Lent is an important time of year because it sets the stage for the most significant event in the history of the Church--the death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. We call it Easter.
The Call to Self-Denial
The lent season is about self-denial. Self-denial. Self-denial. Self-denial. The repetition is for emphasis.
Jesus speaks directly to this fundamental question, "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me" (Luke 9:23, KJV). Jesus' words cannot be clearer. No matter who or what you think you are in the Kingdom of God, you are not a disciple or follower of Christ if you do not deny yourself. You must experience lent to embrace Easter.
All of us say that we want to be Christ's disciple. But, we don't really mean that. What we really want to do is what the rich young ruler wanted to do when he confronted Jesus (Luke 18:18-23). We want to have it both ways. We love Jesus and want to follow Jesus. But, we don't love or trust him enough to let go of the security and pleasures we enjoy. We want Jesus. But, we want Him our way.
The Sin of 'Cheap Discipleship'
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the famous Luther pastor, theologian, and anti-Nazi dissident famously coined the term 'cheap grace' to describe the watered-down version of Christianity we embrace, a faith which is ultimately no Christianity at all because it lacks homage to the true nature of Jesus Christ.
My fear is that we as a community of Christian couples have embraced 'cheap discipleship'. We want to be disciples of Jesus as a married couple. But, we want 'cheap discipleship' that doesn't require a commitment to the spiritual disciplines. We want 'cheap discipleship' that allows us to forgive seven times rather than seventy times seven. We idolize a 'cheap discipleship' where Jesus serves us rather than us serving him. 'Cheap discipleship' has no theological foundation because there is no true Jesus in it. 'Cheap discipleship' is self-worship rather than self-denial.
If we want to follow Jesus we must come to grips with self-denial on a daily basis. This is not easy. The first disciples of Jesus had to drop everything they knew, leave their jobs, and live an itinerant lifestyle away from their families. Are any of us reckless enough with our theology to not understand how vitally difficult that was for them. But, Jesus is asking the same level of sacrifice from us today. He probably isn't asking you to leave your job and family to follow him. But, he is definitely insisting that you deny yourself to do so. And, it should begin in your most sacred human relationship--your marriage.
Each day, deny yourself the right to be selfish.
Each day, deny yourself the right to be unforgiving and vengeful.
Each day, deny yourself the right to be self-righteous.
Each day, deny yourself the right to be in control.
When Jesus tells you to take up your cross daily, he dispels the myth of 'cheap discipleship' because he knows that it is only by God's grace that any of us persist in self-denial. The real beauty, however, of self-denial is that it leaves a cup for God to fill with anointed oil.
The Spiritual DNA of Your Marriage
Herein lies the absolute miracle of marriage. For the Christian couple who commits to self-denial, you release your spiritual DNA as a couple. Your spiritual DNA is the genotype or blueprint of your divine purpose as a couple. It is the spiritual genetic code within your 'one flesh' decree that distinguishes you from every other couple in the Kingdom of God. It is the anointed cup that God overflows so that your marriage lifts him up and draws everyone that sees you towards him.
I hope and pray that this article is a Lenten reminder that self-denial is the only path to holiness and sanctification as a couple. As much as the evidence of 'cheap discipleship' is praised in our Christian culture, it is a distortion of the Father of Lies. We are only disciples of the Absolute Christ when we choose each day to pick up that cross of self-denial--especially when it feels heavy.
As you prepare for Easter this year, will you please remember that obedience is only found along the path of self-denial and choose the path of discipline?
I'll close with these closing words to poet Robert Frost's classic poem, The Road Not Taken.
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.