April 22, 2012

Pastor Joe Wittwer

Not a Fan!

#7—He must deny himself: a total surrender


ILL: Kyle Idleman was at the gym working out on an elliptical in front of a window that overlooked the parking lot.  He saw an overweight guy in a business suit get out of his small sedan and reach back in the car for his gym bag.  Then he reached in to get something else.  It was a cup with a spoon in it—a Blizzard from the Dairy Queen.  He stopped in front of the window—right in front of Kyle—and polished it off before he walked into the gym to start his workout.  

I can relate to this guy—can you?  I want to get in shape, but I don’t really want to make any sacrifices.  I don’t want to deny myself.  I want to get in shape and eat my Blizzards too.

This is how fans respond to Jesus.  They want Jesus, but without any sacrifices.  They want Jesus, but they don’t want to deny themselves.  But Jesus didn’t give us that option.  “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily and follow me.”


    Thanks Karen for sharing your story with us. I love seeing what God does with our lives when we surrender to Him.

    This is part seven of “Not a Fan”, based on this book, Not a Fan, by Kyle Idleman.  The book and this series of talks explore the difference between a fan of Jesus and a follower of Jesus.  Jesus calls us to be followers, and he defines what that looks like in this passage.  Read together:

Luke 9:23 If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.

Two weeks ago, we talked about the inclusive call of Jesus: “if anyone”.  Anyone means anyone.  Anyone means you.  Jesus is calling you to follow.  You are included!  

    Last week, we talked about the passionate pursuit of Jesus: “if anyone would come after me.”  We are to “come after” Jesus, pursue Him with all we have.  He is worth it!  A man found a treasure buried in a field; he sold all he had to buy the field and gain the treasure.  It cost him everything, but it was worth it.  A merchant found a pearl of exceptional beauty; he sold everything to buy that pearl.  It cost him everything, but it was worth it.  Jesus is the treasure in the field; Jesus is the pearl of great value; Jesus is worth it!

    This week, we’re looking at the next phrase in Jesus’ call to follow: “he must deny himself.”  

The Big Idea: A follower makes a decision every day to deny himself and choose Jesus.  “Yes Lord to anything, anytime, anywhere.”  

Luke 9:23 If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.

1. “He must deny himself”: no to self, yes to Jesus.

    What does it mean to deny yourself?  The Greek word used here means “to refuse consent to something”. What does it mean when you refuse to consent to something?  It means you say no.  What am I to say no to?  Myself.  I am to say no to myself so I can say yes to Jesus.  This is very important.  We don’t say no to ourselves just for the sake of saying no.  We say it so that we can say yes to Jesus.  “Yes Lord to anything, anytime, anywhere.”

    Deny yourself—say no to yourself.  How far does Jesus mean for me to take this?  Do I deny myself every time?  Every time I’m hungry: no!  Every time I’m thirsty—no!  Every time I’m sleepy: no!  Do that, and you’ll be dead pretty quickly.  You can’t say no to yourself all the time, or even most of the time. But there are some times when you should say no to yourself.  

    Let’s look a little more closely at when to say no to yourself.  

    I said that most of the time you can’t say no to yourself.  You can’t deny yourself air, food, drink, shelter, love, and care.  You must take care of your self.  In fact, the second half of the great commandment assumes that you will take care of your self.  “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.”  How are we to love others?  As we love ourselves.  It is assumed that we love ourselves.  Self-love is natural.  This is applied to husbands and wives in:

Ephesians 5:28–29 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church—

Ephesians 5:33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

Husband, love your wife like you love yourself, like you love your own body.  You feed and care for your body—we spend lots of time feeding and caring for our bodies.  How much time?  Add up all these activities: eating, drinking, cooking, sleeping, exercising, washing, grooming, dressing, and shopping.  For some of you, that’s pretty much all you do!  In the same way you care for yourself, spend lots of time caring for your wife.

    So the Bible uses self-care as an example of how we are to care for our neighbor and our spouse.  Love others as you love yourself.  So self-care isn’t wrong; it’s natural.  

Can self-care be overdone?  Yes.  Of course.  We can spend too much time at the table, or in the gym, or in front of the mirror, or too much money in the mall.  Self-care can be overdone and become self-indulgence.  

Can self-care be under-done?  Yes.  I see this a lot.  People don’t take care of themselves physically, emotionally or spiritually.

ILL: I recently talked with a pastor who was discouraged and on the edge of burn out.  He was so busy caring for others that he rarely took time to tend his own soul.  When he did, he got criticized for it. I encouraged him to make time for self-care, to tend his own soul and relationship with God.  

