Wednesday, February 10, 2016

How to Deny Yourself for God's Glory

One of the greatest problems every one of us face because of the Fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden, is called the “Adamic Nature.” This fleshly nature, our innate sinfulness and rebelliousness, is a result of the curse of the Fall of Adam that has plagued the human family since the “original sin” was first committed in the Garden of Eden. And the consequence of it is that we wear the stain of original sin - every man, woman, and child on planet Earth is born with a human nature the lives under the dominion of sin and is rebellious against God. The reality of the Adamic nature upon mankind recently came home to me when I encountered the following story:

It seems a small boy, described as “shy, second-grader, eight years old, a little owlish in his spectacles” was guilty of committing a crime in a New Jersey school. It was Valentine’s Day. He brought a Valentine and put it on his teacher’s desk; then he went down into the basement and set fire to the school by lighting wastepaper in the boiler room. When the Fire Commissioner conducted an inquiry, evidence pointed to the boy. When he was asked why, he explained, as the news reports simply put it, with childish simplicity, “In class yesterday, they took away my bubble gum.”

In our way, each one of us is just like this little boy. Because of our Adamic nature we say, “I am on the throne of my life, and I want everyone else to bow down before me. I want to rule. When I want anything, I want it, I want it now, and that is sufficient reason for my having it. If I want bubble gum, I will have it. If anybody takes it away from me, I have a right to lash out and destroy anything that stands in the way of my whim and my desires.”

This is what theologians call being “self-willed.” Being “self-willed” is obstinately doing what one wants in spite of the wishes or orders of others. What’s the problem with being self-willed? The tragedy of the Adamic nature and being self-willed is that these things work against us developing true Christlike character. 

Christianity gives us a powerful tool to combat being self-wiiled: SELF-DENIAL. Self-denial is one of the defining elements of all true followers of Christ. The Lord Jesus states in Luke 9:23, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.” 

Self-denial is an absolute requirement for Christian discipleship and developing Christlike character. If we think of our Christian lives as buildings, then this is part of the foundation work. If there is no self-denial, there is no following Christ. It is a prerequisite of discipleship itself. And if you meditate on the life of Christ, this will not surprise you because the way of Jesus was one of repeated self-denial. The Apostle Paul was aware of Jesus’ self-denying servant heart and way of being. And he says it needs to be our way too. Here’s how Paul describes it:
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Phil. 2:3-8)
Jesus humbled Himself, denied Himself. And now he gives all people an invitation to discipleship - an invitation to commit our lives to being mentored by and learning from Jesus - which we know if a life of killing our own self interests. Jesus has no objection to inviting all people, but he wants his would-be followers to know up front…to be clear at the start what this would mean. That is why Jesus says, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.” He’s telling you up front what it is all about. So, since self-denial is so important, it is vital we know what it really is and how to do it.

What is Christian self-denial

1) Self-denial is the principle of bringing our self-willed nature into subordination to God’s will. As you might imagine, this is the hard part of being a disciple- though you are given Holy Spirit power; Resurrection power to do it. Why is it so hard? Well, our human wills, the ability to choose, think and act, are like the great wheels in our souls that move all our affections, all our desires. You can imagine your human will as the spoke around which your desires spin and turn. Well, a long time ago in the beginning of creation, human will was innocent. In this innocence, human will was aligned with God’s will. But what happened? Well, things got out of alignment. Our wills became spiritually depraved. Morally corrupt. And because of the spoke (our wills) being broken, our affections and desires turn to sin, turn to self-interest, turn to rebellion against God. Self-denial then is like using the power of Christ to re-train our wills to come back into alignment with God’s will. The tool of self-denial is like this crooked stick. If a crooked stick is laid upon the ground that is level, we don’t try to bring the ground even with the stick, but to make the stick even to the ground. So God's will is not to be brought to ours, but our will being crooked must be brought to God's will. That’s why we are told to pray in this way,
Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. (Matt. 6:9-10)
2) Self-denial is not fully accomplished in our conversion - it is a lifetime discipline. When we think of self-denial, we shouldn’t imagine that there is a once-for-all moment of surrender to Christ after which our lives will be naturally obedient to God’s will. Our sinful nature is not instantaneously removed when we first repent for our sins and believe in Jesus Christ - even though God sees us sinless through the lens of Christ and we are justified - we still battle with our sin nature in a lifelong period of struggle called sanctification. [Lat. sanctificare from 2 Lat. 2 words sanctus “holy”; and ficare from facere ”to make” - so sanctification is the process of God’s continuing work in us to make us holy by purifying us from sin. And it’s a lifetime discipline. And it’s a lifetime battle that we wage in the power of Christ. Paul describes it this way in Roman 7:19-25...
For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.
It’s a battle - and notice how often it is waged. Jesus told his disciples they must take up their cross daily. Yes they were his disciples, but they still had to deny their sinful nature daily and submit to doing God's will.

3) Self-denial is the denying of anything in our lives that opposes full faith in and obedience to God and His Word. As the Puritan Thomas Watson points out, there are times when a Christian must deny his appetites, his ease, his finances, even his life, in order for our will to no longer oppose God. Why is this so hard? It is because the three greatest enemies which oppose full faith and obedience to God and His word are these - mark these carefully:
1) Self-wisdom. The reality is we think we know better than God what is best for our lives
2) Self-will. Therefore we make our own plans for our lives and we harmonize these plans with God’s will only when it is convenient for us.
3) Self-righteousness. At the end of the day we believe entirely in our own ability to do good and we do not rest upon the meritorious obedience and satisfaction of Christ our certainty before God.
Four truths are helpful to remember as we strive by God’s grace to deny ourselves.

1) First, we must esteem other as more important than ourselves. The New Living Translation in Phil 2:3 puts it this way: “Don’t be selfish; don't try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves.”

2) Second, we find help when we remember we only deny ourselves by the Spirit’s power. By His regenerating power, the Spirit shows us the foolishness of our own wisdom and lack of righteousness. and He reveals our wisdom to be in the person and work of Christ Jesus. When we are tempted to despair at our failure to deny ourselves, we have the sure strength of the Spirit of Christ to encourage us. You’ll never achieve the self-denial without the Spirit’s power.

3) Third, we find help in denying ourselves in prayer. Prayer demands we give up self-wisdom, self-will, and self-righteousness. Praying to “our Father which art in heaven,” confessing His name to be “hallowed,” and asking Him to “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” requires that we set aside our wisdom and trust His. You’ll never achieve self-denial without prayer.

4) Fourth, if we would deny ourselves, we must focus on Christ. It is hard to do any difficult task if we forget the reason why we are doing it. The same principle is true for self-denial. We will have no strength if we are not “looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith” (Heb. 12:2). Further, our Lord says in John 15:4, “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can you, except you abide in me.” Jesus says in John 15:5, “without me you can do nothing.” We must never forget that Jesus calls us to deny ourselves in the context of following Him: “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself” (Luke 9:23).

But Jesus wasn’t calling his followers to some stoic life of self-sacrifice. He was inviting them to joy beyond their imagination. The broad road of the world was lined with seductive false promises, appealing to and blinding sinful human heart-eyes and leading many to a horror beyond imagination. So Jesus was calling his followers to deny themselves the world’s paltry, brief joys so that they might have overflowing eternal joy. He was calling them to deny themselves hell, that they might take up heaven.
For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels. (Mark 8:35–38)