Then Jesus said to His disciples, If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life shall lose it, and whoever desires to lose his life for My sake shall find it. For what is a man profited if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man shall come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He shall reward each one according to his works. Truly I say to you, There are some standing here who shall not taste of death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.
Looking around right now, what is it that is so important, so pressing on me, that would be worth not denying myself and not spending eternity with Christ? Nothing. I pray that the Lord takes these things pressing upon my heart, these burnings, and removes them, if it be His will.
I’m just going to cut to the chase. The reason I am writing tonight is to say this: It hurts so bad to deny yourself. It is so painful during moments of extreme selfishness and worldly thoughts to deny yourself. But really, what is so important in this world that is worth denying Christ for? A degree? A good job? A good basketball career? Peace with the world? A good night’s sleep? A friend? A relationship? Certain conversations? Lust of the flesh? Lust of the eyes? The pride of life? Is there anything out there? Anything at all?? Nope. Nothing. There’s absolutely nothing out there AT ALL that is worth denying Christ for. I’m tired of being so civilized within this world that I give in to the expectations of the world over my duties to Christ. I want so badly to live a Spirit-led life, but I’m reminded that it is very costly to do so, at least in the eyes of the world. But I mean really, why do I care? Read Matthew 16:24-28 again. Why would I want to gain the world? It’s these moments that I’m so aware of my struggle with the flesh. I hate it. It drives me insane. The Spirit is telling me to do something and yet my first reaction is to cry out, “BUT IT HURTS!” But Lord, if I don’t deny myself then am I really worthy to be called Yours? Um, is there some encouragement in the midst of all this? Well, verses 27 and 28 are pretty much the only motivation one should need. Christ is coming back in all His glory and is rewarding every man according to his works. I pray right now that the Lord grants us an eternal perspective, so that we may grasp this.
Ok, on to the crux of the issue. I want to deny myself but there are so many moments when it hurts so bad to do so. Is it those moments that bring spiritual growth? Because it is during those times that I find I must rely 100% on Christ to get me through them, to deliver me from them. You see, if I look to myself at any point during this life (let alone moments of struggle), I will fall flat on my face and give into the desires of this world. The strength to deny myself must come from Him. So it is in these times when you find everything in you screaming to give in (and these moments look completely different to different people, but they are caused by the same lies and deceit from Satan), that we must look to Christ. Think about it. All that is pressing on you in this world, all the things your deceitful heart cries out for are worth nothing. NOTHING. Even if you were to gain them, Christ reminds us that what we’ve ultimately done is lost everything. Wow.
But Lord, it hurts. My human mind wraps itself around the seen, causing all these problems…all this grief and struggle and anguish that Christ is waiting to deliver me from, if I would just trust in Him instead. That is why I must be transformed by the renewal of my mind, to deliver me from this human state of mind that sees only the things that are right in front of me. Only then can I even begin to let go- LET GO of this life that I hang on to with dear life. The life that I think if I don’t get then it will feel like pure death is upon me. But Christ says the opposite, you see. He says if you hang on to that life then you will find the very thing you were trying to avoid: death. Because gaining the world and losing your soul leads to death. Lord, please reveal the things that I hold on to because, frankly, giving them up and denying myself hurts too bad.
Denying yourself hurts. If it was easy then broad would be the way that leads to life, not narrow, and every one would be doing it. But look around. That is clearly NOT the case. What we need to keep in mind, brothers and sisters, is that this way that Christ speaks of in Matthew 16, this path that God has willed for us through the denial of ourselves, is the best way. No side path that you pave out in your head (caused by the guidance of a deceitful heart) can ever prove more beneficial for you no matter HOW GREAT IT LOOKS to you at the time. In other words, if you find yourself doing this: “well, if I do this, then this will happen, and then this will happen because of that, and then finally I’ll be able to….” No, uh uh. Stop it. Christ says, do this: Deny yourself. Lose this life so that you may gain it truly. Wow. Do you see how we get ourselves in so much trouble? It all starts right there. And because many of us scream, “BUT THAT HURTS!” we don’t ever make it past that point because we give into ourselves, the opposite of denial, and look inward at our own pity and excuses. We miss the whole point- looking unto Christ and His finished work on the cross which provides for us the strength to do just what He commands: denying yourself. But like I said, we give in because it hurts, and it starts us down the path that we’ve created and it snow balls from there. How many sins could we have avoided if we would have just nipped it in the bud and trusted God’s way of denying ourselves? Wow, for me, too many to count.
We get so caught up in ourselves and hanging on dearly to our lives, that we miss the path of righteousness that Christ lays out for all of those whose lives are consumed by one thing: Himself. Does living a Spirit-led life look absolutely crazy and foolish to the world? Of course it does; hence the verses that say to the world it will look like you’ve completely lost your life and missed out, but Christ says otherwise. And He says we will be rewarded for that. Oh my goodness, it hurts so bad to do this, I don't think I can say that enough. But the truth is I know because I experience it often. But too many times I give in to what I think is the easy way out by doing what the flesh wants in order to avoid the pain of denying yourself. But we all know what that leads to: just more pain down the road because you trusted in yourself and not the Lord. Unfortunately knowing this ahead of time for me doesn't always stop me from falling into sin. And I didn't write this entire thing to leave you with that downcast, gloomy thought. Because the truth is, there is freedom from this, and it is found only through trusting the Lord and His Word and loving Him with all your heart, soul, and mind. Look not unto yourself for strength; I thank the Lord for this verse from Paul the Apostle: 2 Corinthians 12:9 "And He said to me, My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore I will rather glory in my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may overshadow me." Wow, pretty much says it all huh? Take that verse in.
Also, think about some of these things as you find yourself enduring this painful process. Every pang you feel as a result of denying the flesh is like a prayer of intercession for you who is finding yourself in bondage to that sin. It is like the groaning that the Spirit gives to the Father, telling Him to set you free from your sin (Romans 8:26). What is happening is you are realizing, "Even though the culture says this, you tell me otherwise, Lord" or "Even though my feelings say this, I am going to follow my Father." Those are beautiful things, my friend. You are avoiding what is natural to you so that God may apply His supernatural work in you. Through prayer (and intercession from the Holy Spirit who prays for the things that we cannot see because we are biased towards the flesh and to the things that are seen) our burden will begin to be lifted and it begins to melt our wills into the will of God. And ultimately you will discover that the Word of God does, indeed, have the power to sustain: "It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God." Matthew 4:4. Let the joy of the Lord be our strength.
Lord, please help us to deny ourselves. Help us to let go of the things we hold so closely to that are keeping us from gaining true life in You. It isn’t easy. It hurts. But no matter how bad it hurts, Lord, help us to look unto You, oh refuge of our weary souls. Your way leads to life, please grant our eyes the ability to see that even though it goes against every ounce of the flesh. But that is the glory of the Gospel: because of what You have done on the cross, we may now have new life free from this bondage to the flesh. The fires of sanctification are hot. You don’t promise us our best life now (in the eyes of the world) but You do promise to continue to refine us until the day we leave this earth and come unto You, Lord. Oh what a glorious day that will be! Amen.