Why does Jesus ask us to deny ourselves?


Dying to self is one of the major themes all Christians are taught in the Bible. What does dying to self mean and why should we do it?

What dying to self means

The Bible teaches us to die to ourselves. Simply put, it means we must "deny" ourselves – our sinful, worldly, and fleshly desires, thoughts, lusts, and longings (see Colossians 3:5-10). It's a very strong command, one that came from the very mouth of the Lord Jesus Christ:

"Then Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it." (Matthew 16:24-25)

Contrary to how some understand it, denying ourselves doesn't mean castigating or treating ourselves harshly. It doesn't automatically mean saying "no" to that slice of cake, unless you're fasting. It does mean, however, that we will not give in to our selfish, ungodly desires (see Colossians 3:5).

Moreover, denying the self also means being willing to put off our plans for the purpose of tuning to God's will and doing it. It means saying "no" to the self when our desires go contrary to the ways and will of God as according to His Word.

Why should I deny myself?

There are several reasons – even benefits – to denying ourselves. We are not to think of self-denial as a self-deprecating and self-punishing means of discipline, but rather a means to a greater end, one that we would actually want more than anything. Here are some reasons why we should deny ourselves:

First, it's a requirement in following Christ (see Matthew 16:24; Luke 9:23)

Before we can follow Christ, we need to "unfollow" ourselves. We need to be willing to put off our plans for ourselves so that we can obey the plans of God for our lives.

Second, it allows us to live increasingly holy lives (see 1 Corinthians 9:24-27)

Self-denial is the way to go if we want to win the prize God intends for us to win in this life and in the life to come. Consider what the apostle Paul tells us:

"Do you not know that all those who run in a race run, but one receives the prize? So run, that you may obtain it. Everyone who strives for the prize exercises self-control in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown, but we an incorruptible one. So, therefore, I run, not with uncertainty. So I fight, not as one who beats the air. But I bring and keep my body under subjection, lest when preaching to others I myself should be disqualified." (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)

Third, it's the way to bear much fruit (John 12:24-26)

Lastly, denying ourselves to follow Christ is the way to bear much God-pleasing fruit in this life. Because He denied Himself and obeyed God's will for Him to die on the cross for our sake, we are saved. If we deny ourselves to follow Him and do God's will for our lives, we are assured of much fruit that'll please Him:

"Truly, truly I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone. But if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life will lose it. And he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me. Where I am, there will My servant be also. If anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him." (John 12:24-26)

Desire to give Him room

Friends, denying ourselves means we will give God the room He deserves in our lives. It's not about Him being a killjoy over us; it means we are submitting ourselves to Him because He deserves to be King over us. He is the LORD.

I leave you with these words from John the Baptist, speaking about the Lord Jesus Christ. I pray it will be your declaration too:

"He must increase, but I must decrease." (John 3:30)