Friday, April 17, 2009

Denying Self

by Michele Rayburn

By the time I came to know the Lord at the age of 23, I had already lived a life without the Lord that had left me in "a world of hurt".

As a new Christian and for many years to come, I had to learn what it meant to die to self.

I had to understand Galatians 2:20, "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me...", and Matthew 16:24 where Jesus said, "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me."

My husband would often remind me to "deny self" and to "die to self". And after many failed attempts to do so, I finally said, "I can't die to self myself. That is something that only the Lord can do. I can't do it in my own flesh, but only by His Spirit."

It was when I finally let go of trying to do the work that only the Holy Spirit could do, that I began to grow in His grace.

I learned that not only can I not change others, but I can't even change myself.

And so I learned to entrust the Lord with all the unreconciled hurts of the past. And I also learned to care only about what the Lord thought of me.

And what the Lord thought of me, as His child, was that I was totally loved and accepted by Him always. When a child of God can rest in knowing that, they can then begin to grow in His grace.

I think that if the true grace of God has been shown to us, it will cause us to show grace to others. And that's when we as Christians will begin to love others unconditionally, just as God loves us.

"...for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure." - Philippians 2:13


Phil said...

I enjoyed that and I've got a lot of 'resting' to learn, but can I ask you about this 'dying to self' business? My thought is that it really all boils down to trying to do something that's already done. We have died and been raised, so we are new selves. We don't want them killed, but growing...I guess I don't like the phrase because it implies either a Keswick they of sanctification, or else the 'put on the law' view. I don't think either are right, because we have to 'do' things so that the Spirit can mediate life. The Keswick view says, in effect, get 'self' out the way by letting go, and you'll be filled with the Spirit in proportion to how much you empty the glass'. As Terry Virgo has said, that's like telling a soldier if he fights well, next time he can have to a gun! To me it makes people passive, and is seeking the Spirit to be supplied on the basis of works-righteousness or 'denying self'...similar to the other view...Rather, the Spirit is life because of imputed righteousness, Rom8v10, Gal3v5. I think we are to reckon ourselves alive to God. As new selves with a new derived adequacy. Not divided beings, with an Old self and a new self. We take up our crosses this side of the cross by reckoning on there things, reaping the fruit of obedience in the new way of the Spirit, and suffering any consequences for the offence of the cross. I've never been comfortable with teaching that makes the effect of the cross seem like we are on it and still there, rather than we through his poverty becoming rich, 2Cor8, that we might live in the light of what has been finished for us. Keswick type stuff always seems to obscure the objective nature of the atonement for some scheme to 'gain victory' which actually takes us away from what does allow us to partake of the victory already accomplished...Just sharing some growing thoughts.

Michele Rayburn said...


Thanks for your comment. You had some interesting thoughts and some good questions.

I had based what I said on Matthew 16:24. In Luke 9:23, some translations add the word “daily”. Jesus said, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.”

And I think of 1 Corinthians 15:31 where the Apostle Paul says, “...I die daily.”

And although we “have been crucified with Christ”, we still need to reckon ourselves “crucified with Christ”, and reckon ourselves “alive to God and dead to sin”, as you yourself said.

To “deny self” isn't works righteousness. It is actually an abandoning of our works righteousness, and instead choosing to “walk by faith”.

You said that we are, “As new selves...Not divided beings, with an Old self and a new self.”

I'm glad you see that we don't have two dogs in this fight! :)

But as “new selves”, new creations in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17), we still need to “be transformed by the renewing of our minds” (Romans 12:2), to reckon ourselves “alive to God and dead to sin” (Romans 6:11), and to put on love and the other fruit of the Spirit, as we “walk in the Spirit.”

Romans 12:1-2 says, “...present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”

“A living sacrifice” once again signifies one who has “been crucified with Christ” but who will still “die daily”.

Thanks again for your comment. I hope this helps clarify some things.

Phil said...

