Someone once said, “It is not the difficult passages that give the most problems. It is, rather, those passages that I do understand, and which challenge me to make necessary changes in my life.” One of those “simple” passages that is easy to understand but difficult to keep contains less than two dozen words: “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Matt. 16:24). I fear that most of us have not yet learned the force of this demand upon our lives. The late B.C. Goodpasture commented on this very passage:
“Of all the precepts relative to self, this is one of the most difficult to obey. A man does not deny himself when he merely gives that which he does not need or miss; a man does not deny himself when he refrains from doing that which he really does not care to do. One denies himself when he, like the poor widow, gives that which he needs and will miss; a man denies himself when he, like Moses, turns his back upon that which he likes to do, and that which he finds pleasurable and profitable in the doing. As clear and crisp as a gunshot on a still day, the words of the greatest of all teachers fall upon the ear: ‘If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow me’” (Gospel Advocate, July 19, 1973, page 459).
It would seem that just about the time you think you have control of self, the monster sticks its head out of the box and you have to struggle with that inner man so as to master your emotions and overcome the temptations that come your way. It seems to me that, Biblically speaking, there are four principles that are taught with regard to one’s self. Consider each of these.
First, you must know yourself: your weaknesses, your strengths; your good points and your bad points. Knowing our weaknesses we are in a better position to conquer them. Knowing our strengths enables us to march forward with courage and determination.
Second, you must value yourself. You are created in the image of God. Quit feeling sorry for yourself. That “Woe is me” attitude will never find the joy God intended you to have. We are not suggesting an arrogant, haughty attitude toward self where God is excluded and human wisdom exalted. We are created in the image of God. Regardless of the agenda of the liberal left, the environmentalists, and the humanists, there is something unique about man. Half a century of indoctrination in evolution and humanism has accomplished nothing more than the degrading of man and the disintegration of his morals.
Third, it is essential that you deny yourself. Learn to say “No” once in a while. As much as that merchant would seek to convince you, “Go ahead! You deserve it!” there comes a point in the mad rush for things that the child of God has to step out of the race. Jesus told us that a “man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth” (Luke 12:15b). Jesus was not speaking of “the things” that are inherently wrong, but those things that, in and of themselves, were right, and even necessary. It is not “things” that are wrong, but the love of things, and the attempt to amass those things that constitutes the danger. Paul wrote, “But they that are minded to be rich fall into a temptation and a snare and many foolish and hurtful lusts, such as drown men in destruction and perdition” (1 Tim. 6:9). It has been said, “The most important thing in life is knowing the most important things in life.”
Finally, we must consecrate our self. This is something our society knows little about. Webster defines this word ‘consecrate’: “To make or declare to be sacred, by certain ceremonies or rites; to appropriate to sacred uses; to set apart, dedicate, or devote, to the service and worship of God.” It is precisely because our affluent age has sought to amass wealth, and to surround themselves with things, that they have failed to consecrate themselves to a higher and nobler purpose. I challenge you: “Give yourself to a higher purpose than self.” The ultimate consecration is, of course, dedication and commitment to God and His will in your life. Some years ago I came across this little quote that addresses this precise point:
Most of the things we think create happiness, don’t. We get caught in a spiral and life suddenly becomes a race to be won instead of a game to be played and enjoyed. Our focus on ‘success’ as society calls it, blurs our more important intangibles of life-our relationships and experiences. The fear (and sad reality for many) is that we wake up 30 years from now, stressed, unhealthy and unfulfilled, wondering what on earth happened to those wonderful dreams we once dared to dream. I’ll tell you what happened. We fell into the trap of being what others felt we should be as opposed to who we were meant to be. Other’s dreams became ours, only to realize they never mattered to us in the first place. We adopted the world’s definition of success instead of understanding and pursing our own” (Source and author lost).
So, friends, the battle is joined. We have been given the armor. The one great enemy we face is ourselves. Once we have slain self, God will be exalted in our life, and the outcome will an eternal home with the Father. I don’t know who wrote the following, but it is certainly thought provoking, and with it I will close this week’s article:
I sought from Socrates the sage,
Whose thoughts will live through every age,
A motto to direct my life,
A hero make me in my strife;
And Socrates said, ‘Know Thyself.’
To know myself did not suffice,
To make me useful, pure and wise;
I sought Aurelius, good and great,
Wise ruler of the Roman state;
And Aurelius said, ‘Control Thyself.’
O, Nazarene, Thou who didst give
Thy life that man might live,
What message dost thou leave for me,
That I may truly follow Thee?
The Savior said, ‘Deny Thyself.’
–by Tom Wacaster