Then Jesus told his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it."-Matthew 16:24-25
Jesus called his followers to a life of self-denial, but have you ever asked yourself, what does self-denial look like in practice? I suspect that for many Christians and non-Christians alike, they hear the term self-denial and they assume that it means a loss of self. The path to self-denial is a path of becoming a bland automaton, incapable of free thought or expression of one's unique personality.
But what if the process of self-denial involves not a loss of the self, but rather a dawning discovery of who we truly were meant to be? What if denying ourselves, as Jesus taught, leads to becoming more fully human? In fact, I think Jesus' words in verse 25 tell us that it is impossible to become fully alive without this process of self-denial. "Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it." In other words, if we cling to our own ideas about who we are, our growth will be incomplete, but if we are willing to let go and allow God to work in and through us, we will become fully who God intends us to be.
I think of the 4 gospel accounts, each fully inspired by God, yet each retaining the personalities of the writers. The fact that they penned the very words of God did not negate their true selves. In a certain way, the same is true for us. Though our lives are by no means inerrant, when we set the self aside and allow the Spirit to work in and through us, we become more deeply and uniquely who we were intended to be.