Christians are told to deny themselves. What does that mean? How can a believer deny themselves along the biblical lines that we are commanded to do so?
The first thing that came to mind is to deny oneself at the expense of or for the sake of Jesus being glorified. That is the chief purpose for which we were created, wasn’t it? Aren’t we to deny ourselves and esteem others better than ourselves and live a Christ-like life for His glory? When we deny what we want and put others ahead of ourselves and also when we deny ourselves for Christ’s glory, then we are following what I believe we are commanded to do. Where is this evident in the Bible? We must rely on God’s Word and not on human opinion because God’s Word cannot be broken  but humans frequently break their promises.
How to Deny Yourself
Jesus told us plainly how we should deny ourselves in this life in Luke 9:23: “And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Notice that Jesus said it to “all” and not just the disciples. If anyone is really serious about following Jesus or as He said would “come after me” then they must deny themselves and by necessity this includes taking up “His cross daily.” That means this should be a daily undertaking…not just on occasions or when it is convenient. To deny oneself is to deny what we want and sometimes what we need. We all like to be well thought of and to be respected but that is not God’s goal for us. We must take up, not our cross, but Christ’s cross and do it daily. What was Jesus’ cross? He lived for others and died for sinners. He gave His life willingly for those of us who didn’t deserve it. That means that you and I should put our own interests behind the interests of others. There is more in this 9th chapter of Luke that Jesus says.
Luke 9:24-26 “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.”
If we gain all the friends in the world in order to save face or save our lives, we’ll end up losing it but if we lose our life for Jesus’ sake then we “will save it” for all eternity. Jesus uses the word “for” between verses 25 and 26 which essentially means “because” so we can read it like this: “Because whoever is ashamed of me and my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.” The word “for” being “because” ties in Jesus’ previous words to say that if we try to save our life then we’ll end up losing our soul but if we lose our lives, then we’ll end up saving our soul. Why does He put it this way? Because if we lose our “own” lives for Jesus’ sake, that means that we’ll not be denying Him before others which is a sin of omission. That is, when we fail to proclaim Jesus as our Lord and Savior we are denying Him by our silence. The sin of silence is a sin of omission and it is no different than a sin of commission. We are still going to be held accountable for it.
Denying Yourself but Not Christ
Just the other day I had a chance to talk to three young men sitting in a restaurant and so, fearful as I was, I asked them if I could sit down with them and ask them a few questions. After some small talk I asked them “Who is Jesus to you?” I went on to talk about the wrath of God on those who have broken His laws and have not ever repented and had their sins forgiven. My palms were sweaty, my heart was pounding, and my brow began to sweat a little. What I did, and believe me I have failed to do this numerous times, was to deny myself and take a risk of being rejected, scorned, made fun of, and thought of as being narrow minded (since I speak of Jesus being the only way to be saved as in Acts 4:12). I don’t want Jesus to say “You were ashamed of me and my words (the written Word of God) and never told anyone that you believed in Me. You tried to save yourself from embarrassment and humiliation by denying to tell sinners that they need to repent. Since you tried to saved your life, you will lose it!” That is what I believe Jesus is saying in the 9th chapter of Luke. If we don’t deny ourselves we will deny Christ. If we do deny ourselves we won’t deny Jesus. That difference is of supreme importance and has eternal ramifications.
For Him or Against Him
There is no sitting on the fence as far as Christ is concerned. You are either saved or you are lost . There is no indecision. To make no decision is to make the decision to reject Christ. The late Adrian Rogers said that there are only two kinds of people; the saints and the aint’s. There is no middle ground. There is no neutrality. Jesus said that “for the one who is not against you is for you” (Luke 9:50). If you are not for Christ then you are against Him. If you deny Him He will surely deny you on the day of His visitation because Jesus said that “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters” (Luke 11:23). I believe what Jesus is saying is that if you are not gathering or entering into the fields of the harvest and taking place in the labor for men’s and women’s souls, then you might as well be scattering. The farmer sees the harvest. If he doesn’t gather, the wind will scatter. If you are not participating in the imperative command of the Great Commission, then you are sinning the sin of the “great omission.” Not gathering is seen by Jesus as scattering. If you live no differently from the world and care not to rescue the perishing, Charles Spurgeon once wrote “Then you yourself are not saved.” I know that sounds drastic but if you had the cure for cancer and kept it to yourself, wouldn’t that almost be the same thing as negligent homicide?
I beg you to seek that which is lost for that is why Jesus came and He Himself proclaimed “the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). Jesus says to follow me and then to “Go!” for Me into all the world, even if it’s right next door (Matt 28:18-20; Acts 1:8). One of my favorite songs is called Rescue the Perishing by Fanny Crosby.1 Just read some of these lyrics:
Rescue the perishing, care for the dying,
Snatch them in pity from sin and the grave;
Weep o’er the erring one, lift up the fallen,
Tell them of Jesus, the mighty to save.
Rescue the perishing, duty demands it;
Strength for thy labor the Lord will provide.
Take a look at this related article: What Does it Mean to Take up Your Cross Daily? 
Resources – Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. 1. Crosby, Fanny. 1869. Appeared in Songs of Devotion (New York: Biglow & Main, 1870).