The Necessity of Self Denial: Part 2

As I hope you have considered your thoughts on this passage since Part 1, you may have also noticed, if you read any preceding and following passages, the significance of where this dialogue falls in the events of Christ’s ministry.  The disciples had just carried out the miraculous feeding of the five thousand.  Christ was literally fleeing from these hoards of false followers.  He had stopped in a secluded place to pray.  Here he instructs the disciples.  Eight days later the transfiguration on the mount would take place.

The disciples were merely men who had the same problems we do.  They were plagued with misconceptions and a history of doctrinal error.  They were living in a time where the Jews actually had a pretty good arrangement with the Roman Imperial state.  Yet they were not satisfied.  This Jesus of Nazareth might be the political messiah they were looking for.  Though he didn’t fit the image they had in mind, he could not be discounted.  Christ used the error of the crowds to cool the jets, so to speak, of these beloved men who followed him.

He asked them who the people thought he was.  Various answers arose, but none were accurate.  He asked them who they, the disciples, thought he was, and Peter got it right.  Peter Called him the Christ or Anointed One of God.  How confused they must have been when they were then told to keep that a secret.  Things were not going to turn out as they expected.  There would be no revolution, no independence for Israel,  no reestablishment of the Nation.  Rather, the disciples and all who would later be delivered as followers of Christ would have to do everything that was contrary to there nature.  They must lose the lives they once loved, and forget about how they once thought about the dichotomy of world.

These men would eventually come to understand fully what Christ was trying to tell them.  That is the rest of the story.  That is the story that we have the benefit of recalling anytime we want by searching the record of scripture.  However, we tend to be more like these men and rely on what our corrupt nature and bad doctrine have ingrained in us.  What was Christ saying to them?

Before we delve into this, let us consider what he was not saying. Odds are, if you are anything like me, how you answer the question of what these verses mean to you, is dependent on the background of your religious instruction. Don’t be shocked or offended if what I am about to say seems contrary to everything you have believed.  Once again, if you are still reading this blog you are in the minority and these concepts are probably in line with your own beliefs but we all need reorienting sometimes.

As I mentioned in Part 1, these verses have been used as means of controlling behavior, self works to merit God’s favor, and a bent toward prideful independence.  The picture of what these verses normally imply is one of diligent striving to live a life of sacrificial self denial and radical religious devotion.  The reality is that Christ is not suggesting that you change your actions as much as your perceptions.  The picture of the man who has given up all possessions, and marches across the country carrying a cross and a sign on his back is extreme.  In fact, self denial of earthly comforts and obnoxious evangelism is not even related to this message.  Even the forsaking of sin is not the idea here.  Many a believer has gone to great efforts to conform to this image. In an effort not to be derogatory,  I will simply say this, Christ is not advocating through these verses doing anything different.

If it is your calling to quit the profession you are in, or leave the life you are currently living, to go and serve in some ministry, don’t use this verse as your theme.  I will save the topic of “callings” for another time, but remember who Christ was talking to.  These men had already done the radical ministry thing.  It would have been a bit redundant to tell them to do what they had already done.

A word of caution is prudent here.  There are plenty of verses in scripture that might be better used for doing something different in your life.  However, these verses should be the starting place for you before you go doing things differently.  Boston will help you to see that thinking differently is a prerequisite to doing.  That is what Christ was advocating to his followers.  In Part 3 we will get to the meat of the message.  What was it Christ wanted them to understand.

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