Head coach Sean Peyton is the play caller for the New Orleans Saints. He gives the play to his quarterback Drew Brees, who then gives it to the rest of the team. Yes, Brees sometimes changes the play at the line of scrimmage when he notices a defensive alignment that warrants it, but everyone knows that Peyton is the main guy who decides which plays to run. The players obviously trust Peyton’s play calling since the Saints have won 65% of their regular season games and a Super Bowl under his leadership.
When it comes to your life, who is the one calling the plays?
Jesus begins his advertising slogan for being his follower by essentially telling people that they need to stop calling the plays in their life. Jesus says,
“If anyone wants to follow me, he must deny himself” (Mark 8:34)
This message is good news, because anyone can become a follower of Jesus Christ, but we must come to Jesus on his terms and his terms alone. To follow after Jesus requires that we first deny ourselves. Jesus said we “must” deny ourselves—it is not optional if you want to be his follower.
The idea of self-denial is sometimes misunderstood by people. People think that self-denial means that we deny things to the self, but this is not what Jesus intended. One commentator said it well when he wrote that self-denial means that we . . .
“turn away from the idolatry of self-centeredness.” (The Gospel According to St. Mark, C. E. B. Cranfield, 281).
The New Living Translation has captured the meaning well:
“If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from you selfish ways . . . .”
This is a hard saying to swallow for us, especially since we all have the natural tendency to look out for #1—ourselves. It is part of our fallen nature to place ourselves and our interests above those of others.
This natural tendency occurs at all ages. For example, when my youngest boy Noah was two years old, you could ask him this question: “Noah, who are you?” And he would reply with a smile, “I am King of the babies.” We asked him this question often because we loved his response. This went on throughout the year and then his grandparents got him this for his third birthday.
With this Lego castle, and a King’s crown, and a King’s robe, he really thought that he was the King of the Babies. It was shortly after this we got complaints from parents that there three year old kid was being asked in their Sunday school class to pay taxes to “the King of the Babies.” I have to admit that the extra cash was nice, but we had to shut that down.
None of us is immune to seeking to place ourselves and our interests above others. It doesn’t help that our world encourages the worship of the self. Our world promotes self-idolatry. If you read through the Gospels you’ll find that those who were not in a saving relationship with God, were characterized by Jesus as being self-righteous, self-centered, and having a thirst for self-promotion.
It should come as no surprise that Jesus’ call for self-denial is unattractive to people who are absorbed with pleasing self. We like to be in charge, and call the plays, and answer to no one but ourselves. But if you want to be Christ’s disciple, there must be a decisive decision to turn away from living to please self. Charles Williams said it well in his translation:
“If anyone wants to be my disciple, he must say, ‘No’ to self.” (The New Testament in the Language of the People)
If you want to be a follower of Jesus, he demands that we first say “No” to self—to stop living life according to our will and way. When we stop calling the plays in our life we are acknowledging that we are not good at play calling and we need someone who is trustworthy to call the plays for us. Who better than King Jesus, the creator and sustainer of all things?
When we humble ourselves in saying “No” to self, it opens us up to “pick up our cross.” What did Jesus intend to mean in this second part of his advertising slogan? My next two posts will answer this question.