Luke 9:23 is one of the most important verses in the New Testament because it contains the essence of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.” Jesus said you can never be a disciple unless you “deny yourself.” That doesn’t simply mean you have to deny yourself something like sweets, sleep or food. It means you deny your Self. Think of your “self” as your “ego” or the “Big I.” Because we are sinners, our human nature makes us self-centered. We put the “Big I” at the center of our own little universe and everything revolves around “me”.
I can’t help but remember the final lines to the poem “Invictus” by William Ernest Henley. It reflects the attitude of a life separated from God. The day Timothy McVeigh was executed he left this poem to be read as his final statement. Although they would never consider killing 168 people, many people share McVeigh’s attitude. The poem ends, “I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul.”
Contrast that with the unselfish life Jesus taught.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a pastor in Germany during the horror of Hitler. Because of his opposition to Nazi tactics, he was put into prison and later hanged as a traitor. He understood something about the cost of following Jesus. In his book, The Cost of Discipleship, he wrote, "When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” And to explain that further he wrote, “Self-denial is never just a series of isolated acts of mortification or asceticism. It is not suicide for there is an element of self-will even in that. To deny oneself is to be aware only of Christ and no more of self, to see only who goes before us and no more the road which is too hard for us.”
Denying your Self is not thinking harshly of your “self” or hating your “self.” It is just not thinking of your Self at all. Look at these three graphics. They are from a Campus Crusade for Christ booklet entitled “Have you made the wonderful discovery of the Spirit-filled life?”
Natural Man Carnal Man Spiritual Man
The first circle represents a Natural Man or a person without Christ. Self, represented by a big S on the throne. The cross, or Christ, is outside the person’s life. The smaller black circles represent different interests like family, work and hobbies. See how unbalanced they are? That’s a self-centered life.
The second circle represents a Christian but he is a Carnal Man. The cross (Christ) is in his life but “self” is still trying to be on the throne. He is still self-directed because he hasn’t “denied” himself as Jesus instructed. He is basically miserable. See how the interests are still unbalanced?
The third circle represents a Spiritual Man or a Spirit-filled person. Self has been dethroned and Jesus is on the throne. This person has made Jesus Lord by denying Self. See how balanced his life is? Think of it this way: As long as Self is on the cross, Jesus is on the throne. Whenever Self climbs back up on the throne, we put Jesus back on the cross. You see, the throne of your life is a single-seater; there’s only room for one at a time.
Many people want Jesus in their lives so they won’t burn in hell, but they still want to call the shots. They want to maintain control. But Jesus insists that we deny and dethrone self.Which circle represents your life right now?