“If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9:23).
These words of Jesus apply to all of His followers in every generation, no one is exempt from them. The teaching of self-denial is not the same a performing some religious duty, instead it is fundamental to remaining a true follower of Christ. If we are not doing it, then it is obvious that we are involved with the world and avoiding the Lord. How can we follow the crucified Lord without daily taking up the cross?
The Meaning of Self-denial
Self-denial is pointless unless it is for the cause of Christ. The human nature opposes and argues against it. Satan and the religious world detest the form of self-denial that includes taking up the cross. To the majority of believers today, self-denial is a thing of the past; no wonder it is not taught from the pulpit today. Many Christians think of it as legalism, and consider those who practice it as trying to establish their own righteousness (Romans 10:3.)
Self-denial the rejecting or refusing to do our own will, and knowing that God’s will is the absolute best path for us. But this is not a complete explanation of the doctrine. Since we were born sinners, it is in our human nature to gravitate towards sin. This is were self-denial can play its part, for those who seek to be holy use it as a straight path into the presence of God. So, instead of following the inclinations and desires of the flesh, they walk the pathway of holiness by doing God’s will instead.
Given the opportunity the flesh will indulge itself and never give a thought for the things of God. Self-will brings pleasure, but it brings death too. Therefore self-denial is the rejection of everything that is opposite to the will of God. It is refusing to drink the deadly poison of sin, no matter how good it is to the taste.
Taking up the Cross
Daily taking up the cross is a step higher than self-denial. It involves not only the deprivation of the flesh, but also suffering and pain for the cause of Christ. If we are truly running the race that is set before us (Hebrews 12:1), then we will soon find a cross lying on the track, a cross which must be borne if we are to complete the course. We only have two choices here: return to our old ways or keep moving forward despite the burden of the cross. The Lord Jesus Christ illustrated this suffering and pain when He spoke of plucking out the eye and cutting off the hand to reach the Kingdom (Matthew 5:29-30) Do we not see that everything that hinders our progress must be eradicated from our lives?
The tearing out of an affection or desire from our lives is never easy. But when we do, we are placing ourselves into the Refiner’s fire of sanctification. The rich young ruler who came to Jesus found it too painful to give up his wealth. Until covetousness was purged from his heart he could not follow the Lord (Luke 18:18-25.)
God has prepared a cross for each of us, and we are obligated to carry it every day of our earthy existence. Nevertheless, this cross is for our eternal good. Such self-denial is a form of discipline and discipleship that proceeds towards perfect holiness.
The Need of Self-denial
The reason why we often fail to live as followers of Christ is due to the fact we do not practice self-denial. Also it is one of the reasons we fail to receive the blessings He has prepared for us. We find it easier to take up the world than the cross.
Why is it that so many hear God’s word but never act upon it? Is it not because of some sin in the heart that they are unwilling to give up? It is impossible to follow our own will and God’s will at the same time. Their senseless minds remain darkened while they continue to perform that unholy desire. Without self-denial the believer would quickly slip back into spiritual and moral bondage.
There are those who clearly love the Lord and would never return to the world, yet they fail to attain faith and the blessings. Once again, it is because they will not commit the entire spirit, soul, and body to the Lord. How many claim to be filled with the Holy Spirit while continuing in sin? No matter what they profess, God does not reign and rule in their lives. They are constantly giving place to the devil (Ephesians 4:27) and grieving the Holy Spirit of God (Ephesians 4:30.) They are unwilling to pay the price of “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit” (Ephesians 6:18) and are therefore making shipwreck of their faith (1 Timothy 1:19.)
If we no longer hunger and thirst after righteousness (Matthew 5:6) then it is certain that we are not denying the flesh. Maybe we are not as zealous as we once were. Maybe we no longer desire to prayer, study the Scriptures, and worship. Maybe we have given ourselves over to enjoying the world. These are the results of not taking up the cross daily. Truly faith is not brought to perfection, thus we hinder our growth in Christ. Not completely following the Lord leave us dead in sin and falling short of reach “mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14.)
Ignorance concerning Self-denial
There will always be those who will reject the doctrine of self-denial, but it only goes to prove that they do not know “the scriptures, nor the power of God” (Matthew 22:29.) They ignore multitude of texts, as well as the general message of the Bible, regarding this subject. They are ignorant concerning the work of the Holy Spirit in a believer’s life. They are deceivers who are “weighed in the balances, and art found wanting” (Daniel 5:27.)
There are others who will not study the doctrine because they do not want to see their need of self-denial. They appeal to the excesses of the mystics as a reason for not practicing it. But regardless of who might abuse the doctrine, is it not in the word of God?
Many ministers of the gospel do not oppose the doctrine, yet they will not teach it either. If they want to be free from the blood of their people it must be taught. By teaching it they will save their own souls as well as those of their hearers.
We must put this doctrine into practice in our lives daily. We should ponder it and seek to understand all there is to know about it. If we delay then we hamper our progress in holiness. If we do not deny the flesh and bear the cross, then we are not true followers of the Lord. Until our spirits return unto God, let us set our hands to the plough and not look back (Luke 9:62.)