Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Tough Stuff Tuesday: Deny Self

For those of you who have known me for a while, you know that my favorite drink in the entire world is Diet Coke. To me, there is nothing better than a large fountain Diet Coke from McDonald's in their styrofoam cups. I'm salivating just thinking about it. But here's the deal: it has been 42 days since my last Diet Coke. That is a HUGE deal. And let me tell you, it hasn't been easy. Those first few days were especially tough, and now it's only every now and then that I really miss them.

It's a lighthearted example, but an example of denying yourself nonetheless. I love Diet Coke, a lot, and I still wish that I could drink it, but I just don't. I don't need all of the aspartame or caffeine, and I definitely don't need to be addicted to anything other than my Savior.

In Matthew 16:24, Jesus said:
"If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me."
I looked up the greek definitions for those words, and the word for deny (aparneomai) means "to deny utterly, to disown, abstain." When it comes to being a follower of Christ, we are going to have to deny ourselves, ie: abstain from the lusts and desires that we possess, and only crave the things that Jesus desires.

Paul told the Romans that when they were baptized, their old man died and was buried, and they were raised a completely new person (Rom. 6:3-4). They weren't to continue in sin after they had been washed, because that wasn't what grace was about (v.1-2). As Cliff Goodwin said recently, "Jesus never came to save people in their sins; He came to save them from their sins."

When we were baptized, we were crucified with Christ. When we were raised, we gave up living to ourselves. Instead, our old person died, and now we are living as Christ (Gal. 2:20). I'm afraid that Christians have become pretty prideful, thinking we know more about how Jesus would live than the Holy Spirit. After all, the Holy Spirit has revealed the will of God to us, and has shown us exactly how we can live as Christ. Sadly, we ignore what the Spirit has said and decide for ourselves how to live.

But that isn't what the word deny means. When we become followers of Jesus, we give up self. Period. Just because I think it would be nice if all people were in heaven--regardless of how much sin they have allowed in their life-- doesn't mean that's the way Jesus meant it. Jesus said that the way would be narrow--which seems to suggest that there are going to be some guidelines as to who will be in heaven and who will not (Matt. 7:13-14, Luke 13:24).

I may think that all people who simply ask Jesus into their hearts should be saved, but Jesus said that it would be those who believed and were baptized that would be saved (Mark 16:16).

I may think that drinking and partying and getting drunk takes the edge off, and participating in such a trivial matter won't jeopardize my soul, but the Bible shows us otherwise (1 Cor. 6:10).

I may think that God doesn't care who I marry, even if that person is of the same sex, because God loves all people and wants all people to be happy, but God's inspired Word has told us otherwise (1 Cor. 6:9-10, 1 Tim. 1:10).

Regardless of what I think, I am not God. I do not get to decide what is good and true. I do not get to judge who does or does not get to go to heaven. What I do know is that God wants all men to be saved and to live with Him in heaven (1 Tim. 2:4). However, for any of us to be candidates for salvation, we must submit to the terms God has put in place. We aren't the ones offering salvation, so we don't get to decide the terms. Instead, we get to deny ourselves and put on Christ. Once we have put on Christ (through baptism--Gal 3:27), we go back to what Galatians 2:20 says,
"I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me."
If I weren't a Christian, I probably wouldn't guard my tongue as closely as I do. I would probably gossip more, and lie to get myself out of trouble. If I weren't a Christian, I probably wouldn't wake up early on Sundays. If I weren't a Christian, I would probably wear immodest clothing--because it's hot in Tennessee in the summertime! If I weren't a Christian, I would probably go off on people who make me angry, because they deserve to be treated the way they treat me.

However, because I am a Christian, I must respond how Jesus would respond. I must say things that Jesus would say. And, I must do the things that Jesus has said. I have to abstain from my fleshly, worldly desires because I am His. And, if your struggle is anger--you have to control it because you are now living as Christ. If your struggle is using profanity--you have to control it because you are speaking as Christ. If your struggle is with pornography--you have to abstain because you are now Christ's. If your struggle is with homosexuality--you have to abstain because God has said that is unacceptable.

We all struggle. We are all sinners. But if we are going to be true followers of Christ, we must all deny ourselves--of whatever ungodly desire it is that Satan has set before us. My struggle may be different than yours, but that doesn't give me the right to judge you. Your struggle may be different than mine, but that doesn't give you the right to give in to yours and claim that God wants you to do whatever you want. Jesus Christ told us, from His very lips, that we are to deny ourselves. For some, it may be easier. For some, the struggle may be much harder. But we know that God does not put on us more than we can bear (1 Cor. 10:13).

Denying yourself is hard, though. So we need patience and understanding and love from our brothers and sisters whose struggles are different than our own. But, we must not be so prideful to think that because our struggle is different or becoming more widely accepted that God will allow us to continue in sin. All Christians are required to deny self. All Christians are required to live as Christ.

It is my prayer that I will be more empathetic and loving toward those with different, sometimes harder struggles than my own, and that I will not be so prideful to think that I know better than God what constitutes as sin and what does not. Perhaps we can all pray this prayer together.

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