by Pastor Leslie
The following blog about ‘self’ is the story of every man, woman, young adult, young person and child. I have chosen to use ‘self’ throughout the blog because it refers to more than simply ourselves. It is us, but also a force within each one of us which, outside of Christ, is dominated by sin.
Have you ever battled to do what Jesus taught in the New Testament? All of us have. Whenever a really difficult ask is made of us by Jesus – something rises within and starts to rebel against His command or word – that is the power of sin and ‘self.’ We start to think of lots of excuses why we shouldn’t do, think or act as commanded.
The victory of Jesus over the power of the human ‘self’ or ego is at the heart of the story of the Cross. However, He not only defeated the power of ‘self’ (and sin, Satan and the world), but He opened a pathway of redemption which means that the believer can put ‘self’ to death, as we daily take up our cross, and live in His freedom.
The denial of the power and needs of ‘self’ is at the heart of Jesus’ teaching, and an important first step in daily taking up our cross and stepping into the life of faith and freedom He desires for us to live. This points to the well-known example, ‘deny yourself, take up your cross daily, and follow Me’ (Luke 9:23).
Outside of Christ
‘Self’ is controlled by the sinful nature and will assert itself in so many ways following its own dictates, the world, and is susceptible to Satan’s temptations. This means that it will always seek to protect, vaunt and please itself. Outside of Christ, ‘self’ dominates the life within, and pushes its own agenda.
‘Self’ is always drawn to the base, carnal and soulish because at its heart, ‘self,’ outside of Christ, is fallen and in rebellion against God. Therefore, the truest expression of ‘self’s’ power is when the sinner sins. ‘Self’ produces sin, just as a cow produces milk – it is its natural outworking.
Because of this, when ‘self’ is in charge it leads in soulish and carnal directions. It will often wear a cloak of respectability, of niceness and a willingness to help others. Religious people, outside of Christ, are still controlled by the power of ‘self,’ no matter how religious their practices and upright their moral code.
One of the saddest things about ‘self’ not denied nor controlled is that it brings people into bondage – they are bound by the whims of ‘self.’ One of the biggest is seeking to control others using whatever it takes to make them do its will.
‘Self’ rebels against the command of Jesus to agape love others as we love ourselves. Jesus elevates love for others onto the same plain as love for ‘self’ – that is ‘self’ renewed in Christ, and truly surrendered to and dead in Christ. This agape love sets us free to live and be in relationship with others with Christ in charge.
Sadly, the more we yield to ‘self’ and its needs, passions and desires, the more it controls our thinking and dominates our interactions with society. ‘Self’ is selfish at heart, and is non-spiritual in its reasoning and understanding. Since the Fall of Adam and Eve, it is a destructive force at the heart of the human problem of sin and division.
When Self Encounters Jesus
Once the true claims of Christ are pressed home, ‘self’ fights for self-survival. This becomes really clear when the Gospel message is presented – repent, believe in Jesus, deny ‘self,’ take up your cross daily and follow Him. At this point you can always tell the extent to which ‘self’ is in charge of a person’s life.
If convicted by the word and Spirit, there will be a battle within and a wrestling with Jesus the Saviour – like Jacob with the angel. If the person yields to Christ, His new life begins within and they are saved. It they dismiss Jesus’ right to be their Lord, then they are in a lost estate and still bound by sin and the power of ‘self.’
An example of this is in the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). The rich man fails to deny ‘self’ instead feeding it more wealth, fails to truly love the poor beggar at his gate, and ultimately ends up in a lost eternity because he rejected God’s way for life.
Jesus had just rebuked the Pharisees for their love of money, and exalting themselves above Scriptural authority (Luke 16:14-18). He is driving home His point about the danger f making wealth one’s idol throughout the parable.
Even after his death, the rich man is still seeking to assert his way when asking Abraham to go and warn ‘self’s’ own – his own family about the danger of not following God’s way for life, money and possessions. In that realm, ‘self’ has no authority and must submit to God’s ways. However, after the death of the rich man outside of Christ, ‘self’ was still present wanting to control and assert its wishes.
Self-Denial and Self-Control
If we are in Christ, then the rule of ‘self’ in our lives is already being broken as we walk with Jesus and obey His word as His disciples. However, it is a battle that will continue for the rest of our lives and therefore requires the application of biblical self-denial and self-control. Wonderfully, by His Spirit, He joins us in our battle and so we never have to fight alone against the enemies of our souls.
Once we realise the power of the ‘self’ within to shape our lives, and our response to Christ and His claims – then Jesus’ words about self-denial and self-control and really important to hear. After all, self-control is one of the Fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:23, and therefore part of the nature of God which He wants to share with us.
On the one side, self-denial is about the application of the victory of Christ over selfish desires – it is denying ‘self’ its authority and rights in our lives. On the other side, self-control flows from the life of the Spirit and word within. It is about the mastery of the desires and power of self through the impact of the new life in Christ.
As the power of the word and Spirit touch our lives, self is brought under the lordship of Christ; then His freedom flows in our lives bringing the freedom in the Spirit to follow Him wholeheartedly.
As we grow in faith and spiritual maturity, it impacts how we live and yearn after God, His righteousness and ways. This yearning is the desire for the life of Christ to being formed in us. As we embrace self-denial, take up our cross daily, and follow Jesus Christ, it is no longer I, ‘self,’ who lives and reigns in me, but Christ.
This is the pathway that Adam and Even forsook and lost in the Fall – the pathway of submission to the Lordship of Christ, and the receiving of the nature of God within.
When we receive Christ, the Spirit begins to share His nature with us, including His self-control. This allows us to practice moderation, and enables us to say no to ‘self’s’ passions, lusts, desires and temper.
This is really hard to do; yet, the Master is saying that we need to hand both the title deeds and keys for our lives over to Him – it is about His right to be our Lord. When He is Lord of our lives, He sets us free from the control of ‘self.’
If we will do this – then His grace and power is made perfect in our weakness, and we can live to glorify Christ. This question is all about the lordship of our lives, and who has the right to determine the pathway for life we take, and is at the heart of Christian Discipleship.
With ‘self’ subject to Christ, we are able to follow Jesus as His disciples living in the freedom He promised worshipping, living, loving, serving, giving, witnessing and fellowshipping with others as He wants us to do. Hallelujah!