Self Denial ,
"Then Jesus told
his disciples, 'If any man would come after me let him deny himself and take
up his cross and follow me'
How vast a field of human experience is covered by the Lord's words,
"Let him deny himself!" Let him deny his self-hood ‑ his self-satisfying desire, his self-permitting desires, his self permitting ways! That short statement drives right through the heart of things. It cuts its way to the very core of all self-acquisitiveness, self-possessiveness, it strips a man of all his exaggerated self of self-ownership and proprietorship.
The man who voiced this invitation on God's behalf owned no place where he could lay his head. When he was required to pay the Temple dues, the coin was taken from a fish's mouth. For the one who had been rich in heavenly wealth had denied himself to become extremely poor on earth. How appropriate then, that He should say "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." Self-denial! ‑ death to self! ‑ self nailed to a cross to die!
"And follow me!" Not through Israel's pleasant land, but into death, by being baptised into him and into his death. No wonder Jesus could say "If any man will come after me!" Not everyone would want to follow where He led. Not everyone would want to end his life upon a cross!
The Apostle Paul sets out the exacting nature of the call to consecration in Romans 6. He describes it as death to sin. The degree of a Christian's death to sin will depend entirely upon the measure of his death to self, for self has always been the citadel of sin. Paul's statement makes most remarkable doctrine. After enlarging upon God's abounding grace (Rom. 5.17-21) he asks the question "Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?" and his reply "By no means". Then he continues "How shall we that are dead to sin, live any longer therein!"
Dead to sin! He makes a similar statement about our beloved Lord, (5.10) "For in that he died, he died unto sin once!" This is not a reference to the great gospel fact that Jesus died on account of human sin. Although that blessed fact is asserted and attested in a score or more places in Scripture, it is not the subject of Paul's discussion here. It is Jesus death to sin not for sin that is the Apostle's theme.
He links his first question and answer concerning ourselves, 'Shall we sin', with the tremendous fact in the Saviour's own life and experience. "We who have died unto sin" have had exactly the same experience that He had when "He died unto sin once". It is for that reason that the faithful follower of the Lord, in being baptised into Christ, is being baptised into his death. "His death" was death unto sin, therefore all who are baptised into "his death" likewise experience "death unto sin". At the same time that He was dead unto sin, He was intensely alive unto God, and for that reason the Apostle exhorts us "Likewise reckon yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (5.11). This is an amazing point of doctrine, but it is the very doctrine that sets out Christian consecration at its proper value.
In what way did Jesus "die unto sin"? Was He not always without sin, "holy, harmless and undefiled, separate from sinners"?
It should not be thought because Jesus was sinless and remained sinless throughout all his life, that He was never subjected to temptation. We have only to think of his temptation in the wilderness, and of Satan's subtle challenge to the truth of his sonship. It was a big temptation. Nor was this the only occasion when He was assailed by the forces of evil; prior to the time of His death; and from the very commencement of His ministry, His mind was positively and resolutely set to do only his Father's Will. He had no ear for any other voice; He had no response for any other 'call'.
The same two magnet forces of Holiness and Sin ‑ of God and of Lucifer ‑which exercised their pull upon all the sons of men, also exerted their pull upon our beloved Lord. But our Lord made no response to the magnet of sin, having no affinity. To sin He was "dead". He had no self-satisfying desires to fulfil. He had not come to 'get' for Himself but to 'give' himself. Thus, the ways and aims of sin found nothing in his heart to stir it into life. But His response was not automatic. Of Him it is written that He loved righteousness and hated iniquity (Heb.1.9) and because of this He was anointed with the oil of gladness above his fellows.
The Son's love for righteousness constituted an affinity for righteousness and truth. Of His own free will he chose to be dead to sin as though His body were devoid of life. Again of His own free will, He chose to be alive, intensely alive to the drawing and the leading of His Father's will. Because He was so completely dead to sin throughout all his days, He was able to offer Himself a perfect sacrifice for sin and win redemption for fallen men.
It is amazing when Paul associates us with our beloved Lord in this deadness to the power of sin. Like him, we are desired by God to be also dead to the "drawing" of sin, and alive, increasingly alive, to the drawing power of righteousness and holiness and truth. Is it possible for us to be like him? Can we really live the sinless life? Unfortunately we cannot live free from sin. But God has made full provision for that. By accepting us in the beloved Son, all the excellence of His life is attributed to us, to counter-balance our demerits, so long as we are striving daily to put to death our contact with the world of sin. We are not so freely attracted to righteousness as was our beloved Lord, and sometimes, if only for a moment, the pull of the sin magnet may draw us in that direction. But if we have learned to love righteousness and holiness we shall not stay with the sin. Our corresponding hatred for sin will interpose, and by the help of God, will break the connection with the sin. We confess our lapse to God, and in that holy atmosphere, our heart will recover its free swing, and go right over to the other "pull" ‑ the drawing power of God.
