What does it mean to deny yourself and take up your cross?

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Question / Comment -  What does it mean to deny yourself and take up the cross?


Matthew 16:24, Jesus told His disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me" but some one said: 

"As a Christian, your old self has already perished, eliminating the need for further dying. God loves the new version of you and considers you to be remarkable! ............ God desires from you is not self-denial, but rather embracing and expressing your true self. In short, don’t deny yourself; be yourself!"

I think this is totally wrong , I would like to see your thought. By the way I learned a lot from your website God bless you.


JPN Reply:


my first thought was 'this sounds more like psychobabble than Bible.' But I need to be careful and fair because it is hard just with an isolated quote not knowing the context that it was used in and where they are coming from. But we can pick up some things from the quote. 

  1. It seems that the person believes that the old self/sinful nature is perished / dead in a believer
  2. That we no longer are to deny ourselves 
  3. Instead we are to express our true self and be ourselves. 

From this I would say they don't believe that the Christian has two natures and only see the 'new self'. I once had a long discussion on this (too long!) with someone who wrote in and thought that the sinful nature had been eradicated. You can read here if interested: https://jesusplusnothing.com/series/post/eradication

So let's quickly go through parts of this:

"As a Christian, your old self has already perished, eliminating the need for further dying."

It is true that references to dying spiritually, especially in Paul's epistles, are past tense and we are to reckon upon that fact of our crucifixion and union with Christ. Paul taught that Christians have been crucified (past tense) with Christ (Gal 2:20), that the old self was crucified with Him (Rom 6:6) and that we are to reckon (or consider) ourselves dead to sin and alive to God 'in Christ Jesus' (Rom 6:11). All gloriously true. But Paul also knew that we have an on-going battle in this present life with this sinful nature that still exists while in this body and thus also says to 'Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature (Col 3:5). This ongoing battle with the old sinful nature is also seen in such verses as:

Rom 7:18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not.
Gal 5:17 For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.

And thus, the old self, which is rendered powerless 'in Christ Jesus' (as we 'reckon' ourselves dead to sin and alive to God) is still spoken of in the present tense as needing to be put off:

Eph 4:22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires;

And Jesus, speaking to His disciples, obviously used the imagery of 'death' in verses like Matt 16:24 (discussed below) and John 12:26. These are not salvation passages but discipleship (following Jesus) passages. 

"God loves the new version of you and considers you to be remarkable!" 

Whenever I hear or read something, I like to try put it into the mouth of Jesus or Paul in the Bible and see whether it fits : ) Can you imagine Paul saying to himself or others 'God loves this new version of me/you. He considers me/you to be remarkable!' Argh yeah, not likely... Not likely at all! Jesus is the One that is remarkable! Looking at this differently, as a Christian there is a difference between our 'standing' and our 'state'. Or put another way there is a difference between our 'position in Christ' and our 'practice'. Yes, the new creation, which believers are through the death and resurrection is remarkable. It is perfect and one day when we are glorified and have a new body we will see perfectly what God has done for we will be like Him (Col 3:4, 1 John 3:2). Even now our position in Christ is perfect as a totally forgiven, justified, righteous saint before God. You cannot get a better position! I have written at length about this here:

But our practice, until we get our new bodies, is less than perfect. Much less at times! So Paul, who spoke about the new creation and wrote all about our perfect position in Christ, didn't go around saying 'God considers me to be remarkable!' He would say 'I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.' (Php 4:13) And about himself, even as a Christian, he actually said things like:

1Ti 1:15 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners--of whom I am the worst.
Eph 3:8 Although I am less than the least of all God's people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ,
1Co 15:9 For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.
Rom 7:24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?

Now this doesn't mean he went round all gloomy just looking at his sinful nature! No... far from it! But he knew both who he was in Christ, and also who he was in himself - and was able to separate the two... as we all should. But he wouldn't be one saying 'God loves the new version of me! I'm remarkable' He believed and taught 'Christ-esteem', not 'self-esteem'. As a related side note, the modern day world is obsessed with 'self' and this even influences Christian theology unfortunately. But when the Bible speaks about our incredible position in Christ (which is unbelievable!), it in not to praise us... It is 'to the praise of His glorious grace!' (Eph 1:6) 

"God desires from you is not self-denial, but rather embracing and expressing your true self. In short, don’t deny yourself; be yourself!"

