What does it mean to deny yourself? In Matthew 16:25, Jesus said to His Disciples if any man would come after me, let him deny himself, pick up his cross and follow me for whoever tries to save his life will lose it and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it for what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his soul.
The early church would have interpreted these words very literally: deny yourself, pick up your cross and follow me; if you try to save your life you’re gonna lose it but it you lose your life well then you will save it. In the days of the early church, Christians who would rise up against Rome were put on a cross or thrown into the Coliseum to be eaten by lions. Today, we have the incredible gift of living in a free country. Even with all of the troubles within our political system, I am so incredibly grateful for where I live, a country where we are free to worship without worry of being persecuted for our beliefs.
I believe, when Jesus encourages us to “deny yourself,” that he intended this as a spiritual approach to some of our basic human instincts.
First, I think he was speaking about letting go of the basic human desire to control every situation in life. In addition to control, we also seek security and we often find that security in the amount of money we have in our bank account. If you can pay the bills and save a little, you can “feel secure”. I believe Jesus encourages us to deny ourselves the need for security, power and control, and instead to trust God to provide in all areas of our lives.
Secondly, Jesus said what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and to lose a soul? He did not say if you gain the whole world you will lose your soul. I believe Jesus calls us to be who he created us to be! We’ve all been given talents and abilities. When you take a risk and start living the life of your dreams, there is a chance you may receive power or wealth. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that when you are being the person you are called to be! The question is, do you remember who you are.
Third, when you are willing to deny some of these basic human desires for control and instead live out of a radical spirit of love, you will have the ability to bless so many people. Jesus reminds us that we are not in this world just to take and focus only on ourselves and our desires. We are in this world to bless others.
When we open our hands to give, we open our souls to live.