So here we are with the gospel, going to a generation of people who are not only proud, but they’ve turned pride into the virtue of all virtues, who are in love with themselves, and who seek to fulfill every whim, and every desire, and every ambition, and every dream, and every hope; who seek to be everything that they can be, who seek to set value on all that they are, and all that they say, and all that they do. And we confront that culture with the gospel, and at the heart of the gospel is this opening. “So you want to follow Jesus, do you? You want to enter the Kingdom of God? You want your sins forgiven? You want eternal heaven? Then deny yourself and take up your cross and fully submit to Him.” You can’t even get to the submitting part unless you can get past the cross part, and you can’t get there if you can’t get past the part about denying yourself.
To give you a term that you likely won’t forget, I’ll borrow from Martin Luther. Martin Luther, as you know, launched the Protestant Reformation. He was a Roman Catholic priest who came to understand the truth of salvation by grace through faith alone in Christ alone, apart from works, and ceremonies, and all the rest; and so he determined that he would confront the Roman Catholic system, the great monolithic system of error and deception, and he selected 95 different statements, 95 different protests – that’s why we’re called “Protestants” – 95 different assertions that ran contrary to Catholicism. He wrote them down and he nailed them on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg.
The fourth of his protests, the fourth of his 95 assertions was that a penitent heart, a heart that comes to God and receives salvation is characterized by – here’s his term, “self hate.” Self hate. Quoting from Luther’s fourth statement. “And so penance remains while self hate remains.” He said that self hate was the true interior penitence. “This,” said Luther, “is essential to the gospel.”