When Jesus calls us to follow Him, He calls us to a life of complete surrender to the will of God. He said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). Jesus anticipates that the life to which He calls us is great beyond our wildest dreams. The life of a passionate follower of Christ is the Life for which we were created from the beginning. It is filled with purpose and power.
Following Jesus requires obedience to Him. Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32). So the key to this glorious life of truth and freedom is entered through obedience (“holding”) to the commands of Christ.
But Jesus also knows that something in our sinful selves will always resist going His way. He knows that when we determine we will follow him it will require denying ourselves. Something in our sin nature rebels against the Law of God and the demands of Jesus. Though over time some of the battles with self-denial will grow easier, other desires may doggedly hold on. So inevitably the commands of Jesus will run headlong into our sinful desires. Obeying God will always require some measure of denying self.
Contrary to our wishes, there never is a time when God stops confronting our sinful self with His righteous commands. We may reach a level of maturity where some commands of Jesus no longer require a great battle. For instance, early in your Christian life you may have struggled with profanity. But over time you find it no burden at all to obey Jesus and simply let your “yes” be “yes” and your “no” be “no” (Matthew 5:37).
But having overcome that habit the Holy Spirit may begin to put His finger on another area of disobedience you had never discovered. It may relate to anger (Matthew 5:21-26) or lust (Matthew 5:27-30) or doing good things to be seen by others (Matthew 6:1). Rest assured that God will be about this pruning work in our lives until the day we die.
I discovered long ago that this call to obey God and deny self is not burdensome. In fact Jesus calls us away from such a life. He said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). He was reaching out to people who were tired from the hard toil of and being loaded down with heavy demands of religion. Instead they should come and yoke themselves to Jesus and learn from Him (in short, become a disciple). By doing this they find rest for their souls from the burden of sin. So Jesus calls people to trade their heavy, tiring burdens for His yoke and burden, which in comparison are easy and light (Matthew 11:29-30).
Rejoice when the demands of Jesus call you to deny yourself in a certain area. Know that in that event Christ is pulling you more tightly into His orbit to where everything in your life revolves around Him.