Read Luke 9:23-25
23 Then he said to them all, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. 24 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. 25 What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves? (NRSV)
Sometimes Christianity is portrayed as a deadening sort of faith that squeezes all the enjoyment out of life. A Victorian era poet, Swinburne, even wrote “Thou hast conquered O pale Galilean, and the world has grown grey through your breath.” Not exactly the most enticing advertisement for our faith!
When we come to texts like this, we may feel as if Jesus is bidding us live a life of miserable drudgery, giving up all pleasure, becoming emotional neuters, grimly forfeiting any decent sort of life on earth in the expectation of some heavenly reward. Christian life becomes a matter of gritting your teeth as you wait for heaven.
Thankfully this is not true. Self-denial is perhaps a misleading term. The ‘self’ we are to deny is not the essential person God made us to be, with our distinctive passions and unique personalities. Rather the ‘self’ we deny is the overriding selfish ego, the demand that we have our own way all the time; the belief our needs, our desires are at the centre of life.
We deny such destructive egotism in order to live truly as our best God-created selves. We kill the self-centredness in order that we flower and flourish as valued people who love and value God and others. Self-denial is a dying in order to live, much as Jesus suggests. We don’t just restrain our egotism in order to get to heaven. We restrain it in order to live freely and gladly on earth.