Then [Jesus] said to the crowd, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. – LUKE 17:23-24 NLT
The Lenten season is about much more than giving up sweets or certain habits. It is a mirror by which we examine ourselves, to see if we’re truly obeying Jesus’ command to die to self, and by extension, to see if we’re truly following Jesus. But why did Jesus go to lengths to demonstrate a connection between self-denial and those who truly follow him?
The answer is simple: Jesus demonstrates the ultimate self-denial.
Paul declares of Jesus in Philippians 2:
Though he was God,
he did not think of equality with God
as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
he took the humble position of a slave
and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
he humbled himself in obedience to God
and died a criminal’s death on a cross.
Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor
and gave him the name above all other names
Jesus gave up his privileged existence to rescue humanity. He set aside real power to take on human nature so that he could reconcile humanity to God. He denied himself, even when it meant he would suffer and die. But in dying as the perfect, humble sacrifice, God soon raised Jesus to life. Therefore, Jesus is so emphatic about the need to die to self to live. Life is only attained when we put God’s will above our own, and when we realize our full dependence upon Him.
Lent is a season where we are given the opportunity to examine just how dependent we are upon God, and how much we’re willing to give up to follow Christ. The world’s standard of life is equated with power and pleasure, but Jesus demonstrates another way. In the Kingdom of God, true life is attained when we abandon power, and forsake pleasure; we follow Jesus to the cross. Only when we put to death those things that are dead things, will we experience life and those things that bring life.
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. – GALATIANS 2:20 ESV