Jesus had finished feeding the multitude with the five loaves and two fishes and Peter had just declared Him “the Christ (the Messiah, the Anointed) of God!” It was in the moment that according to the narrative, “He strictly warned and admonished them not to tell this to anyone” before telling them what laid ahead for Him – suffering, rejection, death, and resurrection (Luke 9:12-22, AMP). Then He dropped what could be described as a bombshell: “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me” (v. 23, KJV).
The Amplified version is more expansive: “If anyone wishes to follow Me [as My disciple], he must deny himself [set aside selfish interests], and take up his cross daily [expressing a willingness to endure whatever may come] and follow Me [believing in Me, conforming to My example in living and, if need be, suffering or perhaps dying because of faith in Me].” It is interesting the order in which Jesus listed what every follower should do and it is not surprising that the denial of self comes first. Was Jesus telling His followers that enjoying pleasure was off limits? No, not at all. Paul affirms that we serve the “living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy” (1 Timothy 6:17). However, in our pursuit to satisfy self, and since self is hardly every satisfied, we risk overindulgence at the expense of things that are more important.
At the very core, the self is selfish and seeks its own gratification. Left to our sinful nature, we are at the center of our own world. As the Sermon Bible observes, “No two powers can be more antagonistic than man’s nature and Christ’s service, and the struggle issues, as either power prevails, in apostasy or in self-denial.” In other words, we either deny self or we risk defecting from following Jesus. He made it clear that we cannot have it both ways: “If anyone wishes to follow Me [as My disciple], he must deny himself [set aside selfish interests].”
Why is this so incredibly important? Because it is impossible to have fellowship with Christ without self-denial. As Jesus demonstrated, without self-denial there can be no real cleaving of the moral nature to the will of God. In the struggle between the flesh and the spirit, our sinful nature will always try to dominate; we instinctively default to it. However, as one writer observes, “[Jesus] presented to the view of all a body that was under the control of the mind, and a mind that was under the control of God.” Why? Just so He could fulfill the will of God. Those who desire to follow Him and who are commited to following Him must do the same. We must deny self in the pursuit of that which is far more important. Are you one of them?