Two recent sermons have allowed me to reflect on this subject recently. You will bear with me as I share some of those thoughts here.
Self-esteem. Self-seeking. Self-serving. Self-pity. Self-expression. What do we do about self? We sing, “None of self, and all of thee.” Easier sung than done! If you will remember that hymn involves a progression: “All of self and none of Thee…Some of self and some of Thee…Less of self and more of Thee…None of self and all of Thee.” How many of us have really progressed as far as we sing?
Let’s consider the following New Testament passages addressing our subject:
“And he said to all, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels’” (Lk. 9:23–26).
“Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me’” (Matt. 16:24).
“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple” (Lk. 14:26–27).
We think in terms of becoming and being Christians. We rarely, if ever, speak of being disciples of Jesus. Three times Jesus said, “If any would come after me/be my disciple.” Then, he laid down some requirements. Why should I want to be his disciple if requirements are attached? Not only that, but those requirements demand a certain kind of sacrifice. If I don’t do these things, I cannot be his disciple. Because self-denial is odious to some are we to set it aside?
Self-denial begs no definition, only effective illustration. In other words, I don’t need to define it. I need only to ask, “What does self-denial look like?” The Scriptures give us an idea of what it looks like when you see it, and when we don’t see it.
Abraham denied everything in himself as a father to offer Isaac (Gen. 22:2).
Moses loved his people more than he loved himself: “But now, if you will forgive their sin—but if not, please blot me out of your book that you have written” (Exo. 32:32).
Adonijah (son of David) had no discipline growing up: “His father had never at any time displeased him by asking, ‘Why have you done thus and so?’” (1 Kgs. 1:6).
Jesus: “For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me” (Jn. 6:38).
Paul: “But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Cor. 9:27).
Self-Denial is Dethroning Ourselves and Enthroning Jesus
We are not permitted to play God! “Little children, keep yourselves from idols” (1 Jn. 5:21). Have you ever wondered why John would make a statement like this when writing to Christians? Was it because of the pressures of their culture? Was it because of false conceptions of God that were prevalent? Then, as now, any conception of God that is at variance with his self-revelation in Jesus is an idol.
I’ve heard it said that “Idols are more in self than on the shelf.” In our modern world the new idolatry is self! For Jesus it’s more than denying ourselves – we must choose him in our place. Discovering what to put in place of ourselves is the big question of life. Egoism, arrogance or narcissism are Satan’s arsenal that will not allow many people to step down off that pedestal of greatness.
When it comes to dethroning yourself there’s nothing vague about the choice. If one has lived long enough, and matured enough spiritually, they will get to the point of admitting, “I’ve exalted myself long enough. No more!” To choose Jesus as Lord is to deny that role to anything/anyone else. That includes us, our families, our friends, and our preachers! “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (Lk. 14:26). There is not only one body, one Spirit, one hope, there is one Lord! (Eph. 4:4-5). Where his authority ends there is no other! “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col. 3:17)
What I am about to say is where the rubber meets the road of today. Modern culture has deified self to be or identify with whatever you want. The notion that, “I feel like a woman, therefore I am a woman” is now accepted, in the world, as normal. Bruce can identify as Caitlin. It becomes a top story for a while. Then it fades into gradual acceptance. How did that kind of thinking become so common place in our culture? Kids from pre-school thru high school can identify as “furries,” or, animals. Kids “identify” as dogs, cats, or any animal of their choosing. Parents ask school administrators to respect their child’s identity and accommodate them.
A certain notion of self has come to dominate the culture of America. The “authentic self” is the god currently enthroned. The culture of authenticity says that each person has their own way of living, even if it is contrary to any model imposed on us from the outside. It preaches a liberty that despises Christianity by insisting that joys and desires are uninhibited by the “thou shalt nots” of religion.
Understanding the times is a precondition to properly responding to the times. Non-sensical ideas like transgenderism and furryism are, in the world view, simply the politics of identity. People are viewed as plastic which means that they can make or remake personal identity at will. The idea of human nature (that you are born a certain way, i.e., male or female) means nothing in the current identity culture. When God is dethroned, there are no limits to human depravity.
Identity is the new idolatry. Who I am on the inside is the god that rules. To have an identity means you are being acknowledged by others, even if not viewed as “normal.” It doesn’t matter to them if it’s weird.
It says, “Look at me. I’m different and you must respect me.” Anything that hinders one’s inner feelings is seen as harmful and to be rejected. Human nature. Social standards. 1950’s morality. God. The Bible. This is why Christianity is hated. It imposes restrictions on the inner and outer self. Self-denial is seen as the great evil of our age. Why should you deny whatever it is that you want to be or do? Christianity is seen as an inhibitive force keeping people from what they want. For some it will take many heart aches, broken relationships or even prison time before they see it.