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What Does it Mean to Deny Yourself?

I recently preached a sermon on Mark 8:34, where Jesus Says “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”  I have found there is a great misconception of what this verse means.  Many, thinking that Deny Yourself is referring to things, miss the point completely.  The point of the verse is not to deny yourself of chocolate or of buying a new car, although you may need to.  It is about Denying yourself of YOURSELF. Your self-made identities. Your desires. Your man-made convictions.  Your man-made traditions.  Your anti-scriptural positions.  The things that you think make you, you, outside of Christ.

Yikes!  When? Whenever your self-desire, self-fulfillment, self-made identity, self-chosen way of doing things, whenever yourself gets in the way of your relationships with family, with the body of Christ, and definitely with God. That’s when.  Every day.  Whenever you are more willing to protect and defend that thing, idea,  identity, more than you are to move toward people in love.   Whenever your commitment to that thing, idea, or identity is such that it prevents you from other good things that God commands or causes you to do the bad things that God forbids.  In other words, when you make these identity building “things” into idols.  Remember, idols are often good things that are made into ultimate things. (I think Tim Keller coined that one)

The context of this verse in Mark’s Gospel follows immediately after Peter rebukes Jesus for saying for the first time that he is going to die.  One minute Peter is speaking from God that Jesus is “The Christ the Son of God” and the next minute he is a mouthpiece of Satan (according to Jesus).  The interesting thing is that Peter wanted a Good Thing. He wanted Jesus as the Messiah to redeem Israel and remove them from Roman Oppression.  Both Good things. The problem was, in Jesus own words “you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”   Peter wanted his own way, what he thought was right, a very deep conviction of his. Yet this good thing was in place of the will of God.  Then Jesus turns to the crowds and tells them these words. “Deny Yourself.” Actually he says whoever would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.  But you get the point.

Why is this kind of self-denial needed? Ever since the Garden, humanity has sought to be their own gods, to make their own identities and to protect those identities at all costs.  The problem is with 7 billion people on the planet, that’s a lot of “selfs” trying to keep themselves sovereign at other selfs’ expenses.  Jesus, our savior, says you can’t follow yourself if you are to follow Him.  You can’t mix your righteousness built on your self with His righteousness.  So look to His work, His identity ahead of your own.  And when we do that by faith, he can then empower us to follow in his footsteps.

That’s the point of Philippians 2.  Paul writes “don’t look to your own interests (yourself)  but look to the interest of others.”  He then says “Have this Mind(set) among YOURSELVES which was also in Christ Jesus who did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped but emptied HIMSELF, taking the form of a servant…”  In other words, this is the path Christ himself took.  Have his mindset.  The mindset that says to the Father – “not my will but yours be done” even though it comes at great expense to your convictions.

This is the mindset of the believer. But how about convictions? Do we deny ourselves of our convictions? Well, we don’t deny ourselves of the core beliefs of the faith obviously. We don’t deny ourselves of sound doctrine or of holy living.  But otherwise yes, we deny even our good convictions if they are raised to idolatrous level as I indicated in the points in the second paragraph.  Paul puts it this way 1 Corinthians 9 Paul writes “I have become all things to all people that I might win some.” He says something very similar in Romans 14.  And some of the things he was talking about meant laying aside some very strong convictions about religion, spirituality, health practices and diet.  We do it for unity within the body. We do it to share grace with those outside the body (1 Corinthians 9:23).  We do it because we want to wear his righteousness and not our own,  because we are secure in his identity and not our own  (Philippians 3:8-11).

So, let’s say with Paul that we count our own identity as garbage for the worth of knowing our Identity in Christ. That is dying to self.  That is losing our life to gain it (Mark 8:35).

Let’s say with Paul that “I have been crucified with Christ (DEAD).  It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me, and the life I now live in the flesh I live by Faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.

When I hear that He LOVES ME, I want to shine his identity even more in my life and my own seems really insignificant.

Here is the Sermon on Mark 8:34-38.


George Sayour
George Sayour

George is Senior Pastor of Meadowview Reformed Presbyterian
Church (PCA) in Lexington, NC. When he's not pastoring or writing, he's fishing, kayaking and spending time with his family.

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