“If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.” Mark 8:34-35
Dying to self. Gosh, that’s a tough one…especially in a culture of highlight reels, selfies, and social media where we all want to be seen, admired, and esteemed. In a culture where you are only as important as you appear, where we are awash in ego and self-obsession, and we reward self-interest, Jesus’ words in Mark 8 of denying ourselves not only feel incomprehensible but almost certainly guarantee social media suicide.
We have met this “self” Jesus was talking before: the false self. This is the posturing self; it’s the self we create so everyone will think we are clever, valuable, smart, and worthy. The self-important self is almost entirely a social construct (with social media as the favorite chosen vehicle).
The false self is achieved by an elaborate means of effort to maintain an illusion preoccupied with appearances and posturing itself on the idol of greatness. So, in a culture where our entire worth can be quantified by significance, success, and admiration, to deny oneself would be judged as insignificant, unimpressive, and incompetent. Yikes.
To be clear, self-denial is not, as we have often been led to believe, about self-deprecation and self-rejection. (This has caused so much harm to so many Christ-followers.) Perhaps Jesus’ command to deny ourselves means “to deny our default ways of valuing and measuring the self.” (“Dying to the Indispensable Self,” Jeff Bilbro, https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2023/new-life-rising-easter-lent-devotional/dying-indispensable-self.html)
“The Greek verb translated here as “to deny” is aparneomai. Although this word can simply mean to deny the truth of a statement, it almost always has overtones of association or connection to a person. Denial in the New Testament is the intentional disassociation from relationship with a particular person. Another translation, then, might be to “disown” or “renounce.” For example, this is the verb used when Peter “denies” Jesus. He denies that he knows Jesus or has any association with him.
Self-denial, then, is the intentional disowning of the self or stepping away from relationship with the self as primary. Jesus is not making a statement about whether the self is bad, but about who we are most closely associated with. Who is our primary allegiance to—him, or ourselves?” (https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/deny-yourself-cross/)
Allegiance to self forces us into “saving ourselves” in the shallow waters of culture, outside of the flow of God’s love. “Losing our lives,” the profound denial of self-importance, invites us to receive life as the intrinsic, immeasurable gift it is without worrying ourselves to death about our potential impact or significance.
Coming to the end of ourselves and our visions of greatness is not an end to our lives (although it may feel that way) but is ultimately generative and life-saving. We live because we have died. When we die to every other version of ourselves, we are able to receive our true, given selves fashioned by God Himself and aligned with the way of the cross.
Questions for Reflection:
If you post on social media, what motivates you?
How do you feel when people don’t “like” your post, or when others don’t recognize your talents, gifts, or contributions?
What does “taking up your cross” mean to you?
As I woke, God reminded me of a troublesome incident when I disobeyed a direct order (conveyed by a runner, and not from the underling I thought had given the order. I said no. Turns out it was from a superior who almost fired me