Paul goes on to exhort his brethren not to yield their hearts to sin and unrighteousness, but to surrender themselves to God and righteousness which will lead on to holiness (Rom.13.22).
This whole experience corresponds with the life of consecration. As individuals and as a whole, the Church of Christ has itself up to the will of God. Human lives have pledged themselves to do the will of God at any cost. Then their humanity, which has been devoted to the Lord, is given back - as a sacred stewardship, as a charge from the Lord, to be used only to His praise. In every act of life, in every thought and word, the offering should be "waved" before the Lord. The interference of the power of sin should grow weaker every day; the response to the holy power of God should become stronger every hour, and our yielding to our God should be more intensive and extensive with each succeeding act and thought. Thus will life become one continued and unbroken chain of consecrated experience ‑ the yielding of each member ‑ head, heart, hands and feet ‑ fuller, deeper and readier every day.
Is there any wonder then, when the theme on which the Apostle was engaged reaches its noble climax, that he should put all the hallowed fire of his own consecrated heart into that searching moving appeal of Rom.12.1,2 . "I beseech you, therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God . . . your reasonable service".
Consecration, therefore, means "a living sacrifice", a daily sacrifice, a complete unreserved sacrifice of all that in us, even what is noblest and best. But there is a side of the consecrated life that tells of satisfaction too, of satisfaction too deep for words.
The life of Old Testament priests was not all sacrificing; there was more to it than that. Into that mysterious dark abode in the tabernacle the white-robed priest went betimes, with his "two hands full" to stand at that Altar adorned with gold, and there raise fragrant odours in the air. For whom were those precious spices burned? Who saw and noted the deep reverence of that ministering priest, as the perfumed spiral rose aloft? Who watched the holy fire eat up the crumbled incense, as the "two hands full" were given to the flames? One eye alone saw all this service ‑ the eye of that mysterious Light which hung between the Cherubim, just beyond that separating Vail.
What meant this lonely service before the Lord? Why were those odours released by burning flame? This was communion sweet—soul-changing, transforming, sanctifying communion, at the place where the Holy One in Israel had promised to meet his chosen ones (Ex.25.22). But there was even more than that. "Consecrate . . . and sanctify them that they may minister unto me in the priest's office" said the Lord God concerning Aaron and his sons. (Ex.28.41). "... they shall minister unto Me!" That was the purpose of that fragrant ministry. It was no ornate ritual, nor was it waste of consecrated time to minister unto the Lord. The holy incense was not lost because it was eaten by the fire. The heart of the Eternal had been made glad. The ministry brought satisfaction to the Holy One of Israel. He it was who saw, accepted and appreciated that holy ministration. Thus the white-robed priest was consecrated to perform sacrifice before the Lord, and also to hold "communion with the Lord". Consecrated to sacrifice! Consecrated to commune!! Consecrated to minister to the Lord! What a blessed privilege it was to be chosen of the Lord for this threefold end!
The substance is far better than this shadow, more satisfying to the "inward man" than all the glories of the Old Testament type. Those who follow Jesus in the way of death walk also in his steps along the way of life. It is not all renunciation in the consecrated life. Though 'self' must go, sin must cease to charm, the "New Creature" in Christ Jesus must yield his members as servants of God and righteousness, day by day, and act by act; but yet there is another side.
There are depths of experience from which well-springs of satisfaction flow. "The spirit itself bears witness with our Spirit" (Rom.8.16). From the Shekinah Throne of grace comes that surging flow of holy power which floods our souls with joy and transforms the drabness of our earthly life into sweet communion. Each consecrated child of God can retire away from the busy throng of life into a 'secret place' apart, and there enjoy a privilege such as Aaron did not know. The incense of his heart (Ps.141.2) may rise morning, noon and night, as fragrance richer far than myrrh, or cassia, cinnamon, or calamus. The Holy One of Israel will see and hear and appreciate the sacrifice of praise (Heb. 13.15) which thus will rise from the Altar of his heart ‑ an Altar more precious than gold.
Each follower of the Son has been called and justified that he might offer himself in sacrifice. To that end he is set apart. But his consecration vows bring opportunities more than this. He too, as Aaron was, but on higher ground, is consecrated "to commune" ‑ consecrated to enter the chambers of his God, and minister unto him who dwells therein. There, in that secret place, he feels within his heart the soul-transforming power that will attune him to his God, and to his universal purposes.