And calling the crowd to Him with His disciples, He (Jesus) said to them, "If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me." Mark 8:34
"Deny" is a four-letter word, and in the minds of some, it is a word that should never be used.
For example, advertisers would never use the word deny. Instead they tell us, "You deserve a break today." They tell us we should grab all the gusto we can.
Similarly, most politicians would never suggest their constituency ought to deny themselves anything. The constituency of others ... well, a little denial amongst those folks ... that would be all right, as long as it didn't spill over into their sphere of influence.
Indeed, most people I know don't want anything to do with denial. Years ago I heard of a young man who was proposing to his lady fair. It was a perfect night. There was a full moon, a sparkling lake. Looking into her eyes, he whispered, "Darling, I want you to know I love you more than anything else in this world. I want you to be my wife. True, I don't have a Mercedes-Benz or a grand sailboat like Ralph Collins. I don't have a country cabin, nor can I afford a great diamond like him, but I want you to be with me forever."
The girl thought and, without hesitation, in a romantic voice, replied, "I love you, also, and with all my heart, too, but tell me more about this Ralph fellow."
Even some churches have come to despise the word deny. Their thinking is God is good and He owns everything. Therefore, if you, a believer, have the right words, say the right prayer, and want something badly enough, you can claim it. After all, they think, how could a good God say, "No" to such a fine follower such as yourself? That kind of thinking seems solid, but it's not. If it were right, Adam and Eve could have turned around and reclaimed the forbidden Garden of Eden. If it were true, the Children of Israel would have claimed the Promised Land without a 40-year wait and a lot of bloody battles. If it were true, the cup of suffering our Savior had to drink for our salvation would have passed from His hand, and the cruel cross would have been crossed out.
But it isn't true. Our Lord denied Himself and died. Our Lord denied Himself and because He did, we are saved. Because He denied Himself we listen when He says, "If anyone would come after Me, He must deny himself and follow Me."
This is a command from Christ that all His redeemed people should gladly follow. We should, but we don't. Selfishness and self-centeredness still have a grip on us, and we want to get everything we think we've got coming to us.
Thankfully, God doesn't give us what we've got coming. What we've got coming is not a good thing.
Instead, the Lord gives us what Jesus has earned through His life of denial. He gives us the forgiveness, the peace, the salvation which Jesus won through His perfect life, His great suffering, His unfair death, and His glorious resurrection.
This is why we who are recipients of Jesus' life of denial can, when called upon to do so, deny ourselves to glorify Him and serve our neighbors.
THE PRAYER: Dear Heavenly Father, for giving me what Jesus has earned and not what I deserve, receive my gratitude. Now may I, as opportunity presents and the Holy Spirit suggests, deny myself for others. In the Name of the Savior I pray it. Amen.
In Christ I remain His servant and yours,
Pastor Ken Klaus
Speaker emeritus of The Lutheran Hour®
Lutheran Hour Ministries