by Rob Tims
The older I get, the more I treasure the little things. Things like my 2 year-old son “kissing me” with his forehead, a bite of quality dark chocolate, or 15 minutes alone. These kinds of things are little luxuries that, while younger and childless, I would have taken for granted. Now that age and responsibility have pushed me farther down the hill of self-denial, self-indulgences are few and far between.
I’ve also noticed that the kinds of simple indulgences that I really value have been recognized by companies that provide them, and they’ve raised the price for them. For example, my wife and her grandmother are flying out west in a couple of months. The base ticket price was quite reasonable, but if the two of them wanted to sit next to each other, have little extra legroom, have an adjustable armrest, and board at a time that insured they wouldn’t have check their carry-on bag, they’d have to pay more.
Indeed, they DID pay more. I insisted. The airlines know what we all know about human nature and simple pleasures: we become accustomed to having these luxuries to the point that they become things we can’t do without. To deny ourselves such things after having had them for so long seems absurd, so we willingly make significant financial sacrifices to get what we believe we can’t live without.
It’s into this context that Luke 9:23-24 popped up in my reading today, and I notice a few important things.
23 Then He said to them all, “If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me. 24 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will save it.
There is nothing self-indulgent about being a Christian. Jesus’ audience almost certainly had seen men walk to their death carrying a cross, and knew exactly what Jesus meant. To be a Christian is to practice the utmost in self-denial, and not just once, but daily.
Indeed, self-denial is a defining characteristic of Jesus’ followers, because through self-denial for Jesus we find a truly fulfilled life. As William Barclay puts it, “‘The Christian must realize that he is given life, not to keep it for himself, but to spend it for others; not to husband its flame, but to burn himself out for Christ and for men.”
The world teaches me that I can’t have an exalting experience unless I indulge, and the gospel says that I can’t have an exalting experience unless I deny. Unless I am willing to lay down my life, I cannot have a fulfilled life. Or as John Wesley put it in one of his sermons on this text, “If we do not continually deny ourselves, we do not learn of Him, but of other masters.”
Rob Tims is husband to Holly and father to Trey, Jono, Abby Jane and Luke. He’s the author of Southern Fried Faith: Confusing Christ and Culture in the Bible Belt, and manages the team behind smallgroup.com at LifeWay Christian Resources in Nashville. He writes regularly at RobTims.com and blogs every Friday at Forward Progress.