There is a reluctance within us, that all of us, can claim to have. A reluctance to warm towards anything that calls for a dying-to-ourselves.
Jesus calls men and women to deny themselves and ‘take up their cross daily’ (Luke 9/23).
A rich young man came to Him one-time.
Matthew 19/21 Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.”
To help us with this godly ‘tall order’ (for such humans as we), let’s highlight the positives first of all. Jesus looks at us (as He did this man), and loves us.
Secondly he gave this young man clear instructions as to what he had to deny and forsake – within himself.
He had a love for money, more than a love for God. We are told that – not money, – but the love of money is the root of all evil. (I Timothy 6/10)
Escaping from an evil heart, escaping from this love of money, the young man was unable to do, and we know this greatly saddened him, and no doubt saddened the saviour of men, who has the ability to put His finger right on the idols of our hearts.
The man might have asked ‘how to do’ – what he was asked to do, but he didn’t.
As I write these words – I examine myself to ask what it is I still put-before loving God?
Even with a heart full of gratitude for all the experiences I have had over the years, where intimacy with Christ came as a gift from Him, I realise how easy it is to take steps away rather than towards Him.
It’s easy to prefer the temporal things of this world’s distraction, in a nutshell: ‘it comes naturally’.
Regarding the call of God to walk away from the distractions, lift the cross, and take the burden whilst pushing through to the presence of God – I realise is challenged by the self-life that will always prefer the alternative to doing this.
The Cross of Christ is all about letting go the temporal. It’s all about giving-in to The Father. It’s all about exercising faith and consequently denying self, in order to obtain the greater riches of spiritual experience and the love of God.
The third benefit offered to the young man – was treasure in heaven – or better put – heavenly treasure (19/21) – which can start now in our experience of seeking first the kingdom of God. (Matthew 6/33)
But we must recognise that this does not come naturally but spiritually.
Unless faith is involved in the exercise of self-denial it can lead to a substitute for self-denial, and self is all the more accommodated and enthroned in our lives. This is a subtle one. Many do not detect the difference.
But Paul refers to it in Colossians 2/23 These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.
Self-indulgence is a thing of the fallen nature we live in. From that same nature can come a ‘form’ of self-denial, a pseudo self-denial if you like.
Notice what seems right in self-imposed religion is not true self-denial through faith, because the result as Paul explains has no value against the indulgence of the flesh, (the sinful nature) because it can engender pride and superiority through asceticism, which only adds to the glorification of self.
It is by attending to matters of devotion and prayer, that the ability to leave behind the distracting things of the self-life is strengthened. Strengthening the inner man.
Many engage in ascetic practices, but step into the spiritual-‘unknown’ and leave themselves open to uncharted territory.
They have no experience of Christ in their life through faith, so seek spirituality in their own self-life, by all kinds of practices of self-inflicted punishment. Self denial is not an end in itself.
We need a perfect guide book, to keep us right. The Bible – The Word of God is that guide book.
In it we hear the Son of God calling us to forsake all and follow him (Luke 14/32-4). At the same time we can hear the voice of self telling us not to bother.
As we go to Him and enter into a fresh relationship with Him, we are more able to walk away from – and therefore deny – the selfishness resident within each one of us.