Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24) To follow Jesus, to live his prevailing life, we must deny ourselves. How does the practice of self denial lead to a life that prevails?
We have gotten away from the talk of “self denial” in contemporary Christianity. For many the term drudges up killjoy images of punishing the body or legalistic admonitions to live a life of morose austerity. But the kind of self denial Jesus speaks about is something more fundamental.
When Jesus speaks of self denial he is speaking about the issue of ownership. When you declare a life of self denial, you are professing that you do not have authority over your life, but another does.
For the follower of Christ it means that…
- We do not own ourselves, our lives, or our directions.
- We belong to God and are yielded to his will and plan.
I am currently teaching a seminary class on leadership. We are studying many of history’s most notable church leaders. In that study I came across a quote from the Protestant Reformer, John Calvin. He said,..
“We are not our own: let not our reason and will, therefore, sway our plans and deeds. We are not our own: let us not see it as our goal to seek what is expedient for us according to the flesh. We are not our own: in so far as we can, let us therefore forget ourselves and all that is ours.”
By itself this idea might seem bleak, as if we are relinquishing life. But there is more to the story that makes this idea rich and marvelous. We are not only denying ownership of our lives, we are declaring that…
We belong to God!
We belong to the God who loves us enough to send his Son Jesus, to die on the cross atoning for our sin. We belong to the God who created us for his glory and for loving fellowship in his eternal presence. We belong to the God who gives us life that prevails. Calvin further states…
“We are God’s: let us therefore live for him and die for him. We are God’s: let all the parts of our life accordingly strive toward him as our only lawful goal. O, how much has that man profited who, having been taught that he is not his own, has taken away dominion and rule from his own reason that he may yield it to God.”
When we deny ourselves and surrender to the ownership of God, our lives become open to all that God has for us. Yielded to him, we become his instruments, doing his bidding, living a divine adventure that we could never know if we doggedly insisted on being the captain of our own pitiful plans.
So as the Apostle Paul urged, “offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.” (Romans 12:1)
Do you want to live the prevailing life? Then lose your life to God’s ownership. Be willing to surrender your present and your future to whatever God will call you to do.
Don’t be afraid! He will stretch you, challenge you, and push you for sure. He will call you into things you never thought you could handle. He will lead you to trust him with your tomorrow in ways you thought you could never trust anyone.
But you will experience him and his power. You will know him in his love. You will find that in him your life prevails no matter what the circumstances.
Yes, self denial (the kind Jesus speaks of) opens the door to God’s prevailing life!
Question: What are ways you experience God more fully when you surrender to his ownership over your life and circumstances? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
 Mark Shaw, 10 Great Ideas from Church History, IVP Books, Downers Grove, Illinois, 1997, pp. 50-51.
 Ibid, p. 51.