Denying Self


Before I begin, I must confess that sometimes I get tired of denying myself.

Sometimes I just want to give in to my passions and desires. I don’t want to pray for grace to resist. I don’t want to walk by the Spirit.

This happens when I take my eyes off of Jesus, when I forget my purpose in Christ and who I am in Jesus, when I fail to take every thought captive, and when I focus on my fleshly desires.

Does this ever happen to you?
Do you get tired of dieting, denying yourself of favorite foods?
Do you get tired of denying yourself a legal or illegal drug to get that peaceful, easy feeling?
Do you get tired of denying yourself of something you want, resisting the desire to spend money you don’t have on something you really don’t need.
Do you get tired of going to church and denying yourself of an extra hour of sleep?
Most of all, do you get tired of denying yourself and following Jesus?

If so, then you probably know what happens next: As soon as we quit denying self and indulge our fleshly desires, the pleasure we thought we would enjoy turns into grief, because we just denied Christ and grieved the Holy Spirit. The joy of the Lord and the peace of God leave us until we confess our sin, earnestly seek God the Holy Spirit, and deny ourselves again.

When will we learn? We cannot follow Jesus and fulfill the desires of the flesh. It is impossible! The flesh must be crucified daily. This truth is not a command but a statement of fact!

Jesus put it this way: Mark 8:34-37
And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “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 and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul?"

Denying self requires us to give up everything that hinders our doing the will of God. This does not mean if we want something, it is necessarily wrong. It means we must get our desires from Jesus and make His will and the Holy Spirit the governing power in our lives!

Jesus also said the requirement for coming after Him is to take up our cross and follow Him.

What is a cross for? It is not just a burden to be borne. Far more than that, it is an instrument of death and total sacrifice! Jesus bore a cross and we must bear our cross to follow Him. But where was Jesus going with His cross? He was going to die. Likewise, we must also die to our passions and desires in order to be His disciple and follow Him.

Galatians 5:24
Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

It is our choice. Deny self or deny Jesus. There is no other choice. Jesus lets us choose, and He is kind enough to tell us the consequences of our choice and to consider what good our lives would be to us if we denied Him, gained the whole world, and lost eternal life with Him.

Therefore, "denying self" refers to sacrificing our whole life to God, as Jesus sacrificed His life for us. This involves bearing burdens, but it is deeper than that. It is a total dedication of our whole life in everything we do. Following Jesus requires us to live as He lived His life.

1 John 2:3-6
And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments.
Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected.
By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.

This way of life does not necessarily lead to a physical death (though it might be required), but it is a daily total sacrifice of self to do the will of Jesus. Whatever He wants with my life is what must be done with it if I choose to follow Him. What I want no longer matters, but I give myself for Him, just as He gave Himself for me, even though His human nature did not want to do it.

Yes, Jesus had to "deny" Himself too, and it was hard for Him as well.

Luke 22:41-44
And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.

The determination to dedicate our lives to obey God is called "repentance." In repenting, we turn away from our own will and live our lives to please God. We cannot be saved without repentance. We are saved by grace through faith. Repentance is the part of faith that shows we truly believe that Jesus is Lord, so we give Him control of our life. Without repentance, people are not truly Jesus’ disciples (even though they claim to be). They don’t have faith that Jesus is Almighty, Holy God, whom we should believe and obey. He is just a man who died on a cross.

Denying ourselves and taking up our cross isn't a little side issue. It is absolutely necessary to salvation and becoming a disciple of Jesus. It's impossible to try to follow the One who was crucified without denying self and taking up our own cross daily. Unless we deny ourselves, it will be impossible not to deny Jesus as Lord.

This is something which is so important to understand, because our natural feelings rise up against any kind of self-denial, and we immediately look for reasons to excuse ourselves from it. Those who love the world hate the very sound of it. And the enemy of our souls, knowing full-well its importance, tries every temptation to get us to please ourselves and deny Christ.

It boils down to this: who do we love more—Christ or ourselves? If we love Jesus more than ourselves, we find denying self and following Jesus is a joy, not a burden. It is something we want to do, not something we have to do. Then, as a result, we enjoy intimacy with the Lord.

Again, Jesus makes a statement of fact in John 14:23-24 Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me.

Without a doubt, it's pleasing, for a very short while, to follow our own will and desires. But by following our desires in anything, we strengthen the rebellion of our heart and it leads to death physically and spiritually.

In summary, to deny ourselves, is to give up our own will whenever it doesn't fall in line with the will of God. It's to deny ourselves any pleasure which doesn't come from, or lead to, God.

Whereas, picking up our cross is not just denying ourselves something that is pleasurable, it is allowing something that is not pleasurable to enter into our lives. What do we do when we are faced with this? The choice is plain: either we take up our cross, or we turn aside from following Jesus.

We're so attached to some habits of sin that we can never be separated from them without intense pain. The pain can be physical or emotional (godly sorrow). The pain is the result of the Lord purifying our soul (mind, will, emotions) like a refiner's fire, to burn up all the impurity.

Luke 3:16
John answered them all, “I baptize you with water, but one who is more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

This baptism of fire is painful, and it must be, because the soul cannot pass through the purifying fire without pain. If God puts us through any kind of pain, it's only in order to heal us. Jesus is our Great Physician and He cuts away and sears with fire what is killing us spiritually.

