For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it” (Luke 9:23-24).
This saying by Jesus is liberating and freeing. However, religion has turned these exciting proclamations by Jesus into some type of performance quest to earn salvation. Nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus didn’t come to give us a new set of rules and laws to follow. He came to bring us the truth that sets us free.
What does Jesus mean by “deny yourself”? Much of Judaism in Jesus’ day had been hi-jacked by the Pharisees and similar religious beliefs that salvation/righteousness had to be worked for. This required self-effort and is the precise reason Jesus said if a man desires to come after me, he will have to deny himself. Jesus is simply saying my way and access to me is by grace and faith. You can’t follow Jesus and still trust in dead religious works and traditions that equal spiritual death (Hebrews 6:1).
Some religious people see Jesus’ commands to “deny yourself” as a call to crucify their flesh and live holy to self-qualify to follow the Lord. This isn’t what Jesus is talking about at all. If He was, He might as well join with the Pharisees because that is the lifestyle they were promoting. Jesus called many to follow Him in His earthly ministry. Some were hated tax collectors considered as vile sinners; yet, Jesus still invited them to “follow Him.” None of the people Jesus asked to follow Him were known for their deep religious devotion to God. They were rough and hard living fishermen, tax collectors, and ordinary people in society. None had to prequalify to follow Jesus, the only condition to follow Jesus was by faith. They followed Him because they trusted Him.
Truth is today, like the Pharisees, many people have been programmed to believe in performance-based Christianity. They believe any blessing they get from God is a reward for their goodness or holiness, instead of trusting in God’s goodness toward them. This type of deception leads to pride, which leads to rejecting the grace of God.
“And he gives grace generously. As the Scriptures say, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6).
You can see that Jesus wouldn’t promote self-righteousness by teaching people to “deny themselves.” Rather, He is teaching them that access to Him and the ability to follow Him is possible only through His grace.
The cross we carry as believers isn’t symbolic of the sacrifices we have made for the Lord, but one that signifies our trust in all He accomplished for us in His death, burial, and resurrection. Our cross is His cross, it is why we can “deny ourselves” because the cross of Christ reminds us all of the price Jesus paid for us. His sacrifice was more than sufficient to provide me everything I will ever need in life to follow Him.
“According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue” (2 Peter 1:3).