There are many misconceptions regarding living the Christian life. The struggle for all of us is the balancing of our fallen nature and our regenerate nature. We are constantly being pulled in two directions. We can blame the world system, Satan, or even our personal short comings (ie patience, intellect, temperament, etc.), but ultimately our own nature is the root of our difficulties.
Even though we have been given a new spirit by the workings of regeneration, the old man is still alive in us. This remaining force tries to convince us of our need for independence. We want to give ourselves credit for being able to strive against all the challenges set before us. This independence stems from pride in our own works.
When my son was small he wanted to be independent. Whenever he was trying to do something on his own and you offered to assist, his typical response was “self do it.” From a worldly perspective his efforts would be described as initiative or drive. A closer look through biblical glasses would reveal a perfect example of all of our problems. We think that if we try hard enough we can accomplish all of our goals. The world teaches that if we set a goal and work towards that end, the means we use will eventually earn a satisfactory result. Well, maybe I’m just a real loser or I just don’t have enough drive, but when it comes to my attempts at personal holiness or Christ likeness the harder I work the shorter I fall.
Be honest. When you consider your own sanctification, your walking in the faith, don’t you have the same “self do it” thing going on. How well do you succeed, and for how long? Eventually God will always frustrate you efforts.
Luke 9:23 & 24 has been butchered by many teachers throughout history. It has been used to place a heavy burden on many a struggling believer. Quoting Christ, Luke says, “Then he said to them all (the disciples). If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but who ever loses his life for me will save it.” The Roman Catholic church made this their bread and butter for controlling the faithful. Monastic vows of poverty, sacrifice, and ritual practices were backed up by these verses. Crusading, civil wars, and the forced proselytizing drove many to their deaths. Even children were convinced to march behind the cross for the cause of the church.
The bastardization of the Protestant Church, particularly in the early American colonial period, led to misuse of these verses as means to provoke followers to live lives of pious poverty and exclusiveness beyond what is required by scripture. Even today there is a vibrant mindset in the church that promotes a dangerous application of Christ’s instruction to the disciples. Your efforts to rid yourself of worldly possessions and benefits and to live a life that obnoxiously displays your religion, are done with an effort to earn God’s favor and possibly to merit your own salvation.
Lord willing, over the next few posts I intend to use the wisdom of Thomas Boston to unpack what is a very simple message to the Church regarding how to be obedient to Christ’s teaching in these verses. In the mean time think for yourselves how you have applied your efforts since you first heard this verse. Consider what you believe Christ to be calling you to do and how the disciples might have understood him sitting at his feet. I hope that you, as did I, will gain a new perspective on what is required of us.