Denying Self

Jesus called the crowd and his disciples and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

I’m about 99% certain that we have no idea what these words from Jesus really mean.  As 21st century, American Christians, we can’t even begin to imagine what it meant for someone to follow Jesus in 1st century Palestine.  This isn’t inherently bad, mind you, it is merely coming to terms with the fact that the circumstances of life in  America today are just so vastly different than they were 2,000 years ago in the Jordan River Valley.  The good people over at’s Sermon Brainwave did some digging into this point.  It is worth a listen.

They point out what many of us learned in seminary, but probably forgot, that the concept of the self has only developed into an individualistic idea over the last 400 years or so, and even then, only in the west.  Throughout most of the East and the Global South, selfhood is a communal concept.  In 21st century America, who I am as a person is the sum of me: my job, my family system, my living situation, my education, and my religious preferences.  I am Steve, a Low Church Episcopal Priest, a first-born to my parents, but a middle-child to my Father, and a married father of two who is 3/5th of the way done with a D.Min from the University of the South.  To deny myself and take up my cross in that context simply means to do that which I would not normally choose to do.  In the Ancient Near East, the self is defined by the sum of all the people with whom I am in relationship.  I am the son of Pat and John, brother of Ed, Mike, and Lisa, husband to Cassie, father of Eliza and Lainey, co-worker of Keith and Penny, Facebook friend of 1,270, and a priest to hundreds more.  To deny myself in that context is to brave the realistic possibility that you’ll be leaving behind family, friends, and job in order to take an entirely new identity as disciple of Jesus.

The only real opportunity cost for most American Christians is giving up the ability to sleep in [every-third] Sunday morning.  So how do we live into Jesus’ mandate to deny self and follow Jesus?  If denying self is, as I suggest, about a fundamental change in identity, then it would seem that following Jesus requires us to take on his characteristics.  This means doing the hard work of loving God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength, and the even harder work of loving your neighbor as yourself.  For example, loving the woman you cut you off in traffic this morning or loving the guy who didn’t wipe down the machine at the gym or loving that family member who always calls at the worst time to talk about nothing in particular or that coworker who smacks his gum in the cubicle next to you or the judge who struck down your state’s same-sex marriage ban or the judge who argues that his interpretation of God’s law trumps federal law, or… you get the idea.  Living in love is probably a good first step on the way to a fundamental change in identity from Steve to Disciple of Jesus: a first step that will probably take a lifetime plus to take.

One thought on “Denying Self


    Is it possible to have faith in Jesus but deny the purpose of faith and still be saved?

    John 8:22-24…..24 ‘Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins.”

    Jesus told certain Jews that unless they believed that He was the Son of God that they would die in their sins. The question remains, if the Jews said “We believe you are the Son of God, however, that is not essential to the forgiveness of sins;” would their sins still be forgiven? CAN YOU DENY THE PURPOSE OF FAITH AND STILL HAVE YOUR SINS FORGIVEN?

    John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall perish, but have eternal life.

    Is it reasonable to assume that men can say, “We believe that Jesus is God’s Son and the Savior of the world, however, that has nothing to do with us receiving eternal life,” and that they will still be saved? CAN MEN DENY THE PURPOSE OF FAITH AND STILL RECEIVE ETERNAL LIFE?

    Acts 16:29-31 And he called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas, 30 and said “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 They said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”

    If the Jailer had told Paul and Silas that he would believe as an act of obedience and a testimony of his faith, but that believing had nothing to do with his salvation; would the jailer have been saved? CAN MEN DENY THE PURPOSE OF BELIEVING IN THE LORD JESUS AND STILL BE SAVED?


    Is logical to assume you can be baptized in water, but deny its purpose and still be saved?

    Acts 2:38 Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

    What are the probabilities that if the three thousand on the Day of Pentecost had told Peter, “We will be baptized, however, it is not in order to have our sins forgiven,” would their sins still be forgiven? CAN MEN DENY THE PURPOSE OF WATER BAPTISM AND STILL HAVE THEIR SINS FORGIVEN.

    Acts 22:12-16….16 Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name!

    What if Saul had told Ananias, “I had my sins washed away on the road to Damascus, but I will be baptized as an act of obedience and as a testimony of my faith,” would Saul’s sins have been washed away? CAN MEN DENY THE PURPOSE OF WATER BAPTISM AND STILL HAVE THEIR SINS FORGIVEN?

    Ephesians 5:25-27… just as Christ loved the church gave Himself up for her, 26 so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless.

    What if men were to say that Christ washed the church with water, however, it had nothing to do with, sanctifying her, cleansing her, making her spotless, or rendering her holy and blameless? CAN MEN DENY THE PURPOSE OF WATER BAPTISM AND STILL RECEIVED ITS BENEFITS?

    1 Peter 3:20-21 ….safely through the water. 21 Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you….

    Is it plausible for men to proclaim that they were baptized in water, but it played no part in their salvation?Can they still be saved? CAN MEN DENY THE PURPOSE OF WATER BAPTISM AND STILL BE SAVED?


    Mark 16:16 He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved….. CAN YOU DENY THAT AND STILL BE SAVED?????

    (All Scripture quotes from: NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE)


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