This statement is found in three of the gospels. It is one of those iconic statements of Jesus, one of those very weighty ones, one of those where if you sit on it and do it, it will actually change your life. And it is such because he is quite simply defining what it means to be a Christian (hence his intro “if anyone would come after me”.)
In these words I see that to be a Christian means to deny ourselves. I see that following Jesus is contradictory to following ourselves and following our desires. To be Christian means that me, my desires, my will, my feelings, take a backseat to the voice and the will of God. That is what is means to be Christian.
In short, to be Christian means that I am learning to love God more than I love myself.
Now that is a radical statement. That is profoundly unfamiliar message to the world we live in. It is challenging for Americans, when coming to Christ, to hear that to be a Christian means that we are called to love God more than we love ourselves. It is unbelievably challenging and I don’t think many American Christians see this weighty calling for us.
In a culture where the world revolves around “me”, and “my dreams”, and “my rights” are the highest value of our American culture, the command of Jesus is difficult and hard to understand.
But truthfully it is difficult and hard to grasp for me.
Jesus would later say that “whoever would save his life will lose it, whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.”
The only true Christian life is one where our highest priority is not self-preservation, but self-sacrificing. Where the desires of the God-man Jesus take first place in our lives in all areas and in all things. That his voice and his will would be the first and the last thing we think about every day. And that we would fulfill the prayer of Psalm 40:
“Here I am, I have come—
it is written about me in the scroll
I desire to do your will, my God;
your law is within my heart.”
That, it what it means to be a Christian.