Following Not Self but Christ

I cannot separate Christ from sufferings, Christ will separate me from my sins; if I seek him, I must let them go; if I profess Christ, providence will one time or other bring me to this dilemma, either Christ or earthly comforts must go. It is necessary therefore that I now propound to myself what providence may, one time or other, propound to me; he hath set down his terms, Mat. 16:24. ‘If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me.’ This self-denial deserves serious consideration; for Christ extends it to natural self, righteous self, and civil self; and requires that I give up my life, my liberty, my estate, my relations, and my own righteousness, as hard to be parted with as any of the former. I must take up my cross, that is, the sufferings and troubles God shall appoint for me, and which I cannot avoid or escape without sin; and I must follow Christ, follow him whither soever he goes.

John Flavel, Works 4:144.

Summary of the Christian Life: Self-denial

It is the duty of the faithful to “present their bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God;” and that in this consists the legitimate worship of him.

Hence is deduced an argument for exhorting them:

Be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that will of God.”

This is a very important consideration, that we are consecrated and dedicated to God; that we may not hereafter think, speak, meditate, or do any thing but with a view to his glory. For that which is sacred cannot, without great injustice towards him, be applied to unholy uses.

We Are Not Our Own

If we are not our own, but the Lord’s, it is manifest, both what error we must avoid, and to what end all the actions of our lives are to be directed. We are not our own; therefore, neither our reason nor our will should predominate in our deliberations and actions. We are not our own; therefore let us not propose it as our end, to seek what may be expedient for us according to the flesh. We are not our own; therefore let us, as far as possible, forget ourselves and all things that are ours.

We Are God’s

On the contrary, we are God’s; to him therefore let us live and die. We are God’s; therefore let his wisdom and will preside in all our actions. We are God’s; towards him therefore, as our only legitimate end, let every part of our lives be directed.

Surrender to God

O how great a proficiency has that man made, who having been taught that he is not his own, has taken the sovereignty and government of himself from his own reason, to surrender it to God! For as compliance with their own inclinations leads men most effectually to ruin, so to place no dependence on our own knowledge or will, but merely to follow the guidance of the Lord, is the only way of safety.

Let this then be the first step, to depart from ourselves, that we may apply all the vigour of our faculties to the service of the Lord. By service I mean, not that only which consists in verbal obedience, but that by which the human mind, divested of its natural carnality, resigns itself wholly to the direction of the Divine Spirit.

—John Calvin
Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2:164–166.


Self-centeredness is Atheism

We make an idol of our own wills

As man naturally disowns the rule God sets him, and owns any other rule than that of God’s prescribing, so man does this in order to the setting himself up as his own rule, as though our own wills, and not God’s, were the true square and measure of goodness.

As much as self is exalted, God is deposed.

No prince but would look upon his authority as invaded, his royalty derided, if a subject should resolve to be a law to himself in opposition to his known will.

True piety is to utterly humble ourselves, deny ourselves, and cleave solely to the service of God.

The more we esteem our own wills, the more we endeavour to annihilate the will of God; account nothing of him, the more we account of ourselves; and endeavour to render ourselves his superiors by exalting our own wills.

To make ourselves our own rule, and the object of our chiefest love, is atheism.

If self-denial be the greatest part of godliness, the great letter in the alphabet of religion, self-love is the great letter in the alphabet of practical atheism.

Self is the great antichrist and antigod in the world, that ‘sets up itself above all that is called God’ (2 Tim 3:2)

Self-love is the captain of that black band. It sits in the temple of God, and would be adored as God. Self-love begins, but denying the power of godliness, which is the same with denying the ruling power of God, ends the list. It is so far from bending to the righteous will of the Creator, that it would have the eternal will of God stoop to the humour and unrighteous will of a creature.

This is the ground of the contention between the flesh and the Spirit in the heart of a renewed man.

Flesh wars for the godhead of self, and Spirit fights for the Godhead of God. The one would settle the throne of the Creator, and the other maintain a law of covetousness, ambition, envy, lust, in the stead of God.

—Stephen Charnock,
Adapted from The Complete Works of Stephen Charnock, 1:211.


Holy and Unholy Denial

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.
—Matt 26:69-75

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).


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