Someone might say, “Joe, Jesus said to deny yourself, and you’re telling this guy to take care of himself.  I don’t know…”

    I’ve watched pastors like him deny themselves right out of the ministry. You can’t say no to yourself all the time, or even most of the time—you’ve got to take care of yourself. But there are some times when you should say no, when you must say no to yourself.  

    When Jesus calls you to follow, you must say no to yourself to say yes to him.  When anything stops you from following Jesus, it’s time to say no to that.  When it’s a choice between anything or Jesus, the follower chooses Jesus.

2. A Biblical example: the first disciples and the rich young ruler.

    Let’s look at an example of denying yourself to follow Jesus and an example of the opposite.

    In Matthew 4, Jesus called Andrew and Peter.  “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

Matthew 4:20 At once, they left their nets and followed him.  

A little later, saw another pair of brothers, James and John, repairing their fishing nets.  Jesus called them too.

Matthew 4:22 and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

Both sets of brothers immediately left everything and followed Jesus.  They said “yes” to Jesus, but to do it, they had to say “no” to themselves. They had to leave something to follow Jesus.  They had to say “no” to some things they loved so they could say yes to Jesus.  They said:

  • No to their careers as fishermen.  They were seasoned fishermen, experienced and skilled.  They were good at it, were known for it—and they had to leave it.

  • No to the security of an established job and income.  They were leaving their only source of income to follow Jesus, which paid nada.  

  • No to their family.  We think Peter had a wife—he left her at home.  James and John left their father (and presumably their mother) to tend the family business.  

  • No to their friends and home.  They were leaving their hometown and all their friendships and relationships of a lifetime there.  They said goodbye to everything they knew and loved.

Careers, security, income, family, friends, home—that’s quite a list to leave behind.  But they had to leave to follow.  You can’t follow Jesus and stay where you are.  You will leave something behind.  You can’t say yes to Jesus without saying no to yourself at some point.  

ILL: Kyle tells this story:

A few years ago I was pretty deep into some tribal areas of Africa. One night I finished preaching a message to a crowd of a few dozen people. I presented the gospel and the invitation of Jesus to follow him. There were two young men, probably in their twenties, who accepted Christ and committed to follow him. The following afternoon these two men showed up at the house where we were staying. They each carried a good-sized bag over their shoulder. I went over and asked the local missionary we were staying with why they were here. He explained that these two men would no longer be welcomed by their families or in their village. When I heard that, I was afraid that maybe this was going to be more than they would be willing to go along with.

About that time the missionary said to me, “They knew this would happen when they made the decision.” They were choosing Jesus over their families. They were choosing Jesus over their own comfort and convenience, and fans don’t do that.   (p. 145).

These two young men, like Andrew and Peter, and James and John before them, left everything to follow Jesus.  When Jesus calls you to follow, there will be something you leave behind.  

    Contrast this with the story in Matthew 19 of the rich young man who wanted to follow Christ.  Jesus quickly discerned his issue, and said

Matthew 19:21 “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

The young man went away sad because he had great wealth.  He couldn’t do it.  He couldn’t leave the money.  In the end, he decided Jesus wasn’t worth it.  He’d rather have the money than follow Jesus.  

    Jesus called him to follow.  To say yes to Jesus, he had to say no to himself, no to his attachment to his money and stuff.  He had to deny himself.  And he wouldn’t do it.  You can’t follow Jesus without denying yourself.  You will have to say “no” to yourself and leave something behind.  

“Followers are willing to deny themselves and say, “I choose Jesus. I choose Jesus over my family. I choose Jesus over money. I choose Jesus over career goals. I am his completely. I choose Jesus over getting drunk. I choose Jesus over looking at porn. I choose Jesus over a redecorated house. I choose Jesus over my freedom. I choose Jesus over what other people may think of me.” A follower makes a decision every day to deny himself and choose Jesus even if it costs everything.”   (p. 145).

    Does it cost everything?  Really?  Many of us deep inside hope that isn’t true.  We want to follow Jesus, but we want to keep some things.  We want some exception clauses: Jesus can have everything…except this.

3. No exception clauses: total surrender.

ILL: Some of you know that my wife, Laina, is a vegan.  But I doubt that most of you understand what that means.  She eats no meat or dairy products.  None.  No meat of any kind—no beef, chicken, fish, lizards, mice, bats or rats—no meat.  Period.  And no dairy products: no ice cream, no milk, no ice cream, no cheese, no ice cream.  No dairy. Period.  Ever.  She never cheats.  She never fudges.  She is 100% vegan—no exceptions—totally committed.  Iron Woman!

