by Robert Jacobs
As a species, humans innately seek their own preservation, an instinct to not simply subsist but to prepare ourselves to survive in an increasingly hostile world. Dr. Richard F. Taflinger, associate clinical professor of communications at Washington State University, clarifies this concept in his explanation of the biological impetus for the self-preservation reflex: “To be successful as a species, the members of that species must have a desire to survive…a species with a death-wish dies out rather quickly.”
Professor Taflinger’s description of self-preservation, while somewhat tongue and cheek, does seem to be borne out by my own personal experiences. We live in a world that appears to be governed by the principle of “the survival of the fittest” (Darwin). To put it more succinctly, if you want to succeed (let alone survive), you have to look out for your own interests at all times. Despite the instinctive nature of this self-centered focus, Christ calls his followers to live a very different life, one defined by self-sacrifice rather than self-promotion.
As Christ explained to His disciples the necessity of His suffering and death, He provided them with a road map for following His teachings:
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 (ESV)
This teaching completely contradicts the human instinct for self-preservation and promotion. Rather than seeking our own good, Christ calls us to imitate Him, rejecting what we desire in order to follow the will of the Father. In His own humanity, we see Jesus struggle with this principle during his conversation with the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36-46). Christ admits that the crucifixion was not something He desired by asking, “if it be possible, let this cup pass from me;” however, he ultimately abandons his own desires to follow the will of the Father, stating, “nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” We have been called to imitate Christ, to lay down our own desires to worship the Father through fulfilling his will.
Because this pushes against our very nature, the process of choosing God over our desires is extremely difficult. In Psalm 51, David notes that our very nature is corrupt and, thus, all humans have a natural inclination toward sin (Ps. 51:5). Our very nature is to not desire the things of God. Consequently, Matthew uses extremely strong phraseology in this passage. He employs the Greek phrase ἀπαρν-έομαι, an expression also used by both Aristotle and Thucydides to denote a complete rejection, to deny to the uttermost (Liddell and Scott). To reject what we desire is to contradict the sinful instincts at the core of our being, a difficult task to say the least.
This teaching of sacrifice causes one to pause and ask, “If I am forfeiting everything I desire, how will I ever be satisfied and fulfilled?” Jesus addresses this question immediately after commanding his followers to deny themselves:
“…For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Matthew 16:25
When we abandon our wishes for God’s will, Jesus tells us that we will actually find the life that we thought we would obtain through our initial longings. In other words, the very things we pursue apart from God in an attempt to fulfill us are the very things that keep us from finding true joy and satisfaction.
For those who struggle with same-sex attraction, this command of self-denial seems completely unfair. After all, Christ is not asking those who are heterosexually attracted to forgo having sex with their spouse. Why can these individuals satisfy their sexual longings while those who are same-sex attracted are asked to deny that ostensibly same desire? While I would be sure to note that these desires are not the same, I would more emphatically reply that heterosexuals are just as inclined to sexual sin as those who struggle with same-sex attraction. For instance, Dr. Susan Krauss Whitbourne’s research conclusively demonstrates that all people, no matter how they are sexually oriented, tend to fantasize about other partner’s while having sex. As I noted in an earlier devotional, this kind of mental sexualization and consumption directly contradicts the teachings of Christ. As David states in his Psalm, we are all inclined toward sin and Christ states that to follow him, we must deny those sinful desires, no matter what form they take.
Do you believe that if you abandon your sinful desires that God will offer you true life and fulfillment? Are you willing to deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Christ? In order to follow Jesus, you must be willing to do precisely that. We must continually ask ourselves, “What will it profit me if I gain the whole world—the perfect job, a flawless body, the picture-perfect life partner—yet I forfeit my soul” (Matt 16:26).
Darwin, Charles. “Letter 5140 – Wallace, A. R. to Darwin, C. R., 2 July 1866.” The Darwin Correspondence Project: Cambridge University. http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/letter/DCP-LETT-5140.xml#back-mark-5140.f5.
A Greek-English Lexicon: With a Revised Supplement, Ninth Revised Edition.
Edited by H.G. Liddell, R. Scott. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996. s.v. ἀπαρν-έομαι
Taflinger, Richard F. “Taking Advantage: The Biological Basis of Human Behavior.” Washington State University. http://public.wsu.edu/~taflinge/biology.html.
Whitbourne, Susan Krauss. “Why We Fantasize About Other Partners.” Psychology Today. Nov. 1, 2014. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/fulfillment-any-age/201411/why-we-fantasize-about-other-partners.