The Truth About Self-denial

“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”  Luke 9:23.

Since I became a follower of Jesus, the command always loomed large on the billboard of the to do list:  Deny yourself!  This concept grew clearer as I realized what it meant to Jesus when He said it.  If I’m reading it right, His words paraphrased could be interpreted to mean,  “If you want to be like me, you must first deny what you know of yourself, die to it everyday and follow my example.”  In other words, self-denial is about who rules not so much about loving oneself, though definitely about boundaries in that love.  For instance, in Christ our self-worth is never reckoned in comparison to another person rather it is calculated completely by the cross.  Also, we don’t love ourselves at other’s expense but in concert, so as to do the most good with what God has given us as possible.

Most of the time I’ve read this passage as a point of play between the words of  Jesus and the practical concerns we all carry.  If a person places themselves squarely in the hands of God, there is no question between what is merely self-serving and godly self-worth.  The presence of Jesus excludes selfish ambition, pride (the kind mentioned in Galatians 6 which points to comparing ourselves with others) and the need set ourselves above others.  In almost every case where Jesus condemns self interest it has to do with neglecting one’s obligation to the brotherhood of mankind not taking care of personal needs.

Our earthbound self-perceptions lack reality because God rules the universe; therefore any view of who we are without God being taken into account is either completely or in part false.  We can’t know ourselves outside of the Creator’s guidelines or design specs for since self-realization comes directly from Him, understanding who we are and what we’re created for cannot be decided outside of understanding His mind.

Still, I don’t think this issue is all that complicated since we have God actually telling us what is and isn’t sin.  At the same time, selfishness can be quite insidious, or, another way to put it, we tend toward self-deception on this problem.

In the law we were told not to covet, so we can conclude coveteousness as a selfish, self-centered wheras wanting things is not.  We are also pointedly told adultery is out, so we know this is selfishness, yet having sexual relationship is not.  Jesus, however, targets the heart of the matter when He troubleshoots our motivations as well.  A man who lives a moral life in public and private may or may not have a problem with pride or a works-based motivation, which means no matter how nice a person he is his motivation is selfish.  Of course we then get all paranoid about the subject and begin creating volumes of commentaries about the subject to detail the limits of self-centered activities.

I think the simplist way to look at this, however, is from the POV that whatever I do or think must conform to the mind of Christ.  Since God created me to eat, drink, be warm, healthy and happy, seeking these things is not selfish.  Yet when I seek them while ignoring the needs or lack in others, I immediately cross over the line between healthy self-care to merely self-interest. 

For instance, I find nothing wrong with laying around on a beach reading a book or taking a day to relax and detox from the rest of the week’s adrenaline rush.  Yet if I seek only this form existence (i.e. laying around all the time), I fall into the lazy category and have crossed the line between selfishness and self-care.  It’s not for nothing Paul warned us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, for we are prone to self-deception and sidestepping issues.

Again, as an example, God created us for pleasure, but when a pleasure or pleasure seeking becomes an obsession to the exclusion of being a whole person, we have crossed over to selfishness.  God created tastebuds, sex, touch, smells, sunlight, rain, and host of other things for our pleasure, so our enjoyment of life in these areas cannot be the problem.  I believe it is only when they dominate our pursuits that we fall into sin.

Of course the danger here is becoming so afraid of sin we throw out the baby with the bath water by defining all pleasure as sin.  Or, we go the other way by seeing all pleasure seeking as God-ordained without boundaries of any kind.  Both are extremes, of course, but our sinful natures tend toward such a mentality anyway, which means we have to be on our guard.

The safest course, of course, is living consciously, the most dangerous is following the whim of our urges.


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2 Responses to “The Truth About Self-denial”

  1. bob Says:

    I wish I could write this well! great blog thanks.

  2. tlc4women Says:

    Wow! You gave me insight to something that has been gnawing at my heart. I have always felt immense guilt over resting. A day spent reading a book makes me feel slothful so while I may read for a few hours it will be followed by a few hours of work in some capacity. So when the topic of Sabbath comes up, I cringe. Only when I reject a principle I am not acting with the mind of Christ………..

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