Jesus calls on us to “deny yourself, and follow me” (Matt. 16:24.) This goes against much of what we have been led to believe by our culture, which teaches self-love, self-esteem, building up the self, serving the self, and self-centeredness. These are the cornerstones of modern society. We must focus on LOVING ourselves, we’re told.
And yes, on a certain level, we must be at peace with, and love, ourselves. We cannot HATE our existence, we shouldn’t overly despise our bodies, or be so self-critical that we can’t bear to leave our homes in the morning or face others with confidence.
If we went to this extreme, we would live miserable, hopeless lives, and we would likely seek to put an end to ourselves through violent suicide.
But thankfully, Jesus doesn’t call us to hold ourselves in contempt, or to hate ourselves (in an all-consuming, metaphysical sense) and certainly doesn’t want us to be either miserable or suicidal.
Jesus didn’t teach in order to shame us, or to convince us that it was impossible for us to achieve the moral perfection he achieved. While Jesus pointed out individual faults, he never hinted at a collective human inability that keeps us from obeying God’s will.
Instead, his teachings were always encouraging, always loving, always challenging. He plainly and clearly called upon us to reach the very same ideals HE, HIMSELF had reached towards and achieved.
Jesus teaches that we can and must seek to become BETTER, morally perfect Beings, devoted to loving and serving others.
His amazing teachings reveal that we can be JUST AS PERFECT as he was during his life, and that since he was as morally perfect as God was, we, too, must be perfect, “Just as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matt. 5:48) and that we will do all that Jesus, himself had done (John 13:15; 14:12.)
Jesus did not have a low view of human Nature, but he did believe that our choices strengthen and grow our Nature, and from that Nature, we would either serve and love others, or reject them, and serve only ourselves.
Only serving and loving others completely and without reservation is the Way of God’s Kingdom that Jesus said we must seek if we were to live up to God’s Ideals.
We are told by Jesus to build a treasury with our thoughts, and out of that Treasure we would bring either good, or bad – either great things, or greatly evil things (Matt. 12:35; Luke 6:45.) Our hearts aren’t naturally evil, or even naturally good, but what we do, says Jesus, makes our hearts one way or another. And from them flows goodness or badness. We get to choose.
The house that we build by following Jesus’ teachings, he says, is being built on a solid, rocky foundation, and it doesn't budge when trials come. If we fail to build it on his teachings, it’s built on shifting sand. His teachings, therefore, are of vital importance to knowing, and following, Jesus (Matt. 7:24-27.)
And that brings us back to this: Jesus told us to deny ourselves.
By denying ourselves – by denying selfishness, and instead living an Other-centered life – we begin living as Jesus calls us to live. By denying ourselves, we aren't doing violence to the nobility of our nature, or denying anything that would bring us greater joy. Instead, following Jesus will transform our holiest ideals into reality.
The life and example of Jesus is the culmination and perfection of human nature, and if we wish to know how perfect we can be, we must seek to not only envision or admire Jesus - the fully human being whom God chose to be our perfect moral guide and example - but we must put Jesus' example into practice in our own lives.
We must be willing to seek to walk just as Jesus himself walked (1 John 2:6.)
If we wish to transform our common, routine lives into something noble we should deny ourselves, and live for others - those who most need our help, love and comfort. If our goals are both Godly and humane, and if serving others is our one ambition, this will lead to the transformation of our lives, and make us truly and fully human, just as Jesus was!
Our lives become holy and noble when our life's goal is to serve others. Jesus calls us to live RICH and full lives - lives rich in service, rich in all-consuming love and devotion to others. Our lives are to be living prayers to God, our Creator and Father, who calls us, thru the example of Jesus, to bring God's Kingdom into the earth, one Righteous Act at a time!