When our Lord said to the rich young man, "go and sell all you possess, give it to the poor, and follow me", the very thought of it gave that young man so much pain that "he went away grieved" (Mark 10:22). He chose to part with his hope of Heaven, rather than part with his possessions on earth. This was a pain he would not agree to endure. He would seek another way—another preacher who would tell him he could satisfy his fleshly desires, gain the whole world, and go to Heaven, too. (He wouldn’t have difficulty finding that preacher today).

In one way or another, every follower of Christ must choose to deny self, take up his cross daily, endure the purification process, or turn away from following Jesus.

Therefore, it's always because of a lack of self-denial, or taking up his cross, that someone doesn't completely follow Christ and is not fully His disciple. Let me illustrate this by describing five kinds of people:

1. The first kind of man hears the Word which is able to save his soul. He likes what he hears, acknowledges Jesus is a way to God, yet he remains asleep and dead in sin. Why is that? Because he won't part with the sin he loves. He rejects any conviction by comparing himself to others and concluding: I’m as good as them, and the good I do outweighs my sin. This man refuses wake up to the danger he is in.

2. The second kind of person hears the Word and begins to wake up. He's convicted by the Spirit of God and his soul is disturbed. But soon the conviction wears off and his eyes are closed again. Why does he again sink into the sleep of death? Because he continues to yield to the sin he loves. Although he begins to wake up, he has no deep love for Christ. He loves himself more and wants to remain lord of his life. So he focuses on the world again.

3. The third type of man has fully awakened. The things God has shown him don't fade away. He gets baptized, and yet, he never feels at peace with God. Now, why is this? It's because he doesn't repent. He doesn't "cease to do evil" and "learn to do good". He is unwilling to fully obey and sacrifice his life completely, because it's something he doesn’t really want to do. Therefore, although he is convicted, it's impossible for him to follow Jesus because he will not deny himself.

4. The fourth person is someone who has tasted the heavenly gift. The peace which passes all understanding ruled his heart and mind; and the love of God was poured out in his heart by the Holy Spirit, but now, He is not following Jesus. He has grieved the Holy Spirit. As a result, his love for God has grown cold, and the peace of God no longer rules in his heart.
And no wonder, for he has again given a place to the devil, he has turned again to some pleasing sin, if not in some outward act, then in his heart. He has given a place to pride, or anger, or lust, or self-will, or stubbornness. He again loves the things of the world and desires them more than God.

How did he get this way? He failed to go to the Father for grace during his time of need. He gave way to spiritual laziness and quit praying. He didn’t take every thought captive and gave in to his fantasies and desires. Consequently, he made shipwreck of his faith, because he failed to deny self and take up his cross daily.

Hebrews 12:15-17
See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.

5. The fifth kind of man hasn't made a total shipwreck of his faith. Yet. He still has a measure of the Spirit of adoption, which continues to witness with his spirit that he is a child of God. However, he isn't, as he once was, hungering and thirsting after righteousness, as the deer pants after the water brook. Instead he's weary of the battle with temptation and tired of denying self. He is wavering between life and death. He is in great danger of being defeated.

And why is he this way? Because he is not diligent in continuing in prayer, meditating on the Word of God, fasting, and staying in constant fellowship with God. He doesn’t take every thought captive, rejoice always, and give thanks in all circumstances. He has succumbed to self-pity and selfishness and focusing on things of the world. He doesn't fervently serve the Lord by doing good to men. He doesn't continue to yield to God at all opportunities, because he might have to do it at his own expense. Besides, visiting the sick or those in prison is surrounded with all kinds of uncomfortable circumstances.

Additionally, he won't help his neighbor or sharing the Gospel because of fear of rejection. He may have to expose himself to ridicule or worse inconveniences.

Tired of denying himself and carrying his cross, he is in danger of ceasing to follow Jesus and indulging his fleshly desires unless he goes to the Father for grace and seeks the Holy Spirit for strength to press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Galatians 6:7-10
Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.

We can see that it's always because a man will not deny himself or take up his cross that he doesn't completely follow Jesus. It's for this reason that he's not fully a disciple of Christ.

This is also the real reason why so many people who were once burning and shining lights have now lost both their light and heat. They didn't value self-denial according to its high importance, or take any pains in practicing it. They got tired of denying self and denied Jesus instead.

Now, I have been preaching to myself. But it is my hope that you will apply this truth to your own soul.

Meditate on it.

Earnestly seek the Holy Spirit for understanding, strength, and grace to practice it! Don't put this off, but go to the Father for grace (like Jesus did in Gethsemane) to practice self-denial, to take up your cross, and to follow Jesus during every occasion and in all circumstances of life! Practice self-denial and picking up your cross daily, without intermission, from the moment you first get up, and enduring to the end, until your spirit returns to God!

Following Jesus is the most joyful, peaceful, and abundant life possible! Don’t miss it for the world!

In order to follow Jesus, you must have faith that Jesus Christ is not only your Savior but also your Lord.
To begin following Jesus, believe what He says.
Publicly confess your faith that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who atoned for your sin on the cross.
Repent of your sin and self-rule, and make Jesus the Lord of your life by dying to self in baptism.
Then you will be born again of the Holy Spirit, who will give you grace and power to deny self and pick up a cross daily in order to follow Jesus.