Do you want to know the #1 issue of every relationship is? Spoiler: it’s not communication. It’s selfishness. It’s me loving myself instead of loving the other person. Seriously, think about it. Think about every argument, difficulty, or disagreement that you’ve ever had with another human being, and look for the selfishness. I guarantee that you will find it. One or both sides of the situation are seeking the interests of themselves before they seek the interests of the other person. It is saying, “I value my needs and wants higher than I value yours” and yet, selfishness in any given situation is rarely so apparent. It can be subtle and hard to see, especially if you are only being a “little” selfish.
I used to think that selfishness only mattered in relation to other people (i.e. relationships). As long as I am single, it can be about me and what I want. I don’t have a spouse or a family to worry about so I can do what I want whenever I want to, right? “Ugh,” I would think “when I do get married, I’ll have to start being selfless, and that sounds hard and like a lot of work… maybe I’ll just stay single for a while longer…” But what the Holy Spirit has gently convicted my heart of is that selfishness is not just choosing myself over another human, it’s choosing myself over Christ. That was the original sin, and has been the root of every sin since.
When Christ said, “Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me…” He is asking of us far more than being “nice” to other people, or to eventually be a decent spouse, or not demanding too much from other people, or occasionally volunteering in the community. This is an all-encompassing thing. He doesn’t say “deny yourself sometimes” or “deny yourself when it works for your schedule” no, He says deny yourself, meaning your entire person, not just part of your life. And when He said “take up your cross and follow me” that doesn’t mean “after you’ve done all the fun things you want to do as a single person, then take up your cross and follow me” or “once you’ve traveled to all the places YOU want to go, then take up your cross and follow me..” If we want to be followers of Jesus, we must deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Him now and completely. This is the call of Christ, and there is simply no room for selfishness.
Our culture tells us that selflessness is foolishness. Yes, you should be kind and loving, and definitely serve others but only to a point. You still need to look out for yourself and protect your own interests. If you were to be totally selfless, someone might take advantage of you. Well you know what? I say do it anyways! Screw the world and their twisted view of love and service and selflessness. Can we just talk about the cross for a second? Let’s take another quick look at Jesus’ words: “Deny yourself and take up your cross and follow me…” As modern day believers, we are familiar with the cross, which in many ways is a really good thing. The cross is central to our relationship with God, and imperative if we are to live like Christ. However, the intense brutality of the cross may have been lost on us over the years. For Christ to say, “Take up your cross” is no small task. It’s not like taking up a backpack that maybe get’s heavy or cumbersome sometimes, no it’s excruciatingly painful and ultimately leads to our death. And yet, my friend, this death leads to life! To take up our cross and follow Christ leads to a life of personal sacrifice yes, but also everlasting joy in the God who went to the cross in the first place! This is a beautiful thing, and yet, let’s not forget that it is extremely hard and not to be taken flippantly. Paul says “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit…” Really Paul? I can’t do anything for myself?? Nope. Not if you want to obey Jesus. And I do. And I think, dear friend, that you do too. Total selflessness is obedience to Christ. Anything less than total selflessness is disobedience to Christ, which is typically referred to as sin. What we forget far too often is that this obedience to Christ, the taking up of our cross, no matter what the issue, actually results in a deeper joy and fulfillment than anything we can ever do to serve ourselves.
As believers, are we tolerant of our “acceptable” sins? Are we ok with a little bit of selfishness in our lives? After all, we’ve got to protect ourselves from being taken advantage of, right? As Eric Geiger and Kevin Peck say in their book, Designed to Lead, “No one has served the way that Jesus has served us…” so there should be no limits to our selflessness when it comes to serving others, because we are serving Christ. Pouring out for the service of others and the sake of the Gospel will always be counter cultural, and even more so, counter fleshly, but it is also the scope and breadth of what it means to be a follower of Christ. I don’t want to be ok with little bits of sin here and there. I want to actively and vigorously pursue eradicating the sins in my life to pursue righteousness and Christ-likeness. In his book, Respectable Sins, Jerry Bridges’ words ring true: “Shall we presume on God’s grace by tolerating in ourselves the very sin that nailed Christ to the cross?” I pray that my heart will be humbled continually to recognize the sin in my life and be grieved by it. May we never be satisfied with being sanctified “enough” but together take up our cross and follow Christ.