“Then Jesus told his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”-Matthew 16:24
Institutes: Book 3, Chapter 7, Section 2, part a
“From this [section 1] also follows this second point: that we seek not the things that are ours but those which are of the Lord’s will and will serve to advance his glory. This is also evidence of great progress: that, almost forgetful of ourselves, surely subordinating our self-concern, we try faithfully to devote our zeal to God and his commandments. For when Scripture bids us leave off self-concern, it not only erases from our minds the yearning to possess, the desire for power, and the favor or men, but it also uproots ambition and all craving for human glory and other more secret plagues” (3.7.2a).
What comes to mind when you think of John Calvin? Could it be a picture of an arid academic theologian with a full head and an empty heart, who is intellectual but impractical, who is concerned only with thinking and not living? Maybe such pictures do not image themselves in your mind, but sometimes he is misunderstood in such a way. Over against the misunderstood Calvin stands the genuine Calvin, who was a man that embodied what he taught in regard to the Christian life. He teaches in chapter six of the Institutes concerning the Christian life: “it is a doctrine not of the tongue but of life. It is not apprehended by the understanding and memory alone, as other disciplines are, but it is received only when it possesses the whole soul, and finds a seat and resting place in the inmost affection of the heart.”
Sincerely practicing the denial of self is a distinguishing mark of the Christian life. In the quotation above from section two, Calvin teaches that progress is an essential facet of the Christian life as well. But what does he mean by ‘progress’? He means progressing in the practice of forgetting and denying ourselves by “subordinating our self-concern” and in trying “faithfully to devote our zeal to God and his commandments.” Concern for self must be uprooted (daily) and replaced (daily) by directing our devotional energies toward God and his law. God helps us to uproot an unhealthy and sinful preoccupation with ourselves by using the sharp spade of hard truth: It is true that at times, all of us yearn for possessions, desire power, crave the approval of humans, harbor selfish ambition, and are secretly plagued by other vices and sins. The sharp spade of hard truth helps to eradicate this selfish root. Hard truth begets deep change. We must resist the temptation to gloss over confronting our vices and sin in the practice of denying self and devoting ourselves to God and His commandments. Ask God today to search the soil of your heart and to expose any roots that feed self-concern and then plead with God to plant roots that feed concern for Him and His law. By the power of the Spirit resist the temptation to exalt and praise yourself in front of others today. Instead remain silent unless your speech praises others and promotes and exalts God. (Justin)