Jesus tells us what is required to be His disciple. Matthew 16:24-25 “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 will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.’” Self-denial is the first criterion that Jesus gives for being His disciple and a true Christian. What is self-denial? It is basically depriving ourselves of things that we might naturally want to do because we have a desire to follow Jesus. It is losing our life for the sake of Jesus. It should be our desire to willingly deny ourselves in order to please Jesus, our master.
Jesus denied Himself. Philippians 2:5-9 “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.” Jesus was originally “in the form of God” but he became a bondservant and a man; then He humbled himself and gave Himself to die on the cross. That is self-denial.
When Jesus was approaching the time when He was to be crucified, He was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. He had brought His apostles with Him, but then he went on alone to pray to the Father. Luke 22:41-42 “And He was withdrawn from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and prayed, saying, ‘Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done.’” The “cup” that Jesus knew He was to drink was to be crucified for the sins of the world. He didn’t want to go through with it. But He denied His will and said “not My will, but Yours, be done.” He deprived Himself of doing what He wanted to do and instead He did what the Father wanted Him to do. In fact, Jesus said He always did what pleased His Father. John 8:29 “And He who sent Me is with Me. The Father has not left Me alone, for I always do those things that please Him.” That is self-denial. Jesus deprived Himself from doing what He wanted that might have been different from the Father’s will. We should have self-denial like Jesus had self-denial. We should deprive ourselves of doing what we might want to do and instead we should do what the Father wants us to do. Let us look at some areas in our lives where we should choose to deny ourselves.
We should deny ourselves ungodliness and worldly lusts. Titus 2:11-14 “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.” Since God has been so merciful and gracious to us, we will want to deny ourselves all ungodliness and worldly lust. Colossians 3:5-10 “Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience, in which you yourselves once walked when you lived in them. But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him.” We should want to deny ourselves the things of the fleshly nature for Jesus.
We should deny ourselves in the things we might say. 1 Peter 3:10 “For ‘He who would love life and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips from speaking deceit.’” We might say evil, hurtful, vengeful words. We might try to deceive others with what we say. There are lots of things we might say, but instead we will be careful of the words that come out of our mouths. As followers of Jesus we will deny ourselves improper words and instead speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).
We should deny ourselves from being selfish. Instead we should look out for the needs and interests of others. Philippians 2:3-4 “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.” We will deny our self-interest; others are better or more important than we are. Instead, we will serve others as Jesus taught. Mark 10:44:45 “And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” Rather than always thinking of ourselves, we will deny ourselves and think of what is good for others. 1 Corinthians 10:24 “Let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s well-being.” That is self-denial.
We might deny ourselves food for a time. Jesus fasted. Matthew 4:1-2 “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry.” Fasting should also include prayer. Fasting is denying ourselves the food that we desire for a period of time in order to earnestly pray and draw ourselves closer to God.
I suppose there are other things we can deny ourselves. The reason we deny ourselves is to please our Savior who died for us and redeemed us. Why wouldn’t we willingly deny ourselves for Christ?