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Christian, do you deny yourself?

Christian, do you deny yourself?
Posted on May 29, 2019  - By Tobin Mattackal

Growing up in a church setting, I’ve often heard teachers of God’s word constantly remind the congregation of the importance of praying and  reading the Bible every day, of being an active member of the local church and of evangelising — all essential disciplines and marks of a true follower of Christ.

But there is a more important commandment in Scripture that Jesus Himself points out to His followers, which I believe we don’t often talk about or even hear sermons about. We see it in the gospel of Mark 8:34: “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.”

Jesus is asking His followers to make two intentional decisions: 1) to deny ourselves and 2) to take up our cross and follow Him. I’d like to focus on the first of these for now, but I think it’s safe to say: most of us have an issue with this.

The big problem

You see when we were born, we were born with us on the throne. By nature, we were born with the desire to be the lords of our own lives. All our decisions, cravings, desires, priorities and dreams are centred on what we really want to do. It’s all about ‘me’.

If you think about it, this is exactly what sin is — a thought echoed by theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg in his book Systematic Theology, where he defines sin as ‘self-centeredness’. Almost all our decisions and movements in life are motivated by our own pleasures and what will ultimately satisfy us. But what Jesus is saying here is: listen, it doesn’t work that way. If you are to follow Me, you have to completely reject yourself as the lord of your life — and replace you with Me.

In practice though, many of us — even those who’ve been Christians for years — view our relationship with Jesus as a partnership. Many of us profess that Christ is our Lord and Saviour, but yet don’t fully grasp what lordship really means. When Jesus asks us to deny ourselves, He is not asking us to ‘add’ Him to the picture, but rather to submit every single aspect of our lives, so that He gets to exclusively be the Lord of our lives. When that happens, our appetites, desires, priorities and dreams are all groomed by Him, through Him and, ultimately, for Him.

When Jesus asks us to deny ourselves, He is not asking us to ‘add’ Him to the picture. He’s asking to exclusively be the Lord of our lives

Getting to the goal

But let’s be honest. One of the greatest struggles for Christians is to deny ourselves, because we love to be on that throne. Here are some helpful truths that I’ve been learning in that regard that I hope will help you too.

  1. Understand its significance as a commandment: The sad reality is that not many Christians even consider this as an important commandment from our Lord. Yet, Jesus Himself says the only way to follow Him is by denying ourselves and taking up our cross. So what prevents us from this?
    Are you given to pride? Selfishness? Laziness? Anxiety? Denying ourselves means making choices that don’t feed our natural inclinations and desires, but looking to Christ to actively work towards being more like Him. If you are refusing to give in to your temper, your lack of control with addictions, your desire to satisfy your flesh, does that make you uncomfortable? Is it ‘too hard’? Struggling with yourself is a marker that you’re on the right track.
  2. Acknowledge our inadequacy: We don’t think about this as often as we should. After all, who wants to accept that we “can’t” do something? That we are incapable, insufficient and incompetent? But the truth is that we are engaged in an ongoing battle with our flesh — and, on our own, we cannot gain the victory. We need to remind ourselves that our flesh will always choose its own desires over God’s.
  3. Hope in the gospel: We have a commandment and we have a problem with obeying that command — but we also have a hope. Though we find ourselves devoid of the strength we need to fight this battle, we can put our trust in Jesus and His finished work on the Cross. It is only through the power of God in the gospel that we can fight against our flesh.
  4. Walk by the Spirit: Paul reminds us of this truth from Galatians 5:16: “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” Again in verse 17, he says: “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.” One of the ways we can work this out is by reading the Scripture and yielding to the Spirit — not ourselves — to guide our ways, thoughts and decisions. Reading may bring knowledge, but application of its truths by the power of the Spirit is what leads to transformation and change.
  5. Pause and pray: Whenever I need to make decisions now, or when I’m tempted to deny Him and follow my own heart, I’ve taken to pausing — and saying a quick prayer. I ask God what He’d want me to do, what might be the best way to respond to a situation. That in itself is a great start to denying oneself and trusting in God.

This discipline of denying ourselves is not going to develop out of the blue. But when we constantly and intentionally seek Him and remind ourselves of our place in the big picture, then it becomes a more natural response in our everyday lives.

Tobin Mattackal

About Tobin Mattackal

Tobin Mattackal completed his Masters in Bible Studies at Criswell College in Dallas, Texas. Raised in the UAE, he spent his university days discipling youngsters and reading Scripture with them. He is currently serving at his local church in Bangalore, India, and is devoted to sharing the good news of salvation with the lost.



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