Today, I listened to a broadcast from Focus on the Family. This broadcast included the fascinating, humbling and encouraging story of Dr. Scott Walt. At the end of the broadcast, Dr. Walt said something that hit me like a ton of bricks. He said this about following Christ: “It’s not complicated. It’s just hard.” Amen.
For the rest of the day, this thought ran through my mind. I think he’s right. Actually, I know he’s right. I know he’s right because how easily I teach what the Bible says to my students (because it really isn’t complicated), but how I struggle to live it out before them as the Bible calls (because it’s hard). Jesus said to be his disciple, we must “deny ourselves and follow him.” That doesn’t sound complicated. As a matter of fact, Walt is right. That is rather simple. But, oh, how difficult it is.
What does it mean to deny ourselves? Is everything I naturally desire sinful? What exactly did Jesus mean when he said “deny yourself”? Well, bad question. He probably meant “deny yourself.” Let me rephrase. What did he have in mind? To what exactly was he referring to. Is there one cut-and-dried answer? Or, does this take on slightly different meanings for different people? I don’t know. This is where it is hard.
I’m currently wrestling through with God’s call and what he might have my family and I do next. Of course, this is assuming there is something beyond my current ministry, which there may not be. I may spend the rest of my breathing days doing my job. Maybe not. So, here, what does it mean to “deny yourself”? My strongest desire is to “do something” for Jesus. I don’t want to waste my life (see John Piper’s book Don’t Waste Your Life). But, is what I have in mind of a “fulfilled life” something that needs denying? What if my desires to do something “important” or “big” are exactly what needs denying. What if faithfulness in present duty is my form of denying myself? Of, on the flip-side, what if leaving home, where family, my job and church are, is what is to be denied and we are to leave the country. This is a possibility. So, what gives? I don’t know. How come? Because it’s hard. Really hard.
Jesus calls us to follow him. He calls us to deny ourselves, take up our cross and walk after him. Yet, I see this means something different to different people. To Paul, it meant taking the gospel where it had not been preached (Rom. 15:20). Apparently, for Peter and James, following Jesus meant staying in Jerusalem. Paul encouraged people to “live a quiet life” (1 Thess. 4:11). What to do? I don’t know.
What Dr. Walt said has been mulling over in my mind. No, following Christ is not complicated. It is just hard. We must deny ourselves. We must take up our cross and follow him. We must be ministers of the word in word and deed. We must proclaim the objective truth of the gospel boldly to a society that believes in subjective truth. But, how this all will work out individually may vary. After all, everything we do is for His glory. It’s for him, and that isn’t complicated.
Paul said not every person is the eye, or hand, or foot, or ear, or whatever. We have different roles (1 Cor. 12). Ultimately, we are to do what the head tells us to do, and the head of the body is Christ. May God grant us the Holy Spirit in full measure to “deny ourselves” however hard it may be.