“Then said Jesus unto his disciples, “if any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24).”
Pop psychology preaches a gospel of ‘self discovery’. This is a biblical principle but to discover self is only to discover the problem. To reveal the dreaded disease of cancer does not cure it – it just becomes known. One man discovered himself and nearly threw up. His daughter asked her mother, “is daddy a self made man?” The mother’s answer was a positive “Yes”. “Well,” the little girl said, “why didn’t he make something better of himself than he did?” This is the bottom line for each of us who would honestly admit that we have missed the mark.
The opposite pole in man’s thinking is not to just discover self but in some way to destroy self. Here again is a true biblical principle. Paul wrote, “Mortify (subdue, kill or deaden bodily appetites) therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affections, evil consupiscence (sexual desire) and covetousness which is idolatry”(Colossians 3:5). Look at the porn industry, the movies, the illicit sexual ‘freedom’ that is passed off as “just the way it is”. Paul speaks of the Christian as “being dead to sin”. Self discovery simply leads us to the ‘slaughter house’, the shedding of an old life of sin and selfishness. To fight the flesh with the flesh is impossible. You lose every time.
To discover one’s self is only to uncover the need. To destroy one’s self is to attempt to fight a losing battle. The flesh is a powerful opponent. Paul writes, “For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary one to the other; so that you cannot do the things you would” (Galatians 5:17). So he urges the believer to “Walk in the Spirit and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16).
The secret word hidden in our test is the powerful word – DENY. This calls us to ‘abandon ship’, leave the old self behind, take the Spirit’s power. Today is my birthday (78th) and I still fight against the word “DENY‘. I can truly reflect on what Paul said when he wrote, “For I know that in me (that is in my flesh) dwells no good thing; for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good, I find not. For the good that I would, I do not do, but the evil that I would not, that I do. Now if I do that which I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwells in me. . . O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death” (Romans 7:18-24). He gives a clear answer in these words, “Be led by the Spirit . . . Walk in the Spirit . . . Live in the Spirit . . . and bear the fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:18-25. Peter preached on Pentecost “Repent (deny self) and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit”(Acts 2:38).
So here is the problem. I uncover sin when I discover myself. I concede that I am not capable of destroying the flesh with fleshly power.
John helps us here. “If we say we have not sinned, (past tense) we make him a liar and his word is not in us. If we say we have no sin (present tense) we deceive our self and the truth is not in us. . . if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us (keep on cleaning us) from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:8-10).
To humble ourselves and admit freely that “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) This is a big first step in finding the secret word DENY. Paul continues, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made us free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:1-2).
Look once again at the prodigal son. He went to a far country and wasted his father’s inheritance with riotous living. Famine came. He discover himself hired out and feeding pigs. He was surviving on what food they left. Then he came to himself and said, “I have sinned”. “I will go to my father”. He arose and went. The father ran to meet him – kissed him in his rags – and gave the order for the party to begin.
Who was sorry that the prodigal son had come home? Probably the fatted calf and definitely the elder brother. The father could well have written this simple poem penned by Charles Hodge.
“The fatted calf, the robe, shoes, the ring;
They’re all for me an unworthy son,
But the greatest of these, the most wonderful thing;
My father ran to meet me, I saw God run.”