The past few weeks I have been wresting with this question: What did Jesus mean when He said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me?” I first looked at the Greek meaning of “deny”, but it didn’t prove to be helpful. I did, however, find fascinating insights from a few authors.
Oswald Chamber has a great explanation of this idea of denial of self. He says, ““Let him deny himself”—deny his independent right to himself, then the real life has a chance to grow.”
Oswald goes on to explain that individuality it as the core of what Jesus is asking His followers to abandon. I can’t think of anything that describes our culture today more than individuality. We all want to be our unique selves. We want to make an impact, be noticed, stand out and make our mark on society. Oswald sums it up this way, “individuality must go in order that the personal life may come out and be brought into fellowship with God. Individuality counterfeits personality as lust counterfeits love. God designed human nature for Himself; individuality debases human nature for itself.”
It seems to me like part of what Jesus was saying is that we must be willing to give up our “right” to be someone apart from Him and the world. It appears He is asking His followers to sacrifice their own ideas, agenda, plans, and pursuits in order to be fully connected to Him. Maybe this is what He was talking about in John 15 when He said, “Apart from me you can do nothing.”