It is probably this sentence that sounds the most like 'psychobabble' to me but let's look on the positive side and assume they are saying 'be the new creation that you are in Christ Jesus'. We would all agree with this. We want our experience and practice to be ever-closer to this wonderful position we have in Christ, But a key part of this comes through denying ourselves and allowing the Lord to live through us. It comes about through the on-going choices that we make on a daily basis. For example, if, even as Christian, we just live totally for ourselves and our own pleasures can we honestly say 'it is no longer I that live but Christ that lives in me'? Can we say 'the life I live, I live by faith in the Son of God' if we don't even bring Jesus into our day? So there is an ongoing process of sanctification where, in the words of John the Baptist, 'I must decrease and He must increase'. This is where the cross and denying ourselves comes in...

What does it mean to take up our cross?

Mat 16:24-25 Then Jesus said to his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. (25) For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. 

So what is this about? I heard as a young believer a saying about this that stayed with me - "The cross is where my will and the Lord's will, cross'. That is, the cross is where the will of God, and our own will, are not in alignment. And taking up your cross is getting it into alignment. And this involves denying yourself and your will, and following God's will. We see this in the life of Jesus. Before the 'physical cross' there was what we could call the 'spiritual cross'. That occurred in the garden of Gethsemane, right after Judas left to betray Jesus. While in deep prayer and anguish concerning what stood before Him, Jesus prayed 'My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me...' (Matt 26:39) This was spoken in His humanity with the enormity of what was to come before Him (and it no doubt was far more than just the physical crucifixion but the spiritual separation from the Father that caused the anguish). Yet taking up His cross (spiritually speaking) he finished the sentence by saying 'Yet not as I will, but as you will.' This is what we are to do as well. This is the cross.

Here are a couple of useful quotes of these verses: 

These words are addressed to the disciples and not to unbelievers. It is therefore not a question of salvation. We are not asked to deny self and take up the cross in order to be saved. These words tell us that the way the Lord went is the way of all His true disciples. He states in a few words all the great truths of the association of the believer with the Lord, which the Holy Spirit brings out so fully in the Epistles. We read of the same association in the Gospel of John, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abides alone; but if it die, it bears much fruit. He that loves his life shall lose it, and he that hates his life in this world shall keep it to life eternal. If any one serve me, let him follow me; and where I am there also shall be my servant” (Joh_12:24-26). Of course there is an immeasurable difference between Him and the believer. He alone could drink the cup, and yet the path He went is our path. In the third chapter of Joshua we read of the passage of God’s people over Jordan. The ark of the covenant led the way and all the people followed. Between the ark and the people, however, was maintained the space of two thousand cubits. And yet they all followed after. It is the type for us. He has made the way and we follow Him. “For to this have ye been called; for Christ also has suffered for you, leaving you a model that ye should follow in His steps” (1Pe 2:21).
A.C Gaebelein

Are you God centered or self centered? Jesus presents quite a "grown-up" gospel to us here, one that does not merely pander to our desires, but challenges us in our deepest being.
David Guzik

Denying self also means that we don't trust in or promote ourselves but Jesus. The true Christian life is 'not I but Christ'. Human nature loves to promote self, honor self and indulge self. 'Self' loves to be praised and get the glory. But in the words of the Bible, Christians are those that '... glory in Christ Jesus, and put no confidence in the flesh.' (Phil 3:3) So part of denying self is saying 'Outside of Christ, I don't have any more ability to free myself from the power of sin, than I did from the penalty of sin. But praise God that Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, has been given to be in me what I am not by nature.' 

And thankfully, God is working both in us and with us in all of this (and will keep working - Phil 1:6)... because we all are weak and fail at times. But His grace is there even in the denying of the ungodliness that is characteristic of our old nature!  

Tit 2:11-14 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.

I hope that helps. 

God Bless. 

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