Then Jesus told His disciples, "If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me." Matthew 16:24
Politicians throughout history and all around the world today will tell you there are certain words they don't like to use. High on that list is the four-letter word: "deny."
They don't like to use that word because it can get a person unelected. No, far better to promise the electorate there will be a chicken in every pot and two American-made, full-sized luxury automobiles in every garage. Indeed, most politicians today have turned non-denying promises into an art form.
It's true, you know. Especially in an election year, politicians promise to provide for the unions, even as they increase the profit of the employer. They commit themselves to preserving the environment, even as they relax controls on pollution. They will strengthen our country's might, while they cut back on spending for the military. They will stop the construction of nuclear power plants, while they reduce dependence on fossil fuels. They will improve roads and schools and double the police forces, but all this, they guarantee, will be accomplished without anyone paying a penny more in taxes.
No, sir; nobody will have to deny himself in this utopia that will be brought about as soon as Politician X is elected. Such is the promise.
In the minds and messages of some preachers that word deny has also become anathema and has been excommunicated from their vocabularies. They reason things out this way: "God is good and He owns everything. Therefore, if you, a believer, say the right prayer and do the right things, you can claim a reward from God." The presentation ends with the thought: "How could a good God say 'no' to such a fine follower as yourself?"
Sound good? I think so, too. The only problem is that teaching does not come from the Bible. No, if it were true, Adam and Eve could have turned around and reclaimed the forbidden Garden of Eden. If it were true, the multitude Jesus fed with a few loaves and fishes could have successfully demanded He do the same for every meal.
Indeed, if it were true, perfect Jesus would have had the cup of suffering pass from His life and the cruel cross would have been crossed out of His future. If this "Name it! Claim it!" doctrine were right, Jesus could have demanded a life in which He lived happily ever after.
But that's not the way it was -- or is. Our Lord denied Himself, He carried our sins, and then He died. Our Lord denied Himself and because He denied Himself, all who believe on Him are saved. Because of His denial, we listen when He says, "If anyone would come after Me, He must deny himself and follow Me."
And how are we to deny ourselves? Well, it begins with loving the Lord with all our heart, soul and mind. It continues with loving our unlovable neighbor as ourselves. When Christians deny themselves, when they live a life of thanksgiving for the Lord's grace, when they support each other, it is a blessed thing and the Savior's story of salvation moves forward and has a powerful impact on the hearts of the lost.
THE PRAYER: Dear Lord Jesus, I shall always be indebted to You for the sacrifice which saves me. May I always realize You didn't demand what You deserved so I might have the forgiveness and a place in heaven I had not earned. This I ask in Your Name.
In Christ I remain His servant and yours,
Pastor Ken Klaus
Speaker emeritus of The Lutheran Hour®
Lutheran Hour Ministries