Text: Luke 9:23-27, 57-62 | Listen to Message
Christianity is often seen as little more than praying a prayer, changing one’s attitude toward Jesus from negative to positive, or adhering to a prescribed list of moral/spiritual behaviors. But when Jesus himself talked about what it meant to be a Christian – a follower of Christ – he had something radically different to say:
“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.” (Luke 9:23-24)
Notice, Jesus says nothing like, “Oh good, I see you want to follow me. Why don’t you pray this little prayer before you get on about your business.” He says, “If you want to follow me, you must deny – even die to – yourself.”
Question: What is the “self” that must be denied? What is the “life” you must lose in order to follow Jesus?
Certainly Jesus isn’t talking about ending your physical life through some kind of masochistic, self-destructive, terminal act. He’s using the word psyche – which means the invisible “you” that encompasses your deepest desires, motives, and thoughts. Today we would probably use the word identity. Jesus is talking about the willingness to renounce all those things you find your identity in, so that you might discover who you truly are in him.
So let’s think about that for a moment! Everyone instinctively tries to find his/her identity in something (or probably several somethings). The conservative, traditional woman might seek her identity in things like family, homemaking, and a reputation for kindness and industry. The progressive might find his identity in his independent, tolerant, generous spirit. The moralist might build an identity based on his performance, his volunteerism, or his faithful attendance at religious services. Someone else may have an identity of victimhood self-constructed upon events that happened 10 or even 25 or 50 years ago.
On the surface, many of the things we build our identities on are good things. It’s good to be good. It’s good to work hard, love your family, and be a servant. What’s not good is building your sense of self-worth on these things – telling yourself you’re a somebody because you’re good at the things you want to define yourself by.
By the way, if you honestly don’t know what you’re building your identity on, think about this: When do you get really angry, defensive, or afraid? It’s when you perceive that someone is attacking the foundation of your identity. And that’s because criticism in that area feels like an attack on you. And God is using moments like that to help you understand what you’re building your identity on.
Okay, so you have some self-awareness of what you tend to build your identity on? Great, now disown those things! Recognize you cannot be the you that God wants you to be until you put your self-made identity to death, and do what the Apostle Paul did in Philippians 3:7, where he says, “But whatever gain I had [in that area of my self-constructed identity], I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.”
See, following Jesus means going through an identity crisis and choosing to lose yourself for the sake of knowing Christ and seeing yourself as he sees you.
You are more than the sum of your mistakes and weaknesses and sins. You are also more than the sum of your successes. By the free grace of God, you are unconditionally loved. You are forgiven. You are justified. You are adopted as a child of the King. Stop listening to that voice that tells you your real significance is something other than, or additional to, that. Hear the voice of your Shepherd calling you to follow him in faith that this is the new, imperishable you.