Individuality begins early. The child insists, “I will do it myself” — an attitude that clings into adulthood and extends to spirituality. This independence actually keeps people from a personal relationship with God who declares . . .
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:8–10)
Salvation is not my own doing; it is the gift of God. I cannot boast that I have eternal life in Jesus Christ, only be grateful that He created me for His purpose and that I can live accordingly.
Just as a child must cooperate with its parent, so must I cooperate with my Savior, and the only way to do that is by yielding that independent “I will do it myself” attitude in self-denial . . .
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. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. (Matthew 16:24–27)
Chamber says that God wants to bring me into union with Himself, but unless I am willing to give up my right to myself and that prideful independence, I cannot appreciate or enter into that union. Clinging to my individuality keeps me from becoming like Jesus Christ, from growing and maturing in faith.
Self-denial is practical in definition and performance. It can be in inner attitudes, but must also include the more visible stuff, like food and drink. This is not a popular topic this time of the year with cookies, candy, and other sweets heavily promoted and offered, never mind the excesses in wine and other beverages. However, saying no to most of them brings bodily benefits, like safer driving during the holidays, and not having to go on a severe diet in January!
Staying away from too many Christmas treats is a place for self-denial, but there are more. How about those crazy long ‘wish lists’ that wind up piled under the tree yet eventually wind up in the next garage sale? How about the indulgence of I-wants with every sale flyer on Black Friday, or right after the holidays?
Lest I sound like Scrooge, daily life offers many opportunities to push individuality out of my thinking. What about asking for help rather than “I must do this myself” or boasting over my latest accomplishment? What do I do with those ego-boosting remarks from others who think that a good self-image means indulging support for all I do, or who encourage me to be assertive and stick up for myself?
Chambers says, “Individuality is the husk of the personal life. Individuality is all elbows, it separates and isolates. It is the characteristic of the child and rightly so . . . . It is the continual assertion of individuality that hinders our spiritual life more than anything else.” He adds that individuality never can believe. I cannot trust God when I am insisting on my own trustworthiness. When I do that, God pushes me into such a sense of failure that I must surrender to Him rather than go on in failing self-effort and brokenness.
It is a kindness that a parent lets her child try and finally say, “I cannot do it —you help me.” It is a kindness when God patiently puts up with my trying until I am broken and finally yield, crying out to Him. Only then do I know the wonder of contentment . . .
I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:12–13)