Self-denial is a hard topic to discuss. It makes Christianity less appealing. It is what makes many people turn away on first seeking out Christian circles. It is something that people give lip service to but not seriously and finally it is said in a blasé vague way, “it’s my cross to bear,” etc. when it is something simple like walking to the shop.
It is, Wesley tells us an essential requirement in Christianity and to deny it or make it smaller than it is. So what is it? It is the denial of our will and surrendering completely to the Lord’s will. Wesley’s illustration is:
God’s will is a path leading directly to him, when we are following his will our path runs parallel and we are compliant to his will. However if we follow our will our path is going in the opposite direction. We have to decide which way we are going to walk towards him or away from him. Because we can’t walk in both directions at the same time.
We must stop thinking of “self” and take up our cross. Now our cross will never ever be as significant as Jesus Christ’s Cross. It cannot even be put in the same boat, completely different. But we are to be living sacrifices. This means that walking the Christian life does involve sacrifice but how we sacrifice is up to God. Taking up our cross means more than just giving up something pleasurable like some of us do at Lent, like giving up chocolate.
There is a cost to following Christ. Now if we were merely to carry our cross, that would be putting up with a situation imposed upon us when we have no choice, perhaps Paul’s thorn would come under that category. But the way Paul lived his life that is taking up your cross. Taking up a cross is a voluntary decision to accept God’s will, even though it is against our wishes.
Would me preaching come under this? Let’s tease it out. God has placed a call on my life to preach. I resisted it for a while but eventually I volunteered to begin preaching because I knew it was God’s will. But it is not a sacrifice on a par with selling all my possessions and giving them away. It is not the same because there is a privilege attached as well as a responsibility.
I think that sometimes we are called to take up our cross in an area of our life where we need healing or testing. For example a thief that become a follower of Christ obviously must give up their job but the test would be if it could be sustained for a lifetime. So the ex-thief might be given scenarios where they have little or no money. Now the ex-thief with little or no money has things put in his way, perhaps a handbag left on a chair or money fallen from a pocket.
We cannot do this cross bearing alone, we need the fellowship of others and we need strength from the Lord. We must be willing to live totally surrendered lives, in total submission to be used in whatever way he wills. But it isn’t easy, and it isn’t appealing to those on the outside looking in.