Intro – Truly saved. That is the theme of this passage. It asks and answers 3 great questions – Who is Jesus? (18-20); What Did He Do? (21-22); and What Must I Do? There is no salvation if we deny the deity of Christ. That’s the cost to God the Father – He gave His Son. There is no salvation if Jesus did not die for our sins – that’s the cost to Him. Now, what about the cost to me? What Must I Do? Warning! It’s not easy. You say, “I thought we do nothing! We come to Christ by faith. Believe in Him.” And that’s right, but to believe in Him is to disbelieve in self, and that is so tough most people won’t.
I. What Must I Do?
Lu 9:23, “And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Jesus lists 3 things – deny self, take up one’s cross and follow Him. We’ll look at the first today.
A. Deny Self
“Deny himself” is in the Gr aorist tense. That means it’s a once-for-all action. Truly saved people have renounced self in favor of Jesus. They have said, “So long, Self. I choose Jesus” and meant it! We still slip into selfishness. But at some point we gave our heart unreservedly to Him. Many of us think we did, but when we walked that aisle or prayed that prayer, we were actually holding something back. We thought we could just make whatever move we thought would save us and then go on with life as usual. We wanted Jesus, but we wanted something else worse, so we gave Him everything except that little idol hiding in the corner. We have been trying to have Jesus and that. Our self-denial was really self-deception -- but God was not deceived!
Mortimer Adler was a philosopher who believed in God, but refused to come to Christ. He feared the cost. “I was on the edge of becoming a Xn several times, but didn’t do it. . . . If one converts by a clear conscious act of will, one had better be prepared to live a truly Christian life. So you ask yourself, are you prepared to give up all your vices and the weaknesses of the flesh?” He understood self-denial, but refused at that point. Ken Myers interviewed Adler at age 79 in 1980: "I asked him why he had never embraced the Xn faith himself. He explained that . . . there were moral – not intellectual – obstacles." Adler understood the cost of following Jesus, and he did not want to pay the price. Happily, at age 83, he accepted Jesus as and discovered the truth of v. 24, “but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”
But what does it mean to deny self? Let’s consider 5 areas we hold back this morning. They are not comprehensive; your hold back may be in some other area. But let’s ask, Am I truly saved? Or have I held back, consciously or unconsciously in one of these areas or some other area?
1. Prestige (reputation)
Reputation keeps many from Christ. Their status, personal or social, might be affected if it became known they were followers of Jesus. They desire the benefits of a relationship with Jesus. But only if they can keep it quiet. They would be “on the outs” should anyone think they had gotten serious about Christ. But Jesus warned against such “secret agent” believers in Matt 10:33, “but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.” You can’t be saved and secret! You must be all in or it ain’t real!
Sound harsh? Would we think it harsh at all for a girl to say, “If you deny me before your friends, I will deny you the privilege of marrying me.” She’s just saying, “I must be most important of all, or I am not important at all!” She’s just wisely sorting out, Do you love Me? Do you merely want Me?
So – are we holding back because we fear how we’d tell the ladies at the bridge club or the kids at school or the guys at the office or the golf club? Are we worried that we won’t be cool, will lose our “in” status, will be thought a religious fanatic? Then we value prestige over Christ and don’t deserve Him! We’re like the woman sitting in a life raft dressed to the nines, sparkling with jewels. In the background a plane is about to sink. She and her huz have survived a crash. But what she treasures is unveiled when she asks, “Alfie, are we still in first class?” She’s fixated on status more than survival.
You can go to the Circus Maximus in Rome and you will find an amazing carving. It's a carving of the figure with the body of a man in the head of a jackass. The figure includes a man bowing down to this figure on the cross. Underneath are the words, "Alexei Menos” – Alexei Menos worships his god. Who would worship the crucified jackass? That was the world's view. That was a tough sell. Following Christ will lead to some people to mock. So what?
What if Noah had been concerned with reputation? Where would we be? We’d be nowhere. Nobody would be anywhere. God says, “Noah, do you believe in me?” “I believe in you, Lord.” “You confess Me as your Lord?” “Yes, sir.” “You’re truly saved, Noah?” “That’s right. Thanks to your grace, I am truly saved.” “Means you’ll do anything I ask, right?” “That’s right, Lord. I’m yours.” “Good, I want you to build an ark.” Imagine the rest of that conversation. What’s an ark? What’s float? What’s water? How high? Two of every animal? You’re kidding, right? For the next 120 years Noah’s reputation took a huge hit. Laughingstock of the community. It’s tough to follow Christ. It is. Let’s admit it. But fast forward another year when Noah and his family are the only ones left on a renewed earth. Friends, it’s not important who gets the first laugh; it’s important who gets the last laugh. Truly saved people have traded reputation now for reward later. Denying self!
