But many cultural changes are less obvious, they are more like subtle shifts than an abrupt turns in direction. Perhaps the 1990's are the most recent example of that.
Not all changes in culture are the result of external forces or conflicting trends. Cultures can also change when one person's values change and their internal change influences others.
A basic call to all
The basic call of discipleship is quite opposite from what our culture expects. The same was true for the disciples then. It is true for any people, anywhere, and at any time. All people are born with an innate selfish nature.
In Christian terms, it is the sin nature or the flesh. Whatever term is used, it’s true. A simple observation of toddlers and two-year olds will confirm it. What word is expressed early on? “No!”—the first expression of the selfish, self-centered nature of every human being.
Jesus tells those who want to follow Him three things that are needed—
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." (Matthew 16:24)
Another way to express this is to deny our selfish nature, die to our selfishness, and surrender our self-will to Jesus.
But this is easier said than done. Why? Because it goes against all we know and experience in life within this world. Is it even possible?
Surrender is not defeat
Jesus goes on to clarify it—
If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? (Matthew 16:25, 26 NLT)
Here Jesus gives an explanation of His original call of, “Come follow Me.” He’s says, “If you want to continue trusting and following Me, you need to exchange your self-centered way of life for a life centered on Me, then you will be transformed.”
The key is surrendering the self-will to Jesus. This is the difficult part. An honest question would be, “How can this be done?” The answer is more about what not to do. Denial of self—the selfish nature and self-centeredness—is an internal action, not external.
[bctt tweet="Self-denial is an internal action, not an external one"]
Internal not external
Most efforts at self-denial are focused on external changes in behavior, the self-effort of trying to lead a pleasing life for God.
The season leading up to the observance of Good Friday and Easter is called Lent. Many observe this season by denying themselves some pleasure or usual part of life, offering it to the Lord as a form of fasting.
This form of self-denial is not bad, and may bring about some good realizations and insights. A person may find they are too dependent on something in life, or can do without certain things.
Unfortunately, focusing on outward efforts of being good, as a means of denying the selfish nature, leads to a performance-based Christianity—something akin to Buddhism.
Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines Buddhism this way: “a religion of eastern and central Asia growing out of the teaching of Gautama Buddha that suffering is inherent in life and that one can be liberated from it by mental and moral self-purification.”
When good isn't good enough
Many people live good lives, at least outwardly. One of the best-known examples in the past century is Mahatma Gandhi, who grew up in a Hindu family, but later followed his own mixture of Buddhism and Christianity. He was known for his non-violent example and influence for world peace.
Self-denial goes deeper than what is done outwardly—it must go to the core of who we are. How? By surrendering the self-will to the Lord daily, even moment by moment.
[bctt tweet="Self-denial goes deep to the core of who we are, that's why it's hard"]
Jesus shows us how
Jesus shows the way in the Garden of Gethsemane. Though He knows the Father sent Him to die on the cross, He asks the Father if it can be avoided. A spiritual battle ensues and Jesus asks His closest disciples to come pray with Him.
Three times He lays His request before the Father, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39). Each time Jesus returns from prayer, He finds the disciples asleep.
At one point Jesus admonishes them, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:41). Another version says, ”Keep alert and pray. Otherwise temptation will overpower you. For though the spirit is willing enough, the body is weak!" (NLT).
Why it's not so easy
This speaks to the heart of the matter. What we may intend and want to do is difficult because of our natural weakness—the weakness of self. Our natural disposition is to put self first above all else and everyone else.
Our physical body and its desires are powerful, but they make us weak spiritually.
[bctt tweet="Our physical body and its desires are powerful, but they make us weak spiritually"]
This is why Jesus calls each believer to follow Him with a personal call—to surrender our free will to Him, and put Him first in our lives.
It is a call to set aside selfishness, self-centeredness, and self-fulfillment. It involves no striving, only abandonment and surrender to Jesus and His will.
Impossible, and yet doable
This is difficult. No, impossible without God’s help and His power at work in us internally.
When we surrender to Jesus it becomes an amazing testimony to the power of God. It captures the attention of people, and brings lasting change to the world.
Real change in the world only comes when people are changed within their hearts. Only Jesus does this. But He chooses to do it through true self-denial—choosing to trust in Jesus implicitly, and dying to a life fixated on this world.
[bctt tweet="Real change in the world only comes when people are changed within their hearts"]
What is your greatest internal challenge to surrendering to Jesus?
To learn more about Jesus and the gospel, get a copy of my book– The Mystery of the Gospel