"Self denial is at the very heart of Christian discipleship. You cannot be a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ and also choose not to deny yourself because self denial is at the very heart of Biblical Christianity. Self denial is part and parcel of the practice of being a Christian disciple, a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ. Matthew Henry once said that self denial is the first lesson in Christ’s school. That is, when the Lord Jesus saves you from your sins by His grace and by His blood, when you by faith are united to Him, the very first lesson He begins to teach you is self denial and He never ceases teaching you that lesson. That’s why Calvin said it a little bit more strongly than Henry. Henry said that self denial is the first lesson in Christ’s school. Calvin said its the sum of the Christian life. Can you imagine that? That you can sum up the Christian life in these two words deny yourself. Deny yourself the sum of the Christian life.
I. Deny self.
The first of the three distinct parts of Jesus charge is that we are to deny ourselves. If anyone is going to follow Me, if anyone is going to be a Christian, if anyone is going to be a follower of Christ, if anyone is going to be a disciple of Mine, Jesus says, let him deny himself. We are to deny self. What does that mean? It means to renounce anything that challenges or trumps our allegiance to the kingdom of God. It means to renounce anything that challenges or trumps our allegiance to the kingdom of God. We are to renounce our yearning to possess things if they trump our allegiance to the kingdom of God. We are to renounce our desire for power if it challenges or trumps our allegiance to the kingdom of God. Were to renounce the favor of men if it costs us loyalty to the Lord Jesus Christ. We are to renounce human glory if it vies with or diminishes the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ and we are to seek first the kingdom. We are to deny ourselves.
II. Take your cross daily.
And then look at the second thing that Jesus says Take up your cross daily and follow Me. If you’re going to be a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ, you’re going to deny self. You’re doing to take up your cross. What does that mean? To be ready to bear afflictions in this life knowing that God prepared them beforehand. Are you bitter about your afflictions in this life? Are you bitter about your afflictions, especially the afflictions that beset you daily from which you cannot escape? Those afflictions are going to be with you until the day the Lord carries you home. How do you respond to those afflictions? Jesus says, Take them up. Take them up daily.
You know its interesting to me, there’s no part of the Christian life that doesn’t entail self-denial. You think about it. Self-denial is a part of every aspect to the Christian life, forgiveness especially because to forgive requires self-denial. When someone has wronged you, what is your tendency? What is your temptation? You want to taste their punishment upon your lips. You want them to be set straight. You want them to get what they deserve. You want them to get their comeuppance. You want them to feel the pain that they’ve made you to feel. And if there’s ever going to be any forgiveness in a relationship what does it require? It requires you setting that aside. And what is that? Self-denial - and taking a step toward someone who has wronged you. And then it entails believing that the Father is working in your affliction.
The second thing I want you to see is this those who refuse to deny themselves and instead seek their own satisfaction will never find it. Those who refuse to deny themselves and instead seek their own satisfaction will never ever find it. Those who seek for their own self-preservation and their own self-interest in this life, those who seek primarily for their own satisfaction will be utterly thwarted. Jesus promises it. Look at what He says verse 24 Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it. Jesus is saying that the only way to experience, to gain, true life is giving yourself away, is giving your life away, is losing your life, is denying yourself. Those that live for themselves never ever get the satisfaction that they seek.
III. If we fail to deny our selves in this life, we will lose our souls.
But here’s the last thing I want you to see my friends. If we do not go the way of self-denial, we will lose our souls, for there is no temporal gain that can compare to the loss of the soul. Look at verse 25. What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and yet loses or forfeits himself? What does it matter to have ease and comfort and popularity and beauty and prestige and success and power and money and influence without true life? What does it matter? And what are we investing ourselves in?
It’s not just about forgiveness, is it? Its about our stewardship. I must say that I look at our houses and then I look at the houses of our parents and I often ask myself that question, What do our houses tell us about ourselves in comparison to them? What do we really care about? What’s most important to us? Is the kingdom most important to us, or is our ease most important to us? The Lord Jesus Christ tells us that selfishness causes the soul to contract but love makes it expand and enriches it and fills it to overflowing with assurance and peace and joy. That’s why Jim Elliot could quote the old Puritan saying, He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose. That is the Christian algebra of self-denial. You see in the end, its not denial of self equals loss of satisfaction and so we grin and bear it for Jesus. Its denial of self does bring real and often lifelong lasting depravation, which then becomes an eternity filled with satisfaction that we could not imagine. And sometimes even that satisfaction bleeds back into this age so that we enjoy foretaste of that glory which fill up every void which has been left in our life by the self denial.
Jesus says, If you’re My follower, you will deny yourself. He’s not saying, Deny yourself and you’ll be saved, else were all in trouble. He’s saying and you know this, by the way, because He’s just preached about the cross and then He speaks about self-denial He’s saying, If you have become a Christian by My cross and by Gods grace, the life that God is calling you to is a life of self-denial, a life that you can only live because of the Gospel, a self-denial that you can only practice because of My grace.
And He’s saying, Come, die with Me daily. Live for Me daily. Deny yourself daily and I will satisfy you in ways that you could not possibly imagine, now and forevermore. It is an adventure worth beginning."