It’s easy for us to read the question posed to the disciples and offer the right answer: You are Jesus, the Messiah. The more important question for us to wrestle with, though, is how might we (like Peter) misinterpret what it means to follow one with this title. For the first time in his ministry, Jesus is more direct in what he’s asking his followers to do. “Denying” ourselves is strong language and could be misunderstood as an over-simplified practice of ignoring ourselves while putting others’ needs ahead of ours or not learning to listen deeply to ourselves and our God-given intuition. Years ago, I heard suggested through the acronym JOY that right living is found in putting the following in a hierarchical order: Jesus, Others, You. If the call to deny ourselves isn’t realized with more nuance, it may result in our practicing self-forgetting instead of self-denial. We need to square this command with Jesus’ other instructions on what it means to follow him when he teaches us to love our neighbor as ourselves.
Could it be that rather than self-forgetting, Jesus is calling us to shed our false selves—or our ego as some refer to it—and ground our identity in Christ? Out of that awareness, we “deny” the parts of us that hustle for security, affection, and control—not by saying they don’t exist but by humbly acknowledging them and not feeding their growth. “Take up your cross” is an invitation to many things as we seek to follow Christ, one of which is to engage a journey of growing into emotionally and spiritually mature adults who are able to love God, others, and ourselves well. In the upside-down kingdom of God, we “lose” our old way of living. In so doing, we gain our true selves in Christ.
Wonderful Counselor, grant us wisdom and discernment as we seek to shed our false selves rather than forget or ignore who God created us to be. Amen.
Through the scriptures and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, God shows the paths of righteousness and warns against the ways of destruction. The writer of Proverbs describes this as the voice of Wisdom crying out, yet some refuse to listen—to their peril. The psalmist rejoices in the law of the Lord, for God’s decrees teach us how to live well. Living a godly life includes paying attention to our speech. How can we, James asks, praise God with our lips and then curse others with those same lips? Peter is tripped up by his words in Mark. He declares Jesus to be the Messiah, yet in the next scene he recklessly rebukes Jesus for speaking of his death. Our words matter, and God desires purity and consistency.
Read Proverbs 1:20-33. How clearly do you hear Wisdom’s call? What prevents you from answering that call?
Read Psalm 19. Where in creation do you hear God speaking to you?
Read James 3:1-12. How do you use your words in wise ways? When do you struggle with your words?
Read Mark 8:27-38. Who do you say that Jesus is?
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