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A Confession: I’m Lousy at Denying Myself

by Dan Cruver Published Feb 4, 2011

A personal confession: I have found that I cannot deny myself, take up my cross, and follow Jesus (Matthew 16:24) without the gospel. It’s not a “cannot” like “I cannot eat ice cream because I’m on a diet.” No, it is more like “I cannot leap tall buildings in a single bound.” It’s an impossible cannot, not a voluntary, self-imposed cannot. Without the gospel, denying myself, taking up my cross, and following Jesus for his sake and for the good of others are an impossibility for me. The longer I live the more I realize that self-centeredness and pride run deep in me. They are not like travelers who occasionally reserve a room in my heart as if it were a hotel. No, they want to own my heart as if it were their permanent home.

“So,” you ask, “what’s this have to do with orphan care and adoption?” Home owners like self-centeredness and pride don’t care much for orphaned and vulnerable children. Sure, when self-centeredness and pride take up residence in our hearts, we may do the externals of caring for orphans, but we ultimately do so in order that we may make much of ourselves, in order that we may feel good about our religiosity. As I wrote in Reclaiming Adoption, “hardly a day goes by that we are not tempted merely to go on ‘mission’ with the Father externally, doing what we are ‘supposed’ to do, without being on mission with him internally. Like the prodigal sons in Luke 15, we are daily tempted to exchange the love of the Father for the things of the Father” (p. 19). To borrow wording from The Lord of the Rings, “caring for orphans” can be a dangerous business when we don’t deny ourselves daily.

What I have been learning over the last several years is that I desperately need a Savior who not only saves me once and for all time from the wrath of God, but who also rescues me daily from my own inability to deny myself, take up my cross, and follow him. Yes, I’m a follower of Christ, but I too often fail to deny myself. And yes, I am slightly encouraged by the fact that I’m not alone in this struggle. Even Jesus’ original disciples failed to deny themselves, take up their crosses and follow him (Mark 8:34) when it mattered most (Mark 14:50). However, I need much more than that kind of encouragement. I need saving, and I need it daily.

So what kind of daily encouragement do I need? Gospel encouragement. The good (think “amazing!”) news about Jesus’ command to deny ourselves and take up our crosses is that Jesus is not only the Lord of his commands (we must do what he says), he’s also their Servant (he actually fulfills them in our place and on our behalf). Here is what this means: Since Jesus is both fully God and fully man in one Person, he is at the same time God’s Word to man and man’s believing and obedient response to that Word. “As the God-man . . . Jesus become my obedience, my faith, my prayer, my love to the Father . . . He took up my cross, abandoned all, and ‘became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross’ (Philippians 2:8), and he did this for me, in my place. Not only did Jesus do for me what I cannot do for myself, he also did for his twelve disciples what they could not do for themselves, namely, offer the Father radical obedience” (Reclaiming Adoption, p. 47). In other words, Jesus is not just the Lord of his commands, he’s also their Servant.

Jesus’ believing and obedient response in our place and on our behalf actually frees and enables us to respond in him. Our daily work, then, to deny ourselves for God’s sake and for the good of others is to set our minds on who Jesus is and what he has already done for us. The gospel-knowledge that Jesus is both Lord and Servant of his own commands stirs us up to self-denying love and good works.

My gospel confession: I may be terribly lousy at denying myself, but my Savior sure wasn’t . . . and he wasn’t for me. Now that’s the kind of daily encouragement I need.

  • http://Website Megan Harris

    A very insightful, gospel-centered, helpful confession. I’m convicted, but hopeful. Thank you.

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