`Then said Jesus unto His disciples, If any man would come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.' -- Matt. 16:24
Self-denial was an exercise of which the Lord Jesus often spoke. He mentioned it several times as an indispensable token of every true disciple. He connects it with cross-bearing and losing life. (Matt. 10:38,39; Luke 9:23; 14:27; John 12:24,25) Our old life is so sinful, and remains to the end so sinful, that it is never in a condition for anything good. It must therefore be denied and mortified, in order that the new life, the life of God, may have free dominion over us. (Rom. 6:6; 8:13; Gal. 2:20; 5:24; 6:14; Col. 3:5) Let the young Christian resolve from the very beginning to deny himself wholly, in accordance with the injunction of his Lord. At the outset, it seems severe: he will find that it is the source of inconceivable blessing.
Let self-denial reach our carnal understanding. It was when Peter had spoken according to the thought of the natural understanding, that the Lord had to say to him: `Thou mindest not the things of God, but the things of men.' You must deny yourselves and your own thoughts. We must be careful that the activity of our understanding with the word and prayer, in endeavouring to reach the knowledge of what is God's will, does not deceive us with a service of God that is not in spirit and in truth. Deny your carnal understanding; bring it to silence; in holy silence give place to the Holy Spirit; let the voice of God be heard in your heart. (Matt. 26:21; 1 Cor. 1:17,27; 2:6; Col. 2:18)
Deny also your own will, with all its lusts and desires. Let it be once for all unquestionable that the will of God in everything is your choice, and that therefore every desire that does not fall in with this will, must be mortified. Pray, believe that in the will of God there is heavenly blessedness, and that therefore self-denial appears severe only at the outset, but, when you exercise yourself heartily in it, becomes a great joy. Let the body with all its life abide under the law of self-denial. (Matt. 26:39; Rom. 6:13; 1 Cor. 9:25,27)
Deny also your own honour. Seek not it, but the honour of God. This brings such a rest into the soul. `How can ye believe,' says Jesus, `which receive glory one of another?' Although your honour be hurt or reviled, commit it to God to watch over it. Be content to be little, to be nothing. `Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom.' (John 5:44; 7:18; 8:50; 1 Thess. 2:6)
Deny, in like manner, your own power. Cherish the deep conviction that it is those who are weak, those who are nothing, that God can use. Be very much afraid of your own endeavours in the service of God, however sincere they may be. Although you feel as if you had power, say before God that you have it not, that your power is nothing: continuous denial of your own power is the way to enjoy the power of God. It is in the heart that dies to its own power, that the Holy Spirit decides to dwell and bring the power of God. (2 Cor. 3:5; 12:9)
Deny especially your own interests. Live not to please yourself, but your neighbour. He that seeks his own life shall lose it; he that would live for himself shall not find life. But he that would really imitate Jesus, to share in His joy, let him give his life as He did, let him sacrifice his own interests. (Rom. 15:1,3; 1 Cor. 10:23,24; Eph. 2:4)
Beloved Christian, at conversion you had to make a choice betwixt your own self and Christ, which you should obey. You then said: `Not I, but Christ' Now you are to confirm this choice every day. The more you do so, the more joyful and blessed will it be for you to renounce the sinful self, to cast aside unholy self-working, and suffer Jesus to be all. The way of self-denial is a way of deep heavenly blessedness.
There are very many Christians that observe nothing of this way. They would have Jesus to make them free from punishment, but not to liberate them from themselves, from their own will. But the invitation to discipleship still always rings: `If any man would come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.'
The reason as well as the power for self-denial, we find in the little word Me. `If any man would come after Me, let him deny himself, and follow Me.' The old life is in ourselves: the new life is in Jesus: the new life cannot rule without driving out the old. Where one's own self had everything to say, it must be nothing. This it would fain not be: on this account there must be all the day denial of one's self, imitation of Jesus. He, with His teaching, His will, His honour, His interests, must fill the heart. But he that has and knows Him, willingly denies himself: Christ is so precious to him, that he sacrifices everything, even himself, to win Him. (Gal. 2:20; Phil. 3:7,8)
This is the true life of faith. Not according to what nature sees or thinks to be acceptable, do I live, but according to what Jesus says and would have. Every day and every hour I confirm the wonderful bargain: `Not I, but Christ:' I nothing, Christ everything. `Ye died,' and no longer have power, or will, or honour; `your life is hid with Christ in God:' Christ's power and will alone prevail. O soul, cheerfully deny that sinful wretched self, in order that the glorious Christ may dwell in you.
Precious Saviour, teach me what self-denial is. Teach me so to distrust my heart that in nothing shall I yield to its fancy. Teach me so to know Thee that it shall be impossible for me to do anything else than to offer up myself to possess Thee and Thy life. Amen.
1. Of the denial of the natural understanding Tersteegen says: `God and His truth are never known aright, save by such an one as, by the dying of his carnal nature, his inclinations, passions, and will, is made very earnest and silent; and by the abandonment of the manifold deliberations of the understanding, has become very simple and childlike. We must give our heart and our will entirely to God, forsaking our own will in all things, releasing ourselves especially from the manifold imaginations and activities of the understanding, even in spiritual things, that it may collect itself silently in the heart, and dwell as in the heart with God. Not in the head, but in the heart is found the living truth itself, the anointing that teaches us all things. In the heart is found the living fountain of light. Any one that lives in a heart entertained with God, will often with a glance of the eye discern more truth than another with the greatest exertion.'
2. Read the above passage with care: you will find in it the reason why we have several times said, that when you read or pray you must at every opportunity keep quiet for a little and set yourself in entire silence before God. This is necessary, to bring the activity of the natural understanding to silence and to set the heart open before God, that He may speak there. In the heart is the temple where worship in spirit and truth takes place. Distrust, deny your understanding in spiritual things. The natural understanding is in the head: the spiritual understanding is in the heart, the temple of God. O preserve in the temple of God a holy silence before His countenance: then He will speak.
3. `The peculiar mark of Christian self-denial is inward cheerfulness and joy in the midst of privation. The word of God makes unceasing joy a duty. This gladsome disposition, which, hailing from eternity, has all change and vicissitude under foot, will hold its ground, not only in times of severe suffering, but also in the self-denial of every day and hour that is inseparable from the Christian life.'
4. What all am I to deny? Deny yourself. How shall I know where and when to deny myself? Do so always and in everything. And if you do not rightly understand that answer, know that no one can give you the right explanation of it but Jesus Himself. To imitate Him, to be taught of Him, is the only way to self-denial. Only when Jesus comes in, does self go out.