“When He had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.” Mar 8:34-38
Jesus describes following after two opposite and diametrically opposed people and agendas. The first is, of course, Jesus. Following after Jesus means not following after (denying) self. The self’s agenda is the agenda that is in opposition to Jesus!
From Webster’s, we learn that to deny means to declare untrue. So to deny self, is to declare the self’s wants to be untrue; i.e., not valid! Deny also means to disavow – to refuse to acknowledge. To deny self, is to disavow and refuse to acknowledge the self’s rights, wants, or interests. Deny means to not grant or to not concede. To deny self, is to not grant the self’s whims and desires. The deny self, is to not concede to the self’s logic or manipulation.
The cross was possibly the most horrific form of execution devised by man. Burning at the stake was even kinder, because it was over quicker. Of course, the self runs from death of any kind, but especially a dishonorable and painful death on the execution stake (the literal meaning of “cross”). But to follow Jesus means to take up the execution stake, not run from it. Following Jesus, then, means even more than to deny the self – it means the self literally dies on the execution stake.
This means my goals, my agenda, my wants, my desires, my rights, and my interests, my honor, my prestige, my wealth and my acquisition of comforts to please my flesh and my sense of pride – all of these things that are about me me me, I daily nail to the execution stake. I have to make decisions on a daily basis, even and hourly basis: who am I going to gratify with my words, with my actions, with the attention of my heart and the expenditure of my time? Even if I have prayed a sinner’s prayer, if the decisions I make every day gratify self, and do not glorify Jesus, then who I am following? Not Jesus!
If I seek to save for myself all the things that define the life of the self – success, family, status, money, reputation – then I may save the things of my outward life, but I will lose my eternal soul over it. But if I seek to nail to the execution stake all the things that define the life of the self, and lay down me me me, and take up Him Him Him, then I may lose the things of my outward life, but I will save my eternal soul.
If, in front of unbelievers, adulterers and wicked men, I am ashamed to acknowledge Jesus and deny self, or am ashamed to repeat His words in the face of the world, because I want to save the self from being ridiculed or shamed, then when He returns He will be ashamed to acknowledge me as His own in front of His Father and in front of the holy angels! I for one would much rather endure the temporary and short- lived shame from the world than to have to hear anything from His lips other than, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”