Denying Self? Requirement of a Disciple

This week I directed a Bible study on next Sunday’s readings. The Gospel passage, Matthew 16:21–27, includes statements that Jesus made about discipleship. Doing research on these gave me new insight into the meaning of “deny yourself.” I thought I’d share this with you. First some background. All the statements explain what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. But they also are an unfolding of how to live by the greatest commandment, “Love God with your whole heart and soul, your mind and all your strength.” The first statement is “Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me.”click to continue

“Denying yourself” conjures up images of giving up candy for Lent or forgoing an episode of “Downton Abbey” as penance. It is a way of exercising self-control so that we are strengthened to resist temptation. It also can be a means of making up for sin. However, there is a broader meaning to “deny yourself,” one that is more demanding…and more beautiful. This interpretation flows from the fact that our “self” or ego is the center of our life. We naturally take care of ourselves and seek comfort, possessions, pleasure, fame, and power. We are convinced that it’s our opinion that is correct. Our instinct is to serve ourselves as Number One. It’s as though Ego is seated on the throne in our hearts. To deny self is to replace “Ego” with God, to put God on the throne as the center of our lives.

When we do this, we seek to carry out God’s will instead of our own when it contradicts his. In other words, we are to listen to God in making decisions and to act for what is good and right. Another way of saying this is that we assume the mind of Christ, which is often contrary to the thinking of the world. We become selfless instead of selfish. We serve others.

What we seek most of all is happiness. Witness the popularity of the “Happy” song today. Likewise, happiness is God’s ultimate desire for us. But we follow different paths in pursuing happiness. The secure way of finding happiness is by following the directions God provides.

The other instructions about discipleship in Matthew 16 echo this theme:  lose self and you will find it, what does it profit to gain the world but forfeit your life, what can we give God other than our lives?

Blessed Charles de Foucauld, who was assassinated in Algeria, composed a prayer that reflects this idea of living entirely according to God’s plan:
Father, I abandon myself into your hands; do with me what you will.
Whatever you may do, I thank you: I am ready for all, I accept all.
Let only your will be done in me, and in all your creatures. I wish no more than this, O Lord.
Into your hands I commend my soul; I offer it to you with all the love of my heart,
for I love you, Lord, and so need to give myself, to surrender myself into your hands,
without reserve, and with boundless confidence, for you are my Father.

What do you think of this new insight into denying self?


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