Deny Yourself

By Beth Hyduke

Christ taught that to be His disciple (lit. "learner" or "pupil"), each of us must deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Him (Matthew 16:24, Mark 8:34, Luke 9:23). The word we translate as "deny" was the Greek word aparneomai and it means to "renounce," "disown," or "forfeit." When Jesus says that we need to disown ourselves it is with the Biblical understanding that people are inherently sinful, selfish, and self-centered beings (Romans 3:23 & 7:5, Galatians 5:19-21). In this natural sinful state, we want what we want, prioritizing and putting our selves first at the expense of God (who ought to reign supreme in all that we do) as well as others (whom we injure and devalue in our efforts to make sure that we come first and foremost). This way of living (putting self before everyone and everything else) is so common and natural to mankind in our unregenerate state that the Bible frequently warns us that "there is a way that seems right to a man but that way ends in death" (Proverbs 14:12 & 16:25, Matthew 7:13-14).

But God says we should live in a different way, and that part of this way involves denying the self. Some have taken this teaching to extreme measures, living and teaching others to live in a physical or emotional state of deprivation in an attempt to become holier. But the Bible does not teach that we must reclusively withdraw from the world; in fact it teaches that we must actively engage with the world (Mark 2:16-17 & 16:15, 1 Peter 3:15). Nor does it mean that we have to deprive ourselves of things that benefit us like good food, human relationships, or meaningful work; in fact it teaches that God has given us these things to be used wisely and resourcefully, and that when we do that, it brings Him glory and pleasure (1 Corinthians 10:31, Colossians 3:17, 1 Peter 4:11).

When Jesus says we must deny ourselves, He is speaking about our need to give up the desire and inclination to self-will and self-service that comes so naturally to human beings; literally, we are to put to death the self on a daily basis (Colossians 3:5, Romans 8:13). In practice and in application, this is the conscious act of dethroning our selves as the god we serve, worship, and follow, and reinstalling the true God as God in our hearts, minds, and lives. There is a real sense in which no one can truly accept Christ as their Savior unless they also submit to Him as their Lord. We cannot follow Jesus unless we obey Jesus, and that means in essence that we must fire ourselves as boss so that we can reinstate Him as boss, a title and function that rightfully belongs to Him.

You can clearly see this self-denial in action in the example Jesus Christ sets for us in the Garden of Gethsemane. He knew that His time had come to die and He was agonizing over the pain and suffering He would face in a few short hours. Matthew 26 tells us that He left His disciples who had fallen asleep and went alone into the Garden where He fell on His face, praying, "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup of suffering be taken from Me. Yet not as I will, but as You will" (Matthew 26:39, 42, 44). Christ expressed horror and repulsion at the prospect of the Cross. He did not want to go; in fact, He pleaded with God to come up with an alternative. But in the end, He put His desire away, accepting even the torturous execution the Cross would mean by forfeiting His will in the matter so that He could accept His Father's. He submitted to His Father's will which meant that He denied His own.

I grew up in a military family. One of our family friends was a veteran Marine Corps gunnery sergeant who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan. He described his job to me one time as being the link between the CO (commanding officer) and all the enlisted men who served under him. His job was to receive orders from the CO and then ensure that everybody in the company was following them appropriately and expediently. I will never forget what he said to me: "If each individual Marine did whatever he or she thought best, there would be no Marine Corps but there would be a lot of Marine corpses."

Similarly, if each Christian believer were to follow his own directives and desires, rejecting God's orders and authority in the process, there would be no cohesion, no order, and no true following of our Leader. Though it is spiritual not physical warfare that Christians fight (Ephesians 6:12, 2 Corinthians 10:3-5), the principle carries over. In order to become true followers of Christ, we must commit ourselves to forfeiting our self-will so that we can submit to and follow our CO, who as the King James renders it in Hebrews 2:10, is "the captain of our salvation."

Image Credit: J. Stephen Con; "Military Ridge State Trail"; Creative Commons

TagsBiblical-Truth  | Christian-Life  | Personal-Relationships

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Published on 10-15-15