(Mark 8:34-38 and 9:1, also see Matt. 16:21-28 and Luke 9:23-27)
Self-denial and Self-sacrifice are Pre-eminently Christian Virtues. – Whosoever Sacrifices Himself for the Sake of Christ ls Resurrected unto Life Everlasting.
A man ought to submit and subordinate himself to God’s will entirely, with both his intellect and his heart, doing nothing whatsoever on his own inclination that is opposed to the divine will. That which is opposed to the divine will is Satan: in fact, the Lord even called Peter’s thought of escaping crucifixion Satanic, and called Peter Satan because he entertained and cherished a thought which was opposed and contrary to that of God even though it was due to his ignorance of the death which Jesus was destined to die. It was God’s will to have the world saved through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. while, on the other hand, Christ realized God’s will by sacrificing Himself upon the cross. But Peter, being at a loss to understand God’s will, and thinking that the Lord ought not to die as He said, objected by saying: “Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee.” “But he turned and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art a scandal unto me; for thou thinkest not the things that are of God, hut those that are of men” (Matt. 16:22-23).
But he who can understand the divine will and is devoted thereto, and who for the sake thereof willingly suffers woes and wrongs, and bears up with fortitude, and dies in executing God’s will, denying and sacrificing himself, shows by deed and in actual practice that he possesses the virtues of self-denial and of self-sacrifice – those pre-eminently Christian virtues, than which there is none more precious, and to which there is none superior, for, through them is manifested and exhibited the highest degree of the love which has its throne in the heart of the Christian and which is a divine love that inseparably unites the loving heart with the object loved by it. Concerning this Christian love divine Paul said the following noteworthy words of self-sacrifice and of self-denial:
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who hath loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor governments, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:35-39).
The virtues, however, of self-denial and of self-sacrifice in behalf of and for the sake of the perfect good – that is to say, in behalf of and for the sake of Jesus Christ – are the fruit, not of violence or force or necessity or constraint, but of free will, of voluntary action, and of one’s own choice and preference. On this account, therefore,
“When he had called the people unto him with his disciples also, he said unto them, Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” – Mark 8:34
A man is thought and volition – that is to say, a man is truly a man when he exercises thought and volition as manifested in the action of the man’s mind and of his will, respectively. Through the exercise of thought the man thinks, or cognizes, and distinguishes truth from falsehood, good from evil, right from wrong, justice from injustice, and what is to his interest and advantage from what is to his detriment and disadvantage, and what is of benefit to him from what is of harm to him; and, accordingly, he possesses a light and is thereby enabled to understand the fact that such things are contraries by nature – in other words, he recognizes the fact that they have opposite natures. In the light of truth he is able to see; that is to say, the light of truth enables him to think. But a man is also a free will; and as such he can choose freely and do what is good or what is evil, what is right or what is wrong, what is just or what is unjust. In this exercise of his own volition a man remains altogether unconstrained and is compelled by no one to do anything contrary to his own will.
The sway and decisive power of man’s freedom is recognized by Jesus, who says: “Whosoever will come after me.” “I am the light of the world,” says He, and the Truth, and the way, and the good. Accordingly, those who in Me are enlightened, who in Me see, think, will, and act, and who follow me become happy and blissful, make good use of their freedom, and serve their true interest. But those, on the other hand, who stand aloof from Me, and who are not enlightened in Me, and who fail to follow Me are abusing their freedom, and they become unhappy and miserable. Nevertheless, I constrain no one, and I force no one, and I compel no one to come after Me. All I do is to enlighten a man in order that he may know what is truly to his own interest, and what is not to his interest; and I leave him free to choose as a free man whether he wants light or darkness, good or evil, on his own responsibility. It is My duty to enlighten men to see what is good, while, on the other hand, it is a man’s duty to be enlightened by Me and to do what is good. So whosoever will come after Me ought 1) to deny himself, 2) to take up his cross, and 3) to follow Me.
“He ought,” first of all, “to deny himself” – that is to say, in other words, he ought to submit and bow to My will perfectly and throughout, at the same time recognizing Me as the ruler and the law of all his life and of all his activity. He ought to belong wholly to Me, denying and abjuring every wish and inclination that is opposed to or conflicts with My will, and, on the other hand, accepting and welcoming all my wishes. He -ought not to entertain in his soul a wish that is opposed to or conflicts with My true, good, benevolent, righteous, just, advantageous, and beneficial will. In short, he ought to become a true Christian wholly dependent upon Me and wholly devoted to Me, his Christ. He ought to put up patiently and unmurmuringly with the tribulations of life, with insults, and with hardships for the sake of righteousness and of justice, and of goodness and of benevolence; accordingly, he ought to take up the cross of tribulations and of heartaches of the present life with self-denial and self-sacrifice, while traveling the way of martyrdom in behalf of the Christian truth, full of faith, love, and hope in Me, his Christ, emulating Me in the matter of sufferings, crucifying his own passions together with his sufferings and his desires, fighting and winning the best victory over vile and base passions and desires, and purifying his own heart from every vile and base sentiment and wicked or evil inclination or device. If it so be that he is hated by the world and by his own friends and intimates because of the fact that he is a Christian and is traveling the way of virtue, he ought to put up patiently with persecutions and outrages, calumnies and slanders, inflicted upon him by other men, and to sacrifice unmurmuringly and willingly even his own life in behalf of what is good if need be.
