Self Denial

And he said unto all, If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whosoever would save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it.

— St. Luke 9:23-24

Every reward held out by Christ is a pure thing; nor can it enter the soul save as a death to selfishness. It is not selfish to be joyful. What power could prevent him who sees the face of God from being joyful? The one bliss of the universe is the presence of God, which is simply God being to the man the indwelling power of his life. Where can be the selfishness in being so made happy? It may be deep selfishness to refuse to be happy. Selfishness consists in taking the bliss from another; to find one’s bliss in the bliss of another is not selfishness. The one bliss, next to the love of God, is the love of our neighbor. If any say, “You love because it makes you blessed,” I deny it: We are blessed because we love. Love is unselfishness. In the main we love because we cannot help it. There is no merit in it-- how should there be in any love?—but neither is it selfish. There are many who confound righteousness with merit. “If it makes you happy to love,” they say, “where is your merit? It is only selfishness!” There is no merit, I reply, yet the love that is born in us is our salvation from selfishness. It is of the very essence of righteousness. Because a thing is joyful, it does not follow that I do it for the joy of it; yet when the joy is in others, the joy is pure. That certain joys should be joys is the very denial of selfishness. A man would be demonically selfish, whom love itself did not make joyful. 

Commentary

Bliss, Love, God, and Neighbor
by Leah Bond

MacDonald Summarizes and teaches us on the truth of love and the emotions it births. "The one bliss of the universe" (in us and with all)" is the presence of God, which is simply God being to the man the indwelling power of his life...the one bliss next to the love of God is the love of neighbor."

The essence, definition of love is the indwelling presence of God in the man. Bliss cannot be earned through self denial! Bliss, the love of God, to love, is... our truest deepest nature from our father, our design by His love, therefore our true expression of self. Loving another is therefore being of God and will bring us Bliss. Sigh, God is good.

I feel it's important to go through Luke 9. Luke takes us on a quick journey through the path to union with Christ and our Bliss, he promises resurrection life.
But with unexpected turns.

It begins vs.1-6 with Christ giving authority and power to the apostles, a ragtag and often confused group of faithful followers. He tasked them with tremendous power and authority and...responsibility. To carry this weight of glory, he commands they release the world and its concerns, what to eat or drink, where to sleep, what to wear, the fear of men and worldly status and power. They must trade it all in to become healers, and to share the Living Truth.

Does this sound anything like the Pharisees? Or many church leaders in the world today? Not really. Money power status and image are the measure of most church's today. 

I look to St. Francis of Assisi as a model for living in power of God. He took the single tunic for joy of sharing in the cross and following Jesus in healing and Truth telling. His cross is especially symbolic of man meeting Christ at the cross, sharing in its suffering but bliss as well. 

Vs. 7-9 Herod is intrigued! Worldly leaders stop and are fascinated by such a display of spiritual power, to move the hearts and minds of many without outward fear and force.

Vs. 10-17 Immediately Jesus leads us to his constant concern, healing and tending to his sheep. When the disciples feel the desolation of a crowd of thousands with no food, they command Jesus to send the sheep away, to save themselves. In turn, Jesus commands the disciples to use the power he has given them access to, and to do as He does, feed the sheep, in faith, take in the needy, not send them away. Jesus feeds the thousands through breaking bread, foreshadowing his broken body to come for the sake of his church. 

He shows his followers how to use the power and authority for real and practical needs and concerns, not for the spotlight or platform for displaying the position of authority or power they hold.

Jesus shows them the way.

Vs 18-20 Christ conversation touches on rumors about him, he is unfazed for the truth will be revealed. He receives a personal confession, Peter sees the truth, Christ is God. 

Now, vs 21-22 Christ immediately tells of the suffering this path will entail, to suffer rejection and death, not at the hands of the worldly powers, but at the hands of those who claim the position of power and authority in the church, false teachers who cling to dependence on material wealth and possessions, who send the needy and poor away, who reject Christ's suffering, who refuse to submit to it as the way to resurrection life.

Selfishness is to lose God and others through a focus on self. Losing God, others on any endeavor, even the focus on shaping and beating the self into submission, will disconnect us from the power of life in us and the bliss of union with God and others.

When Christ was carrying the literal cross to his crucifixion, a man stepped in to carry it for him, an embrace. We can look to such as St. Francis who embraced the path of the cross, and therefore Christ, and our own cross to embrace. Bliss is promised.  

Illustration by Leah Bond

Illustration by Leah Bond