Some people want Jesus, but they don’t want God mucking up their plans! Their worst nightmare is if they accept Christ, He will send them to India or Africa or some other unbearable place. Or make them a pastor. They want no part of that. Their plans are more important to them than Christ – and so, tho they claim to follow Christ, they are not. Their plans are in the way.
When God called Abraham in Gen 12, he was upper class. God said, “Abe, I have great plans for you. But you’ve got to leave home.” Abe says, “To go where?” “I’ll tell you later?” How would you like to hear that? For many, that would be a stopper! But Gen 15:6 tells us, “And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.” Truly saved, by faith! But he had to follow blindly until God got him to Canaan and made him one of the most recognizable people in history. God doesn’t always want us to know exactly where we are going. He wants to know we love Him more than our plans!
When Jesus called Peter, he might have said, “Great, Jesus. I’ve got some plans for expanding my fishing company. I’m sure you can use that in some way.” But Jesus said, “It has to be my plans, Peter. Instead of fisherman, you’re going to be a fisher of men.” “How?” “I’ll show you later. Follow me.” To be truly saved we must deny self, give our plans to Him.
Some of you are saying, “I knew it. I knew it. Follow Jesus? There goes all my fun.” And depending on what your fun is, “Maybe!!!” But I’ll testify, Christ is no killjoy. He brings joy -- the joy of living with right priorities. It is worldly pleasures that keep people from Christ. They come in two flavors.
Sinful pleasures. Many people find fun in drunkenness, carousing, partying, licentiousness, sexual escapades, pornography, addictions, and other selfish, irresponsible behavior. Perhaps some of us are like that. We cannot imagine life without these. We know they are incompatible with Christ, but they are not hurting anyone, and we’re not about to give them up. They make life worth living. They’re non-negotiable. Most people so inclined deny that they are accountable to God or are betting on some last minute conversion.
There are also legit pleasures. Nothing wrong with them -- except we’d never give up for Jesus. They’ve gone from refreshing interludes to insatiable, controlling gods. Sporting events, recreational activities, hobbies, clubs, social involvements, ambition, TV, video games, entertainment, acquisitions – all legit unless we are saying, as many do, those come first. When we put these things above being with God’s people, getting involved in ministry, obeying God’s plan for our lives, then we are not denying self, and we are not truly saved however much we may think or hope so. A truly saved life can have only one ruler, and it can’t be pleasures, whether sinful or not.
I’ll tell you one guy who got it right. Heb 11:23, “By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw that the child was beautiful, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict. (Moses’ beauty was providence. Pharaoh’s daughter would never have rescued some ugly, screeching, Hebrew baby. She took 1 look at cute, little ole’ roly poly Moses and said, “What a cutie. I’m taking this one home.” And she did.), 24 By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused (ἀρνέομαι, same word translated “deny” in Lu 9:23. Moses denied self in refusing) to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, 25 choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting (πρόσκαιρος, face-to-face with time, bound by time, short-lived) pleasures of sin. (Now, here comes the real challenge) 26 He considered the reproach (disgrace, insults, mocking) of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward.”
This is powerful. Moses could have rationalized. He could have thought, “Man, I can serve the Lord a lot better here – in the palace – with all these evil people around – with influence and prestige. I’m much better here.” But he didn’t. How did Moses refuse all that glory? First, he saw sin has pleasure. He didn’t deny reality. He would’ve had every sensual pleasure known to man at the snap of his fingers. Anything keeping us from Christ, he had in spades. Great castle, rich food, lots of wine, girls everywhere, education, recreation, position, TV (woops, not yet) – but anything he wanted. And he didn’t have to lift a finger. Moses saw the pleasure of sin, big time.
