He said to them all, `If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me'. Luke 9:23
Our Lord in his pattern for discipleship lays down two explicit conditions, the first of which we consider today: `If any man would come after me, let him deny himself'. Phillips' translation gives the words more emphasis still: `he must give up all right to himself'. There is no escape from this obligation to those who are committed to follow Jesus Christ.
It is easy to think of self-discipline simply in terms of the more socially unacceptable sins, and to overlook indiscipline in our personal habits and thinking. Yet we are told to `lay aside every weight and the sin which clings so closely' (Heb 12:1). We all too readily accept and condone our own shortcomings as an inevitable part of human nature. The mite in someone else's eye is much more obvious than the beam in my own, and I tolerate and excuse in myself what I condemn in others. Self-denial we often see in the traditional terms of alcohol, tobacco and questionable amusements, but it goes far deeper. Is it not true that many of our ambitions, desires, choices, leisure activities and decisions are centred in ourselves and our own selfish interests? The result is a boastful self-confidence like that of Peter the day before our Lord's crucifixion, to be followed by just as catastrophic a fall -- a denial not of ourselves but of our Lord.
Jesus gave us the pattern of self-denial. `He humbled himself and became obedient unto death' (Phil 2:8). And the reward of denying ourselves? `Whoever loses his life for my sake, he will save it' (Lk 9:24).
Measure thy life by loss and not by gain
Not by the wine drunk but by the wine poured forth.
For love's strength standeth in love's sacrifice
And he who suffers most has most to give.
Further reading: Lk 14:25-33.