“Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.’” Matthew 16:24
This powerful verse is one of my favorites. Not favorite in the sense that it makes me feel good, but favorite in the sense that I feel challenged every single time I read it. It is a core principle for life as a Christian, and it encourages me to press on and make my life look more and more like Jesus.
It’s a bold statement. Jesus was serious about the people who chose to follow him. And it is evident from the entire New Testament that his true followers were serious too, even if it took his death to get them to truly understand it.
I was so excited to write about these mere two words in the verse that this section started to become long, so there will be a part two with the rest of it. Your girl just gets really excited about the Bible and Christian living sometimes.
What does it mean to deny ourselves? Self-denial means letting go of self-determination and replacing it with obedience to and dependence on the Messiah. Our human nature directly contradicts God’s nature and desires. When we act on that opposition to God, it’s called sin, and it separates us from Him. The whole point of Jesus coming to earth was to save us from what we deserved due to that sin. He lived a challenging life for that purpose, and he made it clear to his followers that if they lived like him their fate would be the same.
Luke’s gospel account adds the word “daily” to this part of the verse (Luke 9:23). I like this because it’s absolutely true. No matter where we are on our faith journey, we must deny ourselves daily. We must give up our desires, habits, and tendencies that are not in line with God’s will. It’s very hard, and we fail often. To be transparent and give you some examples, here are things I have to deny myself of quite regularly:
Laziness. I hit snooze a lot when I planned to get up and spend time reading the Bible. I don’t want to drive the 30 minutes to church so I opt to watch online. I stay home when I could be going out and meeting people, developing relationships, and sharing Jesus with them. Proverbs 21:25-26 says, “The desire of the sluggard kills him, for his hands refuse to labor. All day long he craves and craves, but the righteous gives and does not hold back.”
Low confidence. I am afraid to share my faith with others because I don’t think my words will make sense or the person will ask a question in response that I can’t answer. I don’t want to pray out loud in a group setting for fear that I will stumble over my words. Ephesians 2: 10 says, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
Comparison. I wish my home décor looked like that influencer’s. I want to live in a nicer house in a more expensive city. I wish I had as many friends as these other people. I want my Instagram posts to get as many likes as they used to. I wish I didn’t have these stupid morals so I could party with those people and have a good time (for the record I don’t think my morals are stupid, it’s just how I feel sometimes). See Matthew 6:25-34. It’s too much to write here, but every word of the passage is important.
When I think of a lesson in denying oneself, I think of Jonah. If you have 15 minutes, I encourage you to go read the book in the Bible. Jonah is very relatable. When God gives him an assignment, he thinks he knows better and tries to get out of it. God disciplines him, he repents, but then is prideful again. So once again God disciplines him. Unfortunately, the story ends rather abruptly and we don’t get to see if Jonah repents again. One thing we can take away from this story is that God didn’t put us on earth to be comfortable. We are all called to ministry, whether that’s in the church or outside of it. To be effective in ministry and get the gospel to the world, we have to deny our pride and selfishness. We have to deny our thinking that we know better than God. It’s difficult but freeing.
It’s a daily choice: Will we deny our desires in order to fulfill God’s?
If we claim the name Christian and we say we follow Christ, we ought to strive for this. Actions speak louder than words. If we want to effectively share Jesus with the people in our lives, then our lives have to reflect him. What reason does someone have to believe Jesus was humble, gracious, and loving if we as his followers are not displaying those traits?
Come back for part 2 where we’ll dive into the rest of the verse beyond the two words we discussed here!