But where most people see only now, Moses kept looking. Wise man. He saw beyond! And when he looked further, here’s what he saw. First, he saw the pleasures were fleeting. Lasted only as long as you didn’t get bored, weak, sick or dead! Fleeting. Time-bound. Second – and critical – he compared. Put “mocked for God” on 1 side of the scale. Put the treasures of Egypt wine, women, song and power on the other side. And he saw “mocked for God’s sake” (worst case on that side), weighed more than all the treasure of Egypt! Wow! He didn’t decide that based on human experience, right? Human experience would have said, “Go for what’s in front of you!” He made that decision by faith. Because? Because “he was looking to the reward.” There’s the secret. With eyes of faith he quit looking at “now” and started looking at “then”. He quit being time-bound and became eternity-driven. He paid a high price for 100 years! But think of him now! Any Egyptian pleasure would have been long gone by now? But this morning, Moses has been enjoying the treasure of heaven for more than 3400 years -- and counting. Do you think he made the wise decision? To live for “then”?
How about treasured things that keep people from Jesus? The rich young ruler in Luke 18 claimed he’d kept all God’s law from his youth. But Jesus says in Lu 18:22, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 23 But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich.” Jesus didn’t argue. Just said, “You’re perfect? Great. So give away everything you own.” Jesus loved him, but he, went away sad. Couldn’t do it. Couldn’t keep the first commandment: “You shall have no other gods before me.” Jesus wasn’t being mean. He was just showing the man that he was violating God’s character at the very first point. Even as he walked away he was violating the first commandment. It broke Jesus’ heart. He had another god before the true God. His god was money. He was at strike 3 before he ever got started.
In England when someone dies, probate results are published in the papers. Stuart Briscoe’s dad was reading the paper one morning. He said, “Well, Mrs. Jones died.” His wife replied, “Oh, really. How much did she leave?” Her husband quickly answer, “Everything. She left everything.” And so will we all. Job said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return” (Job 1:21). Paul added, “for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world” (I Tim 6:7). The loop closes when we die. Nothing will matter then except, “Do you know Christ?” The god of “things” will gone! Are you sure you want to worship there? You’re going to leave it all behind. What would that rich young ruler say if he could address us this morning? I’ll tell you: “Sell it all and get Jesus!” You can’t hang onto all your things and with one hand and Jesus with the other. To deny self is to give Him every idol, every possession every treasure. Over to Him what He returns. It’ll be enough.
The #1 thing that keeps us from Christ – refusal to believe we need Him. Pride. Thinking our good works will do. To deny self isn’t just to jettison sin; it is to jettison good as well! You say, “Wait a minute, Dave. Are you telling me I’ve got to deny the good things in my life?” Well, I’m not, but God certainly is. No one in heaven will be bragging about what they did to get there. No one. No one there will be saying, “Whew – that was close. One more bad thing an I’d have been toast.” Or, “Good thing I gave to the Building Fund. That put me over the top.” Won’t happen. God says in Eph 2:9, “not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Good works are great after we’ve chosen Christ; useless before.
Paul’s idol was his goodness. He was better than anyone he knew and better than anyone you know. But he says in Phil 3:4, “I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also (good works). If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church as to righteousness under the law, blameless. 7 But whatever gain I had (whatever I was putting in the plus side on the ledger of life, and it was a lot), I counted as loss for the sake of Christ (I had to move it all from plus to minus, from asset to debit). 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.” Do you get the picture, Beloved. Faith and works simply don’t mix. Works cancels out faith. It has to get on the debit side of the ledger.
Three guys are out fishing when an angel appears. The first guy recovers from shock and says, “Could you help with the back pain I’ve had for years?” The angel touches him and instant relief. The second guy has Coke-bottle glasses and asks for help with his eyesight. The angel tosses the glasses into the lake and instantly his vision clears. The angel now turns toward the 3rd guy who throws his hands up in fear. “Don’t touch me. I’m on disability.” Beloved, that’s just like us when we want to plead our decrepit good works for salvation. It can’t happen. Our disability is not a virtue; it is crippling before God. He demands perfection. But what God demands, God supplies. You can have His righteousness, right now, but you must deny self to get Him.
Conc – To deny self is to take your hands off the wheel. A student is flying a plane. He’s doing his best, but minor navigation errors put him off course. He labors to put it right, but he is totally lost. He is doomed to failure. What can he do? He must give way to the pilot. He must take his hands off the wheel. He must remove himself from all the bad he did. He must deny all of his bad and all of his good and say to the instructor and say, “It’s all yours. I’m in your hands.” And that is what it means to deny self and put yourself into the hands of the greatest Savior the world has ever known. Jesus is saying, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself – deny his good, deny his bad – deny everything at all about himself and trust only in Me.” Let’s pray.