Let Him Deny Himself
“Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” Matthew 16:24
If there is anything that goes against the grain of the human psyche it’s the idea of self-denial, especially in this modern-day self-centered culture. “It’s all about me, my feelings, my needs, my advancement, my pleasure, my satisfaction, it’s my life and I’ll live it my way,”
The mere thought that self-denial has benefits and is worth the price is generally only acceptable in certain sports, in the acquisition of wealth or the sustaining of a youthful appearance by extraordinary means and all other such temporal things. All such sacrifices are encompassed in self-indulgence.
To deny the self when it comes to our baser human instincts is considered by mainstream psychology to be detrimental to emotional and even physical health. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is only in the denial of the self’s baser instincts with understanding that true fulfillment is realized.
The un-regenerated unborn-again self is sold into the pursuit of sin and its pleasures from birth. All that compels us to seek our pleasure and self-fulfillment apart from obedience to God’s Word has its end in death. By contrast, denying those instincts and following the pattern of Christ’s life is true fulfillment, because we were created to worship God and be like Him in all our ways. At the most fundamental part of our re-born Spirit is the need and the impetus to live holy and upright lives of faith before God and the world. This is the high life indeed. It is life filled with blessing, prosperity, health and peace, despite the presence of poverty, sickness, want and need.
In the world, Jesus said, we will have tribulations but we can be of good cheer in the midst of it because Jesus has overcome the world. Therefore, through Him we also have overcome the world. We are in the world but not of it.
We are positioned with Jesus in Heaven.
“And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:6-10
Our new nature is not of this world. It is of the realm of the Spirit, born of the Spirit of God. It is the spiritual blood of His Spirit of life and that more abundantly that is coursing through our being. If we desire what He desires we will find our joy in what brings joy to the Lord our God. We are our Father’s sons and daughters.
But the nature of the flesh is to live for the pleasures of men and not for the pleasure of God. The nature of the flesh is to place its passions and desires, its natural instincts and tendencies above and before the will of God and His Law. The flesh is “god” to the natural man. The Law of God is at odds with the natural desires of the un-reborn man.
“But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?" Matthew 16:23-26
The only way to truly follow Jesus is to deny ourselves, to take up our cross and follow Him. All our choices motivated by self-preservation to save our lives in opposition to the expressed will of God, leads ultimately to the loss of our life. We might please our elves for a time, but ultimately it will not be about how well we pleased our flesh but how obedient were we to the will of God? Despite our deepest human passion or drive for self-pleasure and self-preservation it will not be enough to save us from the holiness, justice and righteousness of God.
“There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereofarethe ways of death.” Proverbs 16:25
The foundation of this truth God declared in Isaiah 55.
“Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near: Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.
For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.
For ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace: the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir tree, and instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle tree: and it shall be to the Lord for a name, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.” Isaiah 55:6-13
The ways of God lead to prosperity, abundant blessing, joy and peace. The thoughts of God are of life and that more abundantly. The ways of God inspire praise in all creation. When we deny ourselves and choose God’s ways and God’s thoughts, when we take up our cross and follow Jesus, then we are walking in the way that leads to Life, true Life, with joy unspeakable and full of glory.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: that the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ: Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory: receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls.” 1 Peter 1:3-9
Denying the self is not easy, but in God it has great and sure rewards! Self-denial without understanding is miserable. It would be like doing all the preparation to run a race and then never getting to run. Or working all day and night sacrificing to achieve a goal and finding in the end there was nothing to make it all worthwhile.
Denying the self, the fallen nature of our base humanity for the sake of knowing the true and glorious life of Christ is and will be worth more than we could ever imagine. Taking up our cross is the willful act of keeping our fleshly debilitating desires judged and crucified as sin on our cross and following Jesus to the resurrection to new life full of joy and peace.
Some desires are more easily denied than others. All desires are tied to our human emotions, thoughts and life experiences or imaginations. Those that are strongest are tied to our sense of human identity whether good or bad, socially acceptable or repugnant. Like so many of our thoughts we are not directly responsible for what enters into our imaginations when we are not deliberately pursuing them.
The mind is a battleground; a virtual theatre of spiritual warfare that we confront daily and therefore must be equipped to deal with. The Scriptures instruct us in how to deal with our thoughts and the passions that accompany them.
“For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ; And having in a readiness to revenge all disobedience, when your obedience is fulfilled.” 2 Corinthians 10:3-6
That may seem daunting just the idea of arresting every thought and considering it worthy of unworthy of our contemplation or meditation to deeper consideration; knowing that our thoughts continually contemplated go down into our hearts and eventual become our words, or conversations and confessions, those inform our actions and our actions determine our habits, which, regularly practiced, define our lifestyle, which will determine our destiny.
Thoughts that are unworthy of the holiness and righteousness of Christ must be taken captive by obedience to His Word, so that those unworthy thoughts will not, overtime, define us in opposition to our Savior’s substitutionary, all atoning, profound suffering sacrifice of love for our sins. His life, death, burial and resurrection was the ultimate sacrifice that opened the only pathway for us to be saved from our sins, sickness, suffering and death, to be transformed to His image and to be accepted in the beloved, to be restored to our rightful place of wholeness, fulfillment and true happiness with Him, with the Father and the Holy Spirit forever in Heaven for all eternity in joy and peace.
This is the beginning of our reward for denying our self, taking up our cross and following Jesus.