What is good above all things else – that is to say, what is perfectly good – is Christ, who is none other than the Truth Itself. To die in behalf of Christ is to die in behalf of the perfect moral good, in the enjoyment whereof there is everlasting life and all happiness. Consequently it is plain that the follower of Jesus ought throughout his life to emulate Him and to be His faithful adherent. For without a free and enlightened choice, without the abnegation of one’s own wishes, and without patience and fortitude in the Christian cause there can be no faithful following in the footsteps of Christ, nor can life be lived in a truly Christian manner. To follow Christ means to travel in the light of His commandments and precepts, to will and to act and to live publicly and privately in accordance with His Gospel by living as He lived – that is to say, to live and to die after the likeness of the life and of the death of Jesus. That is why in this the Gospel He goes on to say:
“For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it.” – Mark 8:35
This means that whosoever wishes to keep alive on earth while avoiding the consequences and risks resulting from his duty and involved in the confession of Christ and the exercise of virtue, and does what is dictated by the interests of the flesh, that same person, whosoever he be, shall lose the everlasting life, which is secured by works and deeds of virtue and of sacrifice of this transient and transitory life, for the sake of Christ and of the Gospel. Christ enjoins sobriety, and righteousness, and justice, and goodness, and benevolence, and demands self-abnegation and self-sacrifice in good works and in good deeds. He demands the sacrifice of one’s property, worldly goods, and even of life itself to the end of inheriting goods everlasting and everlasting life. The flesh and the world, on the other hand, demand or require things that are contrary and opposite to these. In fact, our whole life is a struggle against everything that offers opposition to the will of God.
So if we give in to the claims of the flesh and of the world, that is to say, if we allow the flesh and the world to have what they want, and if we abjure our duty with the intention of saving our transitory life, in an effort to avoid risking our property, transitory goods, and the life of our body, in order not to be disgraced and reproached by the world, then and in that case we are for that very reason forfeiting everlasting life and are foolishly embracing everlasting death. But, on the other hand, whosoever sacrifices his own transitory life for the sake of Christ and of the Gospel, while exercising virtue and bearing witness to the truth, that same person shall save his life by reason of the fact that he will be resurrected from the dead, and will inherit life everlasting. That is why He goes on to say:
“For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” – Mark 8:36-37
Truly said. What good will it do a man if he gain the whole world, if he enjoy all earthly goods and succeed in ascending to high offices, and acquire great wealth, and be glorified by men, if he experience all the sensual pleasures that the world can offer, but at the same time he lose the everlasting life, and be condemned to pay dearly for everything in hell? OF what benefit to him will past experiences then be when he is deprived of the everlasting good and is thrown far away from God, who is the source of life? Or what can he then give in exchange for his soul to compensate for its loss? Neither the past experiences will benefit him, nor is there anything acceptable in exchange for his soul. Accordingly, he is justly and rightly condemned and sentenced to hell. But, on the other hand, he that sacrifices everything for the sake of virtue, including even his own life, will have there in exchange for his soul the blood of Christ, the self-sacrifice and the self-denial, his struggles in behalf of virtue, his faith and his devotion to God. That is why He goes on to say:
“Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels. And he said unto them, Verily I say unto you, that there are some of them who stand here who shall not taste of death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power.” – Mark 8:36-37, 9-1
A Christian ought not only to believe in Christ with his heart, but also to confess Him before men with good words and with upright deeds while unashamedly and openly acknowledging Hirn to be his leader and his Lord, and at the same time taking to task disbelievers who refuse to believe in Him and all those who persist in living and conducting themselves politically in a manner contrary to His will. If he performs this duty by confessing Christ before this adulterous and wicked generation as the perfect moral good, then will Christ in turn, when He comes in the glory of His Father, confess him unashamedly before God and the angels as one of His friends who have confessed Him in the world and who for His sake have sacrificed honors, glories, riches, transitory goods, arid even their lives. But as for those who deny the name of Christ before men whether by reason or on account of worldly interests or out of cowardness or timidity and in order to avoid being reproached by this adulterous generation as simpletons and imbeciles and in order to escape the accusation of being retrogressive because they believe in Christ and the Gospel, or in order to avoid the loss of glory, honor, wealth, life, prestige, and the like, and in an effort to steer clear of dangers, Christ will in tum deny all such persons and refuse to recognize them as His brethren, He says, and quite justly too, in the day of His glorious advent before God and the angels, and will declare them to be strangers.
After mentioning the eventuality of His future glory, the Lord went so far as to assure His disciples that some of them – namely, Peter, James, and John – would live long enough to see with their own eyes the glory of His transfiguration in Mount Tabor in the type of His future glory in the last day of the judgment, and in the image of His everlasting kingdom, which is destined to come in power. Hence it is plain that our life depends on faith in and confession of Christ as our Savior, whereas, on the other hand, death depends on unbelief and denial. But faith and belief obliges us to render obedience and to yield submission to Christ, to subordinate ourselves entirely to Him. to struggle and fight in behalf of virtue, scorning every danger, and overcoming our passions and desires, and in all things whatsoever following in the footsteps of Christ as our leader, and to sacrifice everything to the love of Christ, including even our own life, just as He sacrificed His life for our sake.