    I, on the other hand, am a flexatarian.  I am a vegan at home with Laina, and much of the rest of the time.  But I’m flexible, and I eat what is in front of me.  I am a vegan, except when there is a really good steak on the barbecue.  I am a vegan, except when someone brings by Mocha Almond Fudge ice cream.  I am a part time vegan.  I am a vegan with exceptions.  I am a flexatarian.  

This might be ok when it comes to diet, but it doesn’t work when it comes to following Jesus.

There are no part time followers of Jesus, no flexatarian followers. When Jesus called the first disciples, they left everything to follow Jesus full time.  When people tried to negotiate part time following, following on their own terms, Jesus let them go.

Luke 9:59–62 He said to another man, “Follow me.”

But the man replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”

60 Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”

61 Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-by to my family.”

62 Jesus replied, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”

“Follow me,” Jesus said, and these said, “But first, let me do this or that.  I want to follow, but I have some other things I need to do.  I’ve got to start part time.  Let me get back to you later.”

So many people try to negotiate a flexatarian settlement with Jesus.  

  • I’ll follow you, but I’m keeping my money.  Don’t ask for any of it.

  • I’ll follow you, but don’t ask me to forgive that person who hurt me; they don’t deserve it!

  • I’ll follow you, but don’t ask me to save sex for marriage.

  • I’ll follow you, but don’t ask me to change.

  • I give you everything, except…

But Jesus isn’t negotiating; there are no exceptions.  The call to follow Jesus is a call to total surrender.  Every area of life is surrendered to Jesus.  In fact, your life is not your own any more.

1 Corinthians 6:19–20 Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.

I belong to Jesus.  He bought me at a price—it cost Him His life.  I belong to Jesus—not just part of me, all of me.  I am not my own.  

  • It’s not my time I’m investing; it’s his.

  • It’s not my money I’m spending; it’s his.

  • It’s not my stuff I’m using; it’s his.

  • It’s not my purpose I’m achieving; it’s his.

  • It’s not my life; it’s his.

I’m all his.  No exceptions.  You don’t get to say, “I follow Jesus, except when it comes to this part of my life, I do it my way.”  No exceptions.  No flexatarian followers.

ILL: Barna Research recently reported that 65% of 18-42 year olds in America have “made a personal commitment to Jesus that is still important.”  What does that commitment mean?  Are they followers?  

    The same research showed that only 23% of those who had made a commitment to Jesus believed that sex outside marriage is wrong.  “I will follow you, Jesus…except for sex.  Then I’m doing what I want.”

    Only 13% said that getting drunk is a sin.  “I will follow you, Jesus…except for drinking.  Then I’m doing what I want.”  

    The list goes on.  65% said they are committed to Jesus, but most of them are not fully committed.  Yet Jesus didn’t leave an option for selective commitment.  The problem is they want to be called Christians without actually making an effort to follow Jesus.

Jesus makes it clear that we can’t ride the fence.

Matthew 6:24 No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.

No one can serve two masters.  Slavery was very common in Jesus’ day.  Everyone knew that a slave could have only one master, not two.  You can’t serve two masters.  You can’t serve both God and money.  The reason Jesus asked the rich young man to give away his money is that Jesus knew it was his master, and you can’t serve two masters.  If you’re going to follow Jesus, you have to leave the other master behind.  It doesn’t matter what the other master is.  You can’t serve two masters.  

  • You can’t serve God and sex.

  • You can’t serve God and drugs.

  • You can’t serve God and alcohol.

  • You can’t serve God and success.

  • You can’t serve God and self.

So you have to deny yourself to follow Him.  You have to say no to your self as master so you can say yes to Jesus as master.

    This leads to our final point:

4. Are we raving fans or slaves of Jesus?  doulos

    You can’t serve two masters—literally, you can’t slave for two masters.  Whose slave are you?

    A few years ago, Ken Blanchard wrote Raving Fans, a business book about how to turn your customers into raving fans.  Ken is a Christian, and the book has some good takeaways for churches.  But there is a danger when we start applying marketing terminology to the church.  We end up with “church shoppers” who find a church that makes them feel good, and settle in as regular customers.  Consumers.  

Contrast this with the Biblical image used to describe followers: slave.  A slave is the opposite of a consumer.  A slave gives us a picture of what “deny yourself” looks like.  A slave had no rights, no possessions of his own, no personal identity, no time to call his own.  A slave lived for one purpose: to do the will of his master.  

In the New Testament, “slave” is one of the most common ways Christians described themselves.  They were proud to be the slaves of Jesus.  (I’ve listed a lot of verses.)

