Self-denial In Christ, not self-reliance, is life’s path
A recent sermon in our church was titled “Christ is the Only Way,” and the Bible text was John 14:6: “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” The sermon contrasted the American infatuation with self-reliance with the Biblical core concept of self-denial as an essential component of a Christian’s salvation. Self-reliance had as its chief proponent the 19th-century Harvard philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson who wrote a famous essay about “Self Reliance,” and was followed by William Ernest Henley in his classic poem “Invictus” which ends with the well-known lines, “I am the master of my ship, I am the captain of my soul.”
As self-reliant as Americans believe they are, or would like to be, they simply are not. Yes, some do very well for themselves, providing for their family, running a business, or achieving goals. Yet all personal successes are gifts from almighty God, and it is only by His graces and mercies that anything is achieved. We are dependent creatures. Take away oxygen, food, or water for any length of time and see how “self-reliant” you really are! No one, no matter, how good or righteous they might appear to be, can save their own soul. Only, in the new birth, through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus can anyone enjoy an eternal relationship with God Almighty.
People have a real struggle with the concept that they are utterly helpless to save themselves. The Bible teaches clearly that you and I are dead in our sins and are saved by God’s grace, through faith in Jesus. And even that faith is not something that we can muster up, but is also a gift from God. (Ephesians 2:8 – “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.”) The sermon explained that the “new life” or being “born again” is not something that comes in degrees; it’s not something one can achieve by being a better person or doing something good. It is an eternal freshness, it is a new life, provided by the Holy Spirit, who awakens the fallen soul to a new life in Christ. Your heart is changed from a hard, dead heart, to a heart filled with righteousness leading to a life of holiness, a life, lived to the glory of God. Affections are redirected, by the Holy Spirit, from self-centeredness to Christ-centeredness. In Matthew 16:24-26 Jesus tells His disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” Does what Jesus is saying here, sound like self-reliance, or total reliance on Jesus?
When one is “born again” or born to a “new life” the process is instantaneous and is known as “Justification.” It is an act, performed solely by God, on a sinner, who doesn’t deserve it, for Christ’s sake. To be justified, is to be eternally secure! It is an eternal security precisely because we are not involved in the process but is accomplished solely by God, through His Holy Spirit. Then begins the process of sanctification, a process that extends throughout the rest of our lives, where we joyfully seek to be conformed to the image of Jesus, God’s perfect Son. So, let’s surrender the notion of self-reliance and humbly and gratefully surrender to total reliance upon the Savior of the World, Jesus Christ.
Image: Carl Bloch