Self-denial, perseverance, and the return of Jesus

April 30, 2020

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In Luke 9:23-26, Jesus says that his disciples must embrace the difficulty and suffering that comes their way as the result of their obedience. A clear vision of the judgment seat and the age to come is the necessary component that Biblical authors give us as the means of perseverance in discipleship.


Hey friends, Josh here. So one of the most formative verses to my life as a disciple of Jesus comes from Luke chapter 9, verses 24 through 26. Jesus says:

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.

As a rabbi to the 12 Jewish men that followed him, Jesus sets his standard for discipleship here, what it means to be his follower. In Jewish tradition, this idea of self-denial was linked directly to Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement from Leviticus 16. This was holiest day of the year on the Jewish calendar where the people would fast, pray, and repent, and when atonement would be made for their sin. This required a heart posture that embraced denying the very things that sustain their life, and ultimately remembering that without God’s gracious forgiveness, their sin would bring God’s judgment upon them. So this concept of self denial would have resonated in the ears of the Twelve. The next phrase that Jesus uses, “take up his cross” - this one would have been clear to the Twelve as well because in the Roman world at the time of Jesus, the only time when someone carried their cross was when they had been sentenced to death and were walking with it to their execution. Jesus is saying “if you want to be mine and if you want to be my disciple, every day for you is a march to your death”.

So we can see how the apostles understood Jesus’ words when we read their letters. Peter, for example, in 1 Peter 4:12 says to believing Jews who had been scattered among the Roman empire:

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.

Or Paul in writing to Gentiles in Rome, this is Romans 8:13:

For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.

Similarly Galatians 5:16:

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.

Then in verse 22 he says those who practice the deeds of the flesh won’t inherit the kingdom of God.

And then verse 24 he says “And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”

Seems like a clear reference to Jesus’ words in Luke 9. Also you can throw in Paul in Philippians 3:10:

that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

So this path that Jesus walked - the path of suffering before glory, the path of self-denial until the day of the Lord when he comes to raise the dead, this is what it means to be a disciple. And though our modern version of Christianity in the West has very little or no place for persecution, martyrdom, mocking, or self-denial, we really need to come to the realization that the words of Jesus and the apostles aren’t radical, they’re not just for the missionaries or pastors, they’re for every single person who wants to follow Jesus.

I think one of the ways we could sum up what Jesus and the apostles were saying is that a disciple should embrace the difficulty and suffering that comes their way as the result of their obedience. We have daily choices to either assert ourselves or humble ourselves before others, preserve our reputation or honor another, and make ourselves more comfortable or give self-sacrificially. AW Tozer says this: “The cross will cut into our lives where it hurts worst, sparing neither us nor our carefully cultivated reputations”. I think our right response to these daily choices really matters. Not just because it pleases God, which it does, not just because it makes much of Jesus and what he did, which is hugely important in order for a disciple to be an authentic witness, but because of eschatology. The coming Day of judgment on the wicked and reward for the righteous that the Twelve and Paul believed, Jewish eschatology - this was the engine, the driver for discipleship. That those who don’t walk this path won’t inherit the kingdom, they won’t participate in the resurrection as Paul said in the verses we read, or as Jesus said, they lose or forfeit themselves and will be ashamed when he comes in his glory on the great Day of the Lord. Without a clear eschatology - and I would go as far as saying a Jewish apocalyptic eschatology - discipleship loses its anchor, its end goal, the mechanism that drives it forward and that keeps it going when the times get tough. A clear vision of the judgment seat and the age to come is the necessary component that Biblical authors give us as the means of perseverance in discipleship.

So in this age, a disciple should expect suffering, a disciple should expect persecution, should expect trial and difficulty, from anywhere on the scale of misunderstanding to martyrdom. Unless we deny ourselves, unless we forgive, unless we don’t seek vengeance on our enemies or those who wrong us today, unless we deny the lusts of our flesh, the promises of the age to come will not be ours.

Discipleship in this age is really training for the age to come, because humility, self-sacrifice, servanthood, patience, kindness, peace, joy, etc. - these are the things that will characterize the age to come.

So what makes a mature disciple? I think it’s really simple - it’s that someone has a history of self-denial. Maturity in the gospel and as a disciple is not going to come to anyone easily. Western culture teaches us to get props and bandaids for everything, giving tips and tricks to be on the fast track to leadership, maturity, respect, etc. But you’re not going to develop actual maturity until one thing happens - you have to develop a history of denying yourself. One of the huge ways we grow in this is getting a handle on our emotions and our passions and not letting them dictate our behavior or our mouth. We’ve got to develop some history in that… It takes a deep commitment to not be intimidated by your emotions and fleshly desires that we have.

At the end of the day, the disciple of Jesus needs to be able to say: “yeah, I want to give up, I want to turn back, I want to indulge the flesh, but I don’t do it because I fear God. I am convinced that the day of judgment is real, and I take the words of Jesus and the apostles seriously, that those who indulge the flesh won’t inherit the resurrection and the age to come. I may feel the urges to indulge the flesh for the same intensity for the rest of my life, but I don’t do it because I fear God.” Friends, that’s what makes somebody a mature disciple. Someone who understands from the scriptures where this is all going and responds appropriately. And this takes time. This takes help from the Holy Spirit. This takes the fear of God. And there’s no better time to start than now. The day of the Lord is coming soon, and we’ll all stand before the judgment seat of Jesus, the man that God as ordained to be the judge of the living and the dead.

Amen. If this was encouraging to you, then drop a like, and subscribe for more. Check out some other videos on discipleship if you’re interested, right along these same lines. The link is in the description. Well, God bless, and maranatha.

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