The cross is not only the way to salvation. It is also a way of life.
And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”Jesus, Luke 9:23-24
Following Jesus begins with denying yourself.
This strikes us as immediately counter-cultural because we live in a world that seems to always be inviting us to indulge ourselves. From Nike’s “Just Do It” to Burger King’s “Have It Your Way,” we hear messages of self-indulgence all the time. And these messages are successful because by nature, we are selfish creatures. We want what we want when we want it and how we want it. We don’t need much encouragement when it comes to self-indulgence.
But Jesus teaches that self-indulgence is dangerous. In fact, Jesus knows that selfishness is the greatest deterrent to the will of God. You can draw a straight line from that selfishness to sin. And that would be the straightest line in the world.
Just think about it. How many of the sins in your life are the direct result of selfishness? Can you think back to a time when something in your life was ruined by your selfishness? Maybe it was a relationship; maybe it was your reputation. Or how many times have you been burned by the selfishness of someone else?
One of my oldest and best friends is a guy I’ve known since elementary school. He’s going through a divorce right now. He and his wife have been married for a long time and they have several children. She came home one day a few months ago and said, “You know, I am tired of being a wife and a mother. It’s time for me to start living for myself.” Their divorce isn’t even finalized yet and she already has a boyfriend and she has all these plans for a life with him. She says, “I just want to be happy. And he makes me happy.” And she honestly can’t figure out why her children won’t talk to her anymore.
Selfishness will undermine the will of God every time. From the Garden of Eden right up to the present moment, selfishness is opposed to the will of God. I’m guessing that’s why Satan is able to use it so effectively in our lives. He knows that if he can get us to think and act selfishly, he wins.
But the way of Jesus is so beautiful because He advocates a different way of life, a selfless way of life. He says if you want to find life — real, eternal, everlasting life; the kind of life that only Jesus can provide — then it begins with denying yourself. Not with indulging yourself but denying yourself. So we’re dealing with two different worldviews: the worldview of self-indulgence pushed by Satan and the worldview of self-denial promoted and practiced by Jesus.
And that’s where the cross comes in. There’s nothing selfish about the cross. Can you imagine Jesus saying something like, “You know, I’m tired of being a Savior. It’s time for me to start living for myself.” No! Instead, Jesus says: Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me.
In that same teaching, Jesus goes on to say, What good is it if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul in the process? What have you really gained? Maybe some fleeting pleasure along the way, sure; but at what cost? That’s what the devil won’t tell you. He’ll cover up the price tag, try to hide it from you. But self-indulgence always comes at a cost.
Your soul is the only eternal thing you possess. It is the only thing of eternal value that you currently possess. Why would you trade it for something earthly and temporary and sinful? That’s a really bad trade, worse than Esau giving up his birthright for a bowl of soup. But that’s what happens when we subscribe to the worldview of self-indulgence.
This is why Jesus emphasizes the importance of self-denial. He says the way to save your life is to lose it. Again, that’s what the cross is all about: dying to self so that Jesus can live in you.