Do the words self-denial, self-sacrifice, and self-control strike fear into your heart?
There are not many people who delightfully pursue self-denial, self-sacrifice or self-control. We prefer pleasure, security and comfort. Graciously, sometimes our relationships and circumstances provide pleasure, security and comfort to us.
But if you have been a Christian for any amount of time, you know that the Christian life is not all butterflies and rainbows. This should not surprise us since Jesus Himself tells us that in this world we will have tribulation (John 16:33).
Living in a fallen creation populated by sinful people leads to many difficult relationships and circumstances.
It is in the midst of these difficulties that Jesus calls us to what might be called the “Triangle of Discipleship” in Mark 8:34. This Triangle challenges us to move beyond the pursuit of pleasure and security and comfort if we desire to go after Him and to make a difference for His kingdom.
This Triangle of Discipleship consists of the following three things:
Self-denial: Jesus says, Deny yourself. The idea here is not so much denying things to yourself as it is saying “No” to yourself—to desires, motives, ambitions, lusts, and longings that draw you away from Christ rather than draw you to Him in submission. It means that everyday you open yourself up to God’s initiatives and control rather than to your will and wants.
Self-sacrifice: Jesus says, Take up your cross. The cross is not the aches and pains of life which we bear patiently. It is an instrument of execution. The cross is the way of suffering. Jesus doesn’t ask you to try it on for size or call for volunteers to give it a shot. It is what separates disciples of Jesus from admirers of Jesus. It is rejecting lesser joys in favor of experiencing greater joys; to be willing to suffer now to experience glory later.
Self-control: Jesus says, Follow me. It is obedience to His teaching, following His example. It is committing your life to Christ in an “I can’t turn back” kind of way. The root of the word discipleship is the word discipline—training to be a faithful follower.
This Triangle of Discipleship—self-denial, self-sacrifice, self-control—would be daunting, even overwhelming, were it not for one truth: each of these practices is rooted in grace. Jesus Himself comes to live in us by His Holy Spirit and grants us the grace to perform what He requires.
Then we can confess with Paul: I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. The strength is Jesus’ strength, not ours. But Jesus in us means that His strength resides in us.
Will you draw on Jesus; strength this week so you can follow after Him and make a difference for His kingdom?