“Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.'” — Matthew 16:24
I can hear myself on the basketball sidelines instructing my players to “deny the post” or “deny the wing” — meaning don’t let him get the ball. My high school coach, who was also my dad, would always say, “They can’t score if they don’t have the ball.”
To deny means to dismiss, refuse, refrain, sacrifice or decline. I love how Matthew in the Bible encourages us as true followers and disciples of Christ to deny ourselves. The question then becomes, “What do I have to deny?” Or, “What does denying myself look like?”
If our goal is to lose weight and try to become more healthy, we must deny certain cravings and junk food. It might also mean possibly declining dessert after dinner or a second serving, or the bowl of ice cream or potato chips before going to bed. Instead of watching TV or another Netflix series, maybe exercise or go for a walk, jog or even bike ride.
A father could refrain from taking the last chocolate chip cookie so his daughter could have it instead. A husband could deny himself the last can of Coke Zero and allow his wife to enjoy it at dinner.
An individual who wants to focus his attention on a more disciplined quiet time and becoming more intentional with Christ could deny himself the extra hour of sleep. They would sacrifice or deny those extra minutes so they can wake up early to pray and read God’s Word. They may even implement fasting, which requires denying oneself of food and redirecting their attention to spiritual matters.
Personally, I am a list guy. I plan, I organize, I schedule. I have my agenda. Denying myself is allowing God to rewrite my list. He’s teaching me to become more patient, more flexible, and more in tune with His plans for my life.
Do you allow God to rewrite your list? I’m learning that rather than filling out my list and asking God to sign the bottom, I need to first sign the bottom and allow God to write out my list. I’m learning to “expand my margins” and make more space for God to fill them up if He so chooses. I’m learning to say “yes” to Christ before I even know His question.
A colleague of mine recently shared a powerful token of wisdom: Sometimes we are so tied to our schedules that we miss our appointments.
Christ called Simon and Andrew to deny their occupation of being fishermen and follow Him (Matthew 4:18-20). Abraham was called by God to deny his comfort and leave his home (Genesis 12). Moses denied the easy life of being an Egyptian to embrace his true calling and identity (Exodus 2). Joshua had to deny his fear to lead the Israelites (Joshua 1-5); God commanded him numerous times to not be discouraged and fear not (Joshua 1:6-9). Daniel was to deny the king’s diet and certain foods (Daniel 1). Paul denied his past and former way of life (Philippians 3). Christ ultimately denied Himself and sacrificed His life by dying on the cross for my sins, your sins (1 Peter 2:21-25).
Do you need to deny yourself of any of these? Getting revenge. Spending money as you please. Holding a grudge. Making your wants and needs most important. Sexual immorality. Rebellious activity. Pleasures the world has to offer. Trusting yourself rather than God.
Ultimately, when Christ is instructing us to deny ourselves in Matthew 16:24 (above), He wants us to lose ourselves — to stop making it about me, myself and I! To truly find yourself you must lose yourself, and then after losing yourself you find yourself in God. It’s a beautiful process and realization of learning who God is and what He’s called us to be. Our identity is no longer wrapped up in what we do, but who we are — and more importantly Whose we are.
“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” — Galatians 2:20
Deny daily. Surrender everything. Follow Christ. It’s a decision you will never regret.
— Jim Good
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