Denial takes no middle ground.
It is either holy or sinful. It is either the product of compromise or its antithesis. It is either the work of God-centeredness or man-centeredness. It always reflects fear: either the fear of God or the fear of man. It always testifies to love: either the love of God or the love of self.
Denial always draws a line and takes a side. It is not casual or indifferent. Denial defies the imaginary idol of tolerance and pledges allegiance to a cause.
Denial is an act of worship … either of God or self.
For us, denial is not optional. Everyone does it, whether deliberately or not—everyone must. So long as sinful men are granted the freedom to offend God, denial of one or the other will persist as absolutely necessary. A sinful self and a holy God are incompatible opposites.
Denial is one of the most fundamental cases of exclusivity: there can be only one God—one ultimate authority; one supreme value; one ultimate object of praise; one final source of goodness; one matchless power; one highest purpose; one unrivaled sovereign—all other objects of devotion are idols, if they come before God, and must be denied.
Our life is lived in service ultimately to self or to God.
There is no middle ground. One must be denied.
When we refuse to deny self, we deny Christ.
A tragic illustration of this truth is seen in the denials of Peter and Christ. The former is a troubling display of unholy denial. A kind of denial that is common to the heart of every man—even the believer. It is the mark of inherent inability apart from divine grace. A denial that is constructed upon the preservation of self at the expense of dependence and allegiance to God’s holy name (cf. Mk 8:38).
Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. And a servant girl came up to him and said, “You also were with Jesus the Galilean.” But he denied it before them all, saying, “I do not know what you mean.” And when he went out to the entrance, another servant girl saw him, and she said to the bystanders, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.” And again he denied it with an oath: “I do not know the man.” After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Certainly you too are one of them, for your accent betrays you.” Then he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know the man.” And immediately the rooster crowed. And Peter remembered the saying of Jesus, “Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.
Peter learned the lesson of unholy denial and by the power of the Holy Spirit began to model holy denial: Peter and John “left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name” (Acts 5:41). He later writes, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. (1 Peter 4:12-13). And again,
For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.
—1 Peter 2:21-23
Christ’s was a holy denial
Christ’s was a holy denial—an act of devotion to God, the sacrifice of self and self-interest, self-denial in God-dependence, unreserved submission to God’s will and purposes, a continual entrusting to Him who judges justly.
Peter reminds us that Christ’s holy denial resulted in unspeakable agony. It was a substitutionary suffering; a suffering in the place of and on behalf of the redeemed, the righteous for the unrighteous (1 Pet 3:18). Christ’s holy denial provided the only means by which we may be saved (Acts 4:12), and yet also furnished the ultimate example godly devotion—holy denial.
As Christians, we are to have the self-denying mind of Christ within and among us (Phil 2:5-8). His holy denial is our example (1 Pet 2:21). We are, therefore, through faith in Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit, called to purify ourselves as He is pure (1 John 3:3); walk in the righteous self-denying same way in which He walked (1 John 2:6); continually obey Christ’s commandments (John 15:10); forgive one another (Col 3:13); overcome the temptations and lures of the world (John 16:33; 1 John 5:4); overflow in benevolence to others (Acts 20:35; 2 Cor 8:7-9); sacrificially love one another (John 13:34; Eph 5:2; Rom 5:8)—these are the traits of Christ in God-glorifying and other-loving holy denial.
May we fix our eyes on Christ, to run after Him in His holy self-denying ways (Heb 12:1-3).