I wrote this post back in June 2, 2014. This message has been in my spirit for a few years, as I learn to walk this journey of wholeness.
It ministered to me then, and it certainly is relevant now.
"Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me." [Matt. 16:24, KJV].
"I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service." [Rom. 12:1, KJV]
There is a fundamental difference between being in denial and denying ourselves.
I have found that being in denial means you are pretending that what you see, feel, desire, think and/or want, doesn't exist. You attribute it to everything BUT what you know to be the reality of it. This is where we open the door to be caught off guard, disappoint ourselves and God, have unexpected outbursts and set ourselves up for failure. That isn't what Jesus is referring to in Matthew.
Denying ourselves means that we are fully aware of what we see, feel, desire, think, want and and have permission to do to an extent (1 Corinthians 10:23, NIV), but choose to say no through the power of will in part and the will of the Spirit in essence.
But the challenge lies in picking up the cross. Why? Because this automatically assumes that eventually we will be exposed and have to put our wounds and REALITY on display. When we follow Christ, we are also walking the road of the display of our issues if we want to be honest and free others.
We can't hide everything under the guise of self-discipline or denying ourselves. Some stuff is just denial. But confronting ourselves and then recognizing that we are what Paul calls a living sacrifice in Romans 12:1, and that THIS is worship... That's not denial. That's denying ourselves.
Jesus was never in denial. Never did He pretend He didn't want something or didn't want to do it. He doesn't expect anything less from us. He knows we aren't crazy nor robots. He knows we feel and think for ourselves. He wants us to be just as honest with ourselves, so that we in turn are honest with Him. He can't work on something that isn't present. It's like asking a mechanic to work on a car, but all we show him is a picture of it. We have to bring it in just as it is, for the work to actually happen.
Jesus displayed what He asks of us. He wasn't in denial. He just denied Himself of what He naturally wanted to do.
Let's look through scripture.
- In the desert when He was being tempted by the devil (Matthew 4). Temptation by implication already means it is something we WANT. Jesus wanted to eat after 40 days of fasting. He had the opportunity to show off His power and authority by casting Himself and be rescued by the angels. And He wanted to have the world worship Him. After all, that is part of the reason He came... to save us, that we may be reconciled unto God... and worship Him. So the devil made valid offers. But Jesus denied Himself. His purpose was greater than the power of His desires. (Pastor Bernardo brought light to this a few years back through a sermon).
In the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36-45) He outright said, if I don't have to go through this, spare me... but in the end, not my will, but thy will be done. It is here that He declares, the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. Why? The spirit is always willing, but He is admitting that His flesh did NOT want to have to go through it this way.
And this is where being the living sacrifice takes place. It's easy to be asacrifice if we are dead. You no longer feel what is being done because your death was the sacrifice. But a living sacrifice means, you are at the altar, still feeling, seeing, moving, desiring, thinking, wanting and even having permission to walk away from it all or engaging in it all, but because we choose God over ourselves, we remain at the altar by looking at SELF in the face and saying, not my will, but HIS will be done. We deny ourselves. (My spiritual Mama, Pastor Sharon brought light to the mind of Isaac being the sacrifice, a few years back through a sermon titled, "When You Are the Sacrifice").
And we go through all of that, to declare our love, for the One that loved us undeniably and unfathomably and died while we were yet sinners (Rom. 5:8). And in this, our denying-self becomes the public display of our wounds for others to be freed and know that they are not alone and that there truly will be glory after this.
But I thank God that the story never ends at the CROSS. Grace covers us for the moments that we just can't say no or don't say no. But for every fall, there is about 9 "No" to self that reminds us that the Greater Work is still being perfected in us and that He will complete the story that bares His name and signature... because He is the Author of Salvation. I will WIN because HE WON! You will WIN because HE WON! He ROSE so we, too, will RISE.
So I remind myself, I'm not in denial. I'm fully aware. I know who I am, what I feel and what I know... but I turn my back to it and deny myself in order to pick up my cross, and follow HIM.