre of the Christian life, Jesus gave us the greatest possible incentive. When I see that the choice is between my Self and Jesus – and when I’m seeing things clearly – there is simply no competition. We are called to forsake Self for the One who is ‘gentle and humble in heart’ and who gives ‘rest to our souls’, the One who is life for our death, and light in our darkness, the One who offers Himself as living water and soul-satisfying bread to thirsty and hungry hearts, the One whom the Father delights in and all heaven adores, the One who became low to lift me high and the One whose Name is above every name. “Wait, what? You mean I can have my Self, or Jesus? – then it’s Jesus every time!”
The problem is that we don’t always see it that clearly. Self often appears greater and more precious than Christ. So a large part of being a Christian is the daily fight to see Jesus as He really is, so that I want to choose Him over and against my Self. Over the centuries, many Christians have found Lent to be a precious time of focussing on their relationship with Jesus with renewed intentionality. I do pray that this Lent will be that kind of time for you… If you need some help I think our Lent Book will be a good place to start – a series of daily readings focussing on Christ entitled ‘To Seek and Save’. The readings aren’t dated, so don’t worry if you missed the beginning of Lent with it.
May God give us a deeper love for Christ.
With love in Christ,