But He’s Given Me Himself
‘You’ve given up so much to follow Jesus.’ I've sometimes heard people say things like this. There are all sorts of things which we might give up in order to faithfully follow of Jesus – relationships, family, jobs, sex, status, money, opportunities, popularity, hopes, dreams. In this sense there is a cost to following Jesus, and statements like the one above are, I’m sure, a well-intentioned recognition of this. But I worry that they can also cause us to get things the wrong way around. Yes there’s a cost, but surely it’s a cost that’s worth it? And surely it shouldn't lead us to self-pity or pride?
I was recently reading the chapter on missions in Desiring God, and I found Piper’s reflections on Jesus’ words to Peter in Mark 10:28-30 really helpful on this point.
The response of Jesus indicates that the way to think about self-denial is to deny yourself only a lesser good for a greater good. You deny yourself one mother in order to get one hundred mothers. In other words, Jesus wants us to think about sacrifice in a way that rules out all self-pity. This is in fact just what the texts on self-denial teach.
“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 and the gospel’s will save it.” (Mark 8:34-35)
The argument is inescapably hedonistic. Saint Augustine captured the paradox in these words:
“If you love your soul, there is danger of its being destroyed. Therefore you may not love it, since you do not want it to be destroyed. But in not wanting it to be destroyed you love it.”
Jesus knew this. It was the basis of His argument. He does not ask us to be indifferent to whether we are destroyed. On the contrary, He assumes that the very longing for true life (1 Peter 3:10) will move us to deny ourselves all the lesser pleasures and comforts of life. If we were indifferent to the value of God’s gift of life, we would dishonour it. The measure of your longing for life is the amount of comfort you are willing to give up to get it. The gift of eternal life in God’s presence is glorified if we are willing to “hate our lives in this world” in order to get it (John 12:25). Therein lies the God-centred value of self-denial.1
So perhaps rather than reminding each other of how much we’ve given up for Jesus, we should actually remind each other of how much we’ve got in Jesus. ‘You’ve given up so much for Jesus’. ‘Maybe, but he’s given me everything; he’s given me himself’.
- 1 John Piper, Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist (rev. edn; Multnomah, 2011), pp.241-42.