“Then said Jesus unto His disciples—If any will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.” Matthew 16:24
First, it signifies the complete repudiation of his own GOODNESS. It means ceasing to rest upon any works of our own to commend us to God. It means an unreserved acceptance of God’s verdict that “all our righteousnesses [our best performances] are as filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). It was at this point that Israel failed: “For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God” (Romans 10:3). But contrast the declaration of Paul: “And be found in Him, not having my own righteousness” (Phil 3:9).
For a man to utterly “deny himself” is to completely renounce his own WISDOM. None can enter the kingdom of heaven except they become “as little children” (Matthew 18:3). “Woe unto those who are wiser in their own eyes—and prudent in their own sight” (Isaiah 5:21). “Professing themselves to be wise—they became fools” (Romans 1:21). When the Holy Spirit applies the Gospel in power to a soul, it is to the “casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor 10:5). A good motto for each Christian to adopt is, “Lean not unto your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5).
For a man to utterly “deny himself” is to completely renounce his own STRENGTH. It is to have “no confidence in the flesh” (Phil 3:3). It is the heart bowing to Christ’s positive declaration, “Without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). It was at this point Peter failed: (Matthew 26:33). “Pride goes before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18). How necessary it is, then, that we heed 1 Cor 10:12: “Let him who thinks he stands take heed, lest he fall”! The secret of spiritual strength—lies in realizing our personal weakness! (see Isaiah 40:29; 2 Cor 12:9). Then let us “be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim 2:1).
For a man to utterly “deny himself” is to completely renounce his own WILL. The language of the unsaved is, “We will not have this Man to reign over us!” (Luke 19:14). The attitude of the Christian is, “For to me—to live is Christ” (Phil 1:21)—to honor, please, serve Him. To renounce our own wills means heeding the exhortation of Phil. 2:5, “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus,” which is defined in the verses that immediately follow as that of self-abnegation. It is the practical recognition that “you are not your own—for you are bought with a price” (1 Cor 6:19,20). It is saying with Christ, “Nevertheless not what I will—but what You will” (Mark 14:36).
For a man to utterly “deny himself” is to completely renounce his own LUSTS or fleshly desires. “A man’s SELF is a bundle of idols” (Thomas Manton), and those idols must be repudiated. Non-Christians are “lovers of their own selves” (2 Tim 3:1); but the one who has been regenerated by the Spirit, says with Job, “Behold, I am vile!” (40:4), “I abhor myself!” (47:6). Of non-Christians it is written, “all seek their own—not the things which are Jesus Christ’s” (Phil 2:21); but of God’s saints it is recorded, “they loved not their own lives unto the death” (Rev 12:11). The grace of God is “Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world” (Titus 2:12).
This denial of self which Christ requires from all His followers is to be UNIVERSAL. There is to be no reserve, no exceptions made: “Make no provision for the flesh, to the lusts” (Romans 13:14). It is to be constant, not occasional: “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me” (Luke 9:23). It is to be spontaneous, not forced; performed gladly, not reluctantly: “And whatever you do, do heartily, as to the Lord” (Col 3:23). O how wickedly has the standard which God sets before us, been lowered! How it condemns the easy-going, flesh-pleasing, worldly lives of so many who profess (but vainly), that they are “Christians”!
“And take up his cross.” This refers to the cross not as an object of faith—but as an experience in the soul. The legal benefits of Calvary are received through believing, when the guilt of sin is cancelled—but the experimental virtues of Christ’s Cross are only enjoyed as we are, in a practical way, “made conformable unto his death” (Phil 3:10). It is only as we really apply the cross to our daily lives, regulate our conduct by its principles, that it becomes efficacious over the power of indwelling sin. There can be no resurrection where there is no death; and there can be no practical walking “in newness of life” until we “bear about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus” (2 Cor 4:10). The “cross” is the badge, the evidence, of Christian discipleship. It is his “cross” and not his creed, which distinguishes a true follower of Christ from religious worldlings.
Excerpt from The Cross and SELF by Arthur [AW] Pink (1886 – 1952
Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith... Heb 12:1-2
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