Self-Denial: Not the Same as Denying Yourself

[Part 8]

The third and final temptation of Christ in the wilderness was a blatant appeal to self-exaltation.  Satan offered Jesus the kingdoms of the world if Jesus would just worship him.  Jesus replied, “Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve” (Matthew 4:10).

All three temptations appealed to self.  The first was to self-gratification, the second to self-vindication, and the third to self-exaltation.  Every temptation we face will fit into one of these three categories.  This is why the Bible can say that Jesus was “tempted in all points as we are yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).

In all three temptations, Jesus denied himself by placing God ahead of himself.  As simple as it sounds that’s hard to do.  Even in our practice of denying ourselves, we have a tendency to place ourselves ahead of God.  We pick what we’ll give up for God to get something from God.

Denying yourself something is not the same thing as denying yourself.  Self is the essence of who you are and not just what you do.  We all do things that are wrong that we must give up.   That’s repentance.  Sometimes we do things right that cost us to help others.  That’s sacrifice.  But giving up yourself goes beyond what you do or don’t do, it strikes at the core of whose’ in charge of you.

All of the answers of Jesus to temptation affirmed that God was in charge of Him.  This was not just reflected in the scriptural answer Jesus gave to each temptation, but it also showed in how Jesus introduced those answers.  Each time, Jesus said, “It is written.”

God had the final say so.  Jesus considered the scripture as final in authority.  Does God have the final say so in your life?  If not, it doesn’t matter what you give up for Him because you are holding on to yourself for you.

Self is our problem and until we see as Jesus saw, we can’t recognize it.  The world sees self as the solution and preaches the gospel of self-esteem.  I’m amazed at the number of Christians who have bought into the self-esteem message of Satan.  Some even try to dress it up in scriptural drag by misinterpreting the second commandment to say that you must first love yourself before you can love your neighbor as yourself.

Jesus, on the other hand, called us to deny ourselves.  He said, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself.” (Matthew 16:24).   Following Christ begins with denying yourself.  To do this I must see as Jesus saw.  Otherwise I’ll turn it into a self-righteous religious exercise.

To see as Jesus saw, I must see God as Jesus saw him.  I must see myself as He saw himself.  And I must see the world around me as He saw the world around Him.  Otherwise, my blind spot will make me vulnerable to temptation.

Walking with God begins with seeing, and we how we see is our worldview.

To be continues….

Michael Peters

About the Author:

Michael Peters

Dr. Michael Peters is the lead pastor of Christ the King: He is married to Linda, and they have two children and seven grandchildren. Dr. Peters graduated from Covenant Seminary with an MA and obtained a PhD in historical theology from Saint Louis University. He has written several books. His most recent is titled Cell Vision. It’s about organic discipleship and how to develop supporters into disciple makers. He taught critical thinking and Biblical worldview at Missouri Baptist University. His favorite course textbook was Closing of the American Mind by Allan Bloom. His favorite philosopher is Nietzsche because postmodern people are just catching up with premodern Nietzsche. And his favorite Christian writer is G.K. Chesterton because he understood the difference between a poet and theologian. “The poet,” he wrote, “only asks to get his head into the heavens. It is the theologian who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits.”