Instinctively, most of us would react without hesitation to protect our lives & our well-being – and that of those we love & value – when such would be threatened. On a less dramatic scale, it seems a normal & prudent course to think ahead, plan and make provisions for our daily survival. One needs to pay bills, go food shopping, make repairs to the house, clean & do laundry, etc., etc. We do what we can to ensure a safe, healthy and if possible, comfortable existence.
Additionally, no one wants to suffer if it can be avoided. A way that I try to neutralize suffering is to engage in activities that satisfy me. A certain amount of pleasure can really sweeten the deal!
…so when I read a Scripture like “…Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross…” (Mark 8 :34), I want to run for the hills! To apparently make matters worse, the next verse warns against trying to save your own life. I am not sure I like where this is going! What? I’m not allowed to have any sense of safety, well-being? No pleasure? I can’t use my talents or ever seek to fulfill a desire? This, for me, is one of those Scriptures I often gloss over, feeling sick inside, and find another one that speaks of grace, or the goodness of God, etc.
Not necessarily a bad escape route, but eventually, I find I need to take the bull by the horns, and really look into those Scriptures that leave me feeling threatened. I must be missing something.
Now, maybe these two Scriptures do mean everything that I am afraid they mean…but I can’t live with that. The letter kills, for sure, and God doesn’t give a spirit of fear…so I keep looking for another understanding here.
‘Deny’, in this particular verse, does mean deny, but with the emphasis of ‘utterly’ added. This Greek word is built on two other Greek words, one of which means ‘to contradict’, or reject.
Moving on to the second verse I mentioned, I learned that the Greek word for ‘lose’ means either ‘to destroy fully’ or ‘to perish’. And ‘save’ (in this verse) is translated ‘protect’, or preserve.
Jumping down to the end of this chapter, we see that Jesus is speaking, among other things, about His words. His teachings. And He speaks of being ashamed of those words. When you look into ‘ashamed’, you find the concept of ‘disgrace’. Obvious enough, I guess, but then it occurs to me…disgrace. Is the crux of the problem rejecting His grace? (Okay, now a light is flickering in the darkness! THIS is what I’m talkin’ ’bout! Once grace enters the picture, everything changes.)
These Scriptures are written in relation to following Jesus. To ‘follow’ Him means ‘to be in the same way with.’ How can two walk together unless they be agreed? We need to agree with Jesus’ words. So when He tells us we need to utterly deny ourselves and not try to protect our own lives – based on the new covenant of grace – I have to begin to consider that Jesus is speaking of completely abandoning all of our efforts to get right with God. Let His work on the cross alone ‘save’ us.
I suspect that much of what people do, thinking they are pursuing other good goals, are in fact an effort in the flesh to ‘save’ themselves. It may not be an overtly spiritual activity. It could be any activity at all. But the stress & pressure we can put on ourselves to ‘accomplish’ can be destructive. This is where I’m beginning to learn to lose my life. Stop trying to protect it. Ease up. Chill. You aren’t in this alone.