Self Denial

And he said unto all, If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whosoever would save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it.


— St. Luke 9:23-24

It is not to thwart or tease the poor self that Jesus tells the would-be disciple to deny himself; he tells us we must leave it altogether—yield it, refuse it, lose it: thus only shall we save it, thus only have a share in our own being. The self is given to us that we may sacrifice it; it is ours that we like Christ may have something to offer—not that we should torment it, but that we should abandon it utterly. The self is to be no longer the ruler of our action. We are no more to think, “What would I like to do?” but “What would the Living one have me do?” The Self is God’s making—only it must be the “slave of Christ,” that the Son may make it also the free son of the same Father; it must receive all from him; it must follow him, not its own desires. Christ must be its law. The time will come when it shall be so possessed by the indwelling God that there will be no longer any enforced denial of it needful; it has been finally denied and refused, learned to receive with thankfulness, to demand nothing. God’s eternal denial of himself, revealed in him who for our sakes in the flesh took up his cross daily, will have been developed in the man; his eternal rejoicing will be in God—and in his fellows, before whom he will cast his glad self to be a carpet for their walk, a footstool for their rest, a stair for their climbing.

Commentary

God Has a Part, and Man Has a Part...

by Dave Roney

"The victory over self is the victory of God in man, not of the man alone."

Upon this simple line rests much of theology.  For, the "Self," which is the "lower nature" in man, is the nearest most pressing enemy of the true self created by God, the Christlike self, the child of the Father self, the obedient self.   

Note that this victory of God "in man" does not exclude man, but that it is "not of the man alone."  If God were alone triumphant, the victory would be all God's, and if man were alone and achieved victory over his lower nature, as though to the pleasing and satisfaction of God, the victory would be man's alone.  If it is God and man, as of two equally yoked, the victory is shared jointly between them.  The victory of God is the victory of man.  The victory of man is the victory of God.

This joint victory, shared by the Father and His children, is that of two agreed, of two equally yoked, of the One willing and the other obedient to that Will, the two wills then becoming one even as that of Christ Jesus and the Father.  It is to this end that God is ever working, to bring us into harmony with Himself, into union with Him, into deepest personal, familial relationship: And for this our participation is essential; it is God's victory in man, and man's victory in God.

Two things come to mind here; the first is the widely taught doctrine of imputation, and the second is a false sense of humility, for the two are related, the latter being an outgrowth of the former.  And herewith we must keep in mind the possible approaches; God alone, man alone, or God and man together.

From the Old Testament, we find the prophet declaring "all our righteousness is as filthy rags" (Isa. 64:6) and it has a counterpart in the New Testament where the Apostle declares "There are none righteous, no not one" (Rom. 3:10).   These references have been used to show that in man, both before and after the process of salvation begins, there is no true righteousness in him, and then to deal with the apparent righteousness in a man which is evident, the doctrine of Imputed Righteousness was drawn up.  But the lack of true righteousness in a fellow has to do with the man alone, working within his broken mind and will and heart; and here we understand "The mere effort of will, arbitrary and uninformed of duty, may add to the man's power over his lower nature; but in that nature it is God who must rule, and not the man."  Of this doctrine of imputation, we refer:

"The apostle says that a certain thing was imputed to Abraham for righteousness; or, as the Revised Version has it, 'reckoned unto him:' what was it that was thus imputed to Abraham? The righteousness of another? God forbid! It was his own faith. The faith of Abraham is reckoned to him for righteousness. To impute the righteousness of one to another, is simply to act a falsehood; to call the faith of a man his righteousness is simply to speak the truth. Was it not righteous in Abraham to obey God?  (MacDonald, "Righteousness")

Would a good earthly father ever be content that his son never developed his own true righteousness, but would always in himself be craven, base, even beastly? that this son's only righteousness was that of his righteous father, and that he would never grow to really and actually possess the same righteousness as really exists in his father in himself?  If righteousness of a man comes only from the man, it is in the eyes of God "as filthy rags;" if the man's righteousness is all of God, the man can never ever, even in an endless progression of eternities, be actually righteous; but if the righteousness of God is the same righteousness as is in him, then he is become like his Savior, Jesus Christ the Righteous.  A man's righteousness, which is the victory over Self, is the victory of God in the man, actually existing; and in this man has a part else no real righteousness is possible for him.

And though my brief remarks as to imputed vs. actual righteousness leave much unsaid, I must now move on to the second point, that of false humility.

One sister in the Lord commends another sister on some good thing which has been done, and with sheepish and nearly apologetic reply the other sister says "It was all of God and none of me!"  When a man claims his righteousness is all of self and gives no credit to God, he displays a false sense of pride; but when a believer exclaims that "it was all of God and none of me" it shows a false sense of humility.  And false humility is at its root a subtle form of pride.  Having healed the invalid at Bethesda's pool, and being accused by the Jews of labor on the Sabbath, our Lord said unto them; "My Father works till now, and I work."  The work Christ did was no imputed thing but was Him, as a man, as all other men, actually doing it; the Father willed, the Son did the Will.  We cannot imagine that, when accused, He would say to the Jews "It was all of God and none of me!"  It was both He and His Father, together, in the doing.  It is that way for those who would be like Christ Jesus; God has a part for which we must ever give credit, and we have a part which we must ever, in humility, admit to.  It is never all of God or all of us, but both God and us in union.

And I will conclude with this: there was a Saul of Tarsus, and this man became Paul the Apostle.  Before his encounter with our Lord on the Damascus roadway, he was a highly disciplined man, a "Hebrew of the Hebrews" as he described himself, "circumcised when I was eight days old, a pure-blooded citizen of Israel and a member of the tribe of Benjamin, a member of the Pharisees, in company, then, of those who demand the strictest obedience to the Jewish law."  Later he said in his epistles that he constantly trained to bring himself under subjection to Christ, and that to do this he must "die daily" to his old Self, was constantly being self-crucified with Christ. 

What does this say to us?  Namely, that to become righteous even as He is righteous we must struggle, and we must also cease to struggle; it is a dichotomy in us with which we must constantly deal until we are finally become the express image and exact representation of Christ, even as He was, and is, of His Father and ours. We must struggle as long as sin dwells in us, we must cease to struggle by loving, submissive, obedience to God in all we think and say and do.  By this we seek the victory over Self, but the victory is "not of the man alone," for man alone is incapable of triumphing over his old miserable Self; "...in whatever man does without God, he must fail miserably;" it is, then, neither all of God or all of man, but with the participation of both, "the victory of God in man."  Not the victory of God in spite of man, neither by making allowances for man, nor by excusing sin or else by some imagined imputation of righteousness.  In every case, without exception, God has a part, and man has a part; the part of God is to do for us that which we ought to do but cannot; our part is to do what we ought to do and can.  It is the victory of God and the victory of man.  And the two victories are one and the same...