The 1970s ushered in a great many changes to Christianity: the Charismatic Movement, the Ecumenical Movement, and the Prosperity Gospel all moved into the spotlight. Before 1970, there was a great deal preached about self-denial and little said about self-esteem. In the mid-eighties, I heard the song, “When He was on the Cross, I was on His mind,” and thinking that this sounded self-centered. I’m not saying that there is anything wrong with this now classic song by The Florida Boys; all I am saying is that I asked myself that question.
It is true that while Jesus was on the cross, He thought about you and me. This is evidence in His prayer for forgiveness of those who crucified Him. My point is that, sometimes, our worship begins to focus on ourselves instead of the great love God expresses towards us in the person of Jesus Christ. At some point, it becomes prideful, and self-centered.
The Word of God consistently calls us to a life of self-denial, and not self-love. Very little is written in the Bible about boosting the ego of Christians, but much is said about avoiding self-love. Instead of loving ourselves, we are to love God, praise God, worship God, and obey God.
For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these.
-2 Timothy 3:2-5
So, how is it that sinful man would ever want to deny himself or herself in order to worship God? There is no human explanation. I can only say that when one hears and comprehends the Word of God, and one experiences the love and acceptance of God, the natural response is to deny self, and instead focus on God. Take a look at the Zacchaeus, tax collector. Here is his response to hearing the loving and accepting words of Christ:
But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”
He didn’t have to be told to deny himself. His self-denial was in response to repentance, offered in the realization that he was but a filthy sinner staring at a pure and holy God. That should be our response, too. We deny ourselves so that we may fill our hearts with His Spirit, and our minds with His Word.