  • Peter could have introduced himself as Peter, best friends with Jesus, walker on water, and part of the inner circle on the Mount of Transfiguration.  Instead, he simply says, “Peter, a slave and apostle of Jesus Christ.”

  • James could have introduced himself as James, the half brother of Jesus.  Instead, he simply says, “James, a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

  • Paul could have introduced himself as Paul, educated by Gamaliel, missionary extraordinaire, and best-selling author of the Bible.  Instead he simply says, “Paul, a slave of Jesus Christ.”  

All these verses refer to us as the slaves of Jesus.  The Greek word is doulos. It is the common Greek word for a slave who was “solely committed to another.”  You can’t serve two masters.  In Jesus’ day, a slave belonged entirely to another person—his life was not his own.  He lived to do what his master wanted, not what he wanted.  To be the slave of Jesus simply means that you deny yourself, you say no to yourself so you can say yes to Jesus.  You belong to Him and live for Him.  “Yes Lord to anything, anytime, anywhere.”  Are you the slave of Jesus?  

It is hard for us to think of being slaves.  American slavery was a shameful, horrible chapter in our history—so we react to the idea of slavery.  Also, we are raised to pursue the goal of happiness.  We are taught that if we work hard, we can have a good job, a nice house filled with cool stuff and take great vacations—we can be happy.  Ask anyone what he wants to be, and he never says, “I want to be a slave.”  I want to be happy.  And happiness seems like the opposite of self-denial, of slavery.

    But we are called to be slaves of Jesus.  In fact, you can’t call Jesus Lord without declaring yourself His slave.  If you call me “teacher”, it means you are “student”.  If you call me “husband”, it means you are “wife”.  If you call Jesus Lord, it means you are His slave.

ILL: Bill Bright was the founder of Campus Crusade for Christ. He wrote a tract called The Four Spiritual Laws that presents the gospel. More than 2.5 billion copies have been distributed worldwide. He was central to the “Jesus Film” which has been seen by more than 4 billion people in 660 languages around the world. He was easily one of the most influential Christians of the 20th Century.  But if you were to visit his gravesite, you would find only three words on his tombstone: Slave for Jesus.   (p. 150).

Are you a fan of Jesus or a slave of Jesus?

    Here’s the good news: you are never really free until you are Jesus’ slave.  When you offer yourself to Jesus as His slave, you become free, and He calls you His child and His friend.  Jesus doesn’t enslave us; we offer ourselves to Him in love.  

It is only by becoming the slave of Jesus that we become truly free. Instead of raving fans, may our church be filled with slaves of Jesus who are cleverly disguised as managers, sales reps, doctors, teachers, and students.  


Are you a fan or a follower?

I’ve heard two reactions to this series.

First, I’ve talked with lots of people who have been inspired to up their game.  They have been inspired to follow Jesus more fully.  That’s exactly what I hoped would happen.

The other reaction is discouragement or even anger.  I’ve heard from some folks who hear this and think, “I’m a fan,” and then get discouraged or angry and want to quit.

ILL: Imagine this: you go to the doctor and he diagnoses early stage diabetes and tells you that you have to change your lifestyle, your eating and exercise habits.  How do you respond?  You could get discouraged and give up.  Or you could thank the doctor for saving your life and get to work making changes.

The whole point of this series is to help fans become followers.   So what if you discover you’re a fan?  Don’t give up, press in!  Turn to Jesus and start following.  

Some people think the bar is set too high.  Are you all in?  Are you loving God with all you’ve got?  Are fully surrendered?  Are you a slave of Jesus?  Some of us hear that and think, “I’ll never make it.”  I think that!  Am I fully surrendered?  Yes and no.  Yes, that is the honest desire of my heart.  No, a good deal of the time I’m doing my own thing.

Romans 12:1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.

Offer your life to God as a living sacrifice.  Do you know the problem with living sacrifices?  They keep crawling off the altar.  I give myself to God; I take my life back.  I’m his slave one moment; I’m doing my own thing the next.  Every day, I have to crawl back up on the altar and give myself to God again.  

    This is why Jesus calls us to take up our cross daily.  It’s a daily surrender, a daily denial of self, a daily choice to follow.  It would be wonderful if we could make a single great act of surrender and it would be done, but it doesn’t work that way.  The choice to follow is a daily choice.

    So if you hear this and think you’re a fan…join the club!  Me too.  But don’t shrug your shoulders and settle for fandom.  Get up on the altar.  Offer yourself to God today, and tomorrow and the next day.  The choice to follow is a daily choice.