Matthew 28″ 16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Dee Xai Per, a believer in his forties has been attending a local fellowship. One Sunday, the pastor gave an altar call, and asked the church to deny oneself, and give up all. The pastor had Luke 9:23 in mind. This passage is one of the seven commandments Jesus gave from the Gospels. And any faithful disciple maker would be ‘teaching them to observe all that Jesus have commanded”
Luke 9:23 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. 24 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. 25 For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? 26 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. 27 But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God.”
Many groups and churches exhort their members to discipleship and use “discipleship” passages as above, in carrying out the Great Commission.
Dee Xai Per wanted to be faithful and obedient, but at the same time he was unsettled, and shared his feelings with another church member. This other church member asked me what does it really mean, to deny ourselves?
It is clear that v27 was specifically about how Peter, John, and James would witness Jesus’ transfiguration with their own eyes. But was Jesus also tenderly exhorting and hinting to Peter ahead of time (at Jesus’ trial) to deny himself rather than to deny Jesus (Luke 22:34).
And what about 2 Tim 2:12 – “if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us;”?
Did Jesus rejected Peter who denied him, or was Jesus inconsistent. We know Jesus reinstated and restored Peter!
And when we go into all the world to make disciples, like the pastor, we are to ask people to deny themselves. Where else in the NT do the apostles demanded that believers deny themselves and give up all?
I found the following passages of denial –
2 Tim 2:12 if we deny him
2 Tim 2:3 He cannot deny himself
Titus 1:16 but they deny him by their works
2 Pet 2:1 denying the Master who bought them,
Jude 1:4 deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.
Oh, the apostles didn’t do a very good job! They failed to ask believers to deny themselves! They proclaimed that we cannot deny the Master! I wonder what it means not to deny my Master? (Why then do the pulpit command and charge believers to deny oneself; rather than point to Jesus [like the greatest man borne of women – Behold the Lamb])
I always remind myself to return to the scriptures when I come across any difficult passages. If they are from the OT, and if they are important, Jesus and the Apostles would have explained, illumined, applied and fleshed out the application of the teaching or truth in the NT. And if the words of Jesus are knotty, a good approach would be to find allusions and examples from the Apostles.
As mentioned above, why can’t we find any incidence of the Apostles teaching the believers to deny themselves? When I grappled with this, I was brought to the example of Paul, of how, implicitly, in a single-minded and resolute manner, denied himself, putting no confidence in the flesh – and its about solely relying on Jesus, relishing Him in all ways, always!
Phil 3: 3 For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh— 4 though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. 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, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 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— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. 16 Only let us hold true to what we have attained.
Paul is saying, it is all about HIM! Do not deny His sufficiency and supremacy! He cannot be replaced, misplaced or diplaced!
Jared Bumbers wrote in http://ftc.co/resource-library/blog-entries/indicatives-and-imperatives, (and the underlined words reflect the conundrum faced by Dee Xai Per.)
Read most of the books on Redemptive Historical/Christocentric preaching, and you will find warnings against moralistic preaching. Moralistic preaching is preaching that focuses on the biblical commands without connecting them to the gospel. It is preaching that is heavy on the imperatives and lacking in gospel content. Moralistic preaching leads to one of two things: a false sense of self-righteousness, or despair.
But I must not forget about the “give up all …” Is there any example of the Apostles teaching the early church to give up all? And sacrificing wealth would be archetypal of giving up all. Well, I can think of two accounts –
1) Acts 2: 44″And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need…”
2) 2 Cor 8 We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, 2 for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. 3 For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, …
8 I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine. 9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich…”
Well, we get the drift. The early church, upon knowing Jesus, willingly and wholeheartedly, gave.
I used to get worked up by churches’ plea to give. And I just had to voice my conviction on this. If any pastor or church advocate and cojole giving a specific definite amount (it happened to me – give the year-end bonus, give ten percent, give the entire GST cash voucher from the government etc), they would be going against the scriptural teaching. Scriptures say I am to decide in my own heart, (Paul probably understood the pattern by Abraham and Jacob who both unilaterally decided the amount, as against distorted teaching of a certain amount of the tithe demanded in the abolished levitical system. Melchizedek and the Lord would accept whatever Abraham and Jacob offered – it happened to be 10%. It could be 2%, or 20% – it is acceptable. But it was willing, and wholehearted. We need to define the 10% freely offered, or the 10% tithe demanded in the levitical system. So I want to determine what the church means. If it is defined as the former willing and wholehearted offering, then the teaching is “12 For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have.”) being willing and wholehearted (2 Cor 9: “7 Each one must give as he has decided in his hear t not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”)
No body should dictate to me. It would be joyful, spontaneous, invigorating and life-giving when my faithfulness is willing and wholehearted. The entire book of Hebrews is an excellent pattern and application in teaching, persuasion, and exhortation. The author could have just used Heb 13:17 – “Hey guys, just listen to me, obey me …..”. No the author presented Jesus, portrayed Him as Great, Good, Gracious, Glorious and worthy of faith, solely on Him.
I believe the same principle and practice applies to discipleship and obedience. Just lift Jesus up. Point to Jesus. And see how believers will respond to HIM! (as in Acts 2, and 2 Cor 8). Upon knowing His awesome love and amazing grace, those who are forgiven much will love much!