Matthew 16:24-25 (NIV) Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.”
Life in God’s kingdom is dramatically different from life in any other kingdom. In worldly kingdoms, self-interest is fine, as long as a person pursues those interests in line with the laws of the land. But in God’s kingdom, there can be no self-interest, no agendas pursued aimed at making one a success according to the world’s standards, or to seek to climb the ladder of success in God’s hierarchy.
Peter tried to persuade Jesus to not follow through with the Father’s plan for Him out of what he believed were altruistic motives: Jesus was just too important, was doing too many good things, to willingly walk into a trap that would end in His death. (Peter’s ears shut off when death was mentioned, and he really didn’t hear about the promised resurrection.) Jesus, on the other hand, had completely surrendered Himself to God’s agenda, and had surrendered to the Father any autonomy that He might have otherwise exercised.
Jesus’ point to His inner circle was that to follow Him meant signing on to the same self-sacrificing agenda that He was following. It meant complete surrender of oneself to God, and commitment to complete obedience to Him and to all of His commands, no matter where those commands led. If they allowed their sense of self-preservation to cause them to pull back from surrendering and obeying, they would also be pulling back from following Jesus. No one could follow Jesus part of the way, just until it got dangerous or scary. It was all or nothing.
It is the same way today. The kingdom of God is not a vacation home to which God’s people can go on weekends or when they have some spare time. It is life lived continually in God’s presence – the exact kind of life that Jesus demonstrated. Often people desire the benefits of living in God’s kingdom, the blessings, the provision, and ultimately heaven, but they don’t want the obligations of the kingdom to interfere with their lives, their lifestyles, their hobbies and recreations, and their plans.
But the way into the kingdom is the way of denial of self, a real death of all that a person holds dear. It means laying down the old life, and receiving a new, transformed life in its place. That new life is one of blessing, absolutely. But it is also one of complete surrender to God and His will, something that cannot be successfully accomplished outside of the transformation that comes through that complete surrender.
Father, this is a lot different than the gospel as it is frequently preached today. And that fact might go a long way toward explaining the weakness and lack of vitality in Your Church. We want Your life without surrendering our lives first. We want to live in Your kingdom without dying to ourselves. Jesus’ words make sense, not just from a spiritual standpoint, but practically as well. Thank You for these clear words. Amen.