Thanks for your comment. I totally agree that 'being transformed by the renewing of our minds' is the outcome. I'm wondering where you folks are wrt Keswick-type sanctification? What I was getting at was that I tend to think we pick up our crosses daily and present ourselves as a sweet-smelling sacrifice to God by reckoning on God seeing us as the righteousness of Christ. The Spirit continually supplied through that faith. We are 'in the Spirit' objectively, and we 'keep in step/walk in the Spirit' by objectively orientating ourselves about such a faith...Someone gave me this illustration. He was teaching his little son about how we are sanctified by the Spirit under grace. I'd said that the Keswick view was that we are to 'empty the glass of self, by denying ourselves/'dying to ourselves', and in proportion to how much we did, we would filled/controlled by the Spirit, and that that was getting the cart before the horse. Seeking the supply/power of the Spirit on the basis of doing something to 'self'. He then told me that he'd once asked his son how to get the remnants of the black coffee out of his coffee cup, which was clean on the outside. He proceeded to turn the tap on into it, and it's continual flow obviously pushed the remaining coffee out. The light-bulb went on in his son's head! The analogy was that it's the filling by the Spirit that transforms the inside of the cup to look like it's outside...I see Gal2v20, Rom8v2,4,10 to be talking about our objective deliverance from the law, by an imputed righteousness, rightly reckoning which is the only basis of Christ made life unto me. 'I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me', NIV, I reckon means 'I am objectively dead to the law, and the Spirit mediates life and blessedness from the fulness of Christ's finished redemption to me as a new creation, who does not operate by a law of works, seeking to establish his own righteousness, but submits himself/rests in the adequacy that he has, eternally without works, been reckoned the righteousness of God in Christ'...What I was getting at was that I think to pick up our crosses daily doesn't mean for us to 'do something', continually dying, but receive something, continually living. The positive swallows up the negative...I think Paul when he says 'he dies daily' is talking about the fact that, thie resurrection the lynch-pin of the gospel, he preaches it and its ramifications accordingly, and gets persecution on account of it. I believe new covenant gospel faith naturally calls us out of our very inclination to partake - not of Christ's pre-cross poverty- but his post-cross poverty riches, 2Cor8v9. We're not to try to stretch ourselves out on the cross, but realize we're raised and *seated* in heavenly places with a raised and seated Lord. Then, we can enjoy our free inheritance, as sons not under law, inclined towards the things the commands describe naturally, happily...Sorry no paragraphs! I'm typing on a phone.

Phil said...

Argh! The amount of times I come a cropper with predictive text! That 'his post-cross poverty riches' should obviously say 'his post-cross riches'.

Terry Rayburn said...


You have some very insightful thoughts there.

If I may throw my 2 cents in, you're hitting on a lot of good stuff, which would well make several books, let alone several blog posts.

Here are a few admittedly scattered thoughts, just touching on a few areas:

1. I agree that the old-time Keswick theology falls short, mostly because it views regenerate man as having two natures, old and new.

Further, it emphasizes "victorious living" in a way that veers close to "holiness" perfectionism.

2. However, I do think that "surrender" is a valid goal for the Christian. It involves the attitude of Christ at Gethsemane, "not my will, but yours be done".

Yet even surrender is a work of grace initiated by God. He is the prime mover in every process of what we call sanctification.

3. I believe a careful (and logical) examination of Scripture will reveal a series of what I think of as "up-cycles" and "down-cycles".

An "up-cycle" example:

Reading the Word and prayer allows the Holy Spirit to renew our minds and informs us of such truths as our being dead to sin and alive to God.

As our minds are renewed and we "reckon" on such truths, we are inclined to read the Word and pray even more. And so we "cycle" upwards in this area of growth.

A "down-cycle" example:

If we neglect the Word and prayer, our minds are deceived more easily by the world, the flesh and the devil.

Thus we don't "reckon" ourselves dead to sin and alive to God. And so we quench the Holy Spirit, and are inclined to neglect the Word and prayer even more, and so we "cycle" downward.

I observe that we are almost always cycling upward or downward at any given time, though we may think we are "steady".

4. The "truth" is more foundational than the "action" in these cyclical things. In other words, the "proposition" is more foundational than the "command".

For example, it's more foundational to understand the "proposition" that God is working in us to will and to do for His good pleasure, than it is to focus on the command to "work out our salvation with fear and trembling".

5. So I don't think there is anything wrong with "doing something" in connection with denying ourselves.

But I agree with you that "taking up our cross" involves acknowledging the death to sin (and to self, and to the law) that has already been accomplished in our co-crucifixion with Christ.

I reminds me of the odd (but true) fact that "self-control" is a fruit of the Spirit. Of course, we can't "deny ourselves" or have self-control without that Life of Christ living through us.

6. Overriding all of this is Grace. We will not walk in perfection as long as we have the world, the flesh and the devil to contend with.

And so we need to come back to the simple fact that there is nothing we can do to make God love us more, and nothing we can do to make Him love us less.

7. Finally, sanctification in most verses of Scripture refers to that which is already done.

What is sometimes called "progressive sanctification", or "spiritual growth", is not what it is usually taught as being (growing in sinlessness, becoming a "better" Christian).

I define true spiritual growth as "understanding more and more the eternal truths, and living accordingly".

Using the example of reckoning ourselves dead to sin and alive to God, the more we understand that and live accordingly, the more we will have grown.

Or another example I like to use is Romans 8:28. The more we really understand (and therefore really believe) that verse, the more we will live as though it's true, instead of grumbling, complaining, kicking against the goads, etc.


Phil said...

Thanks, Terry. Maybe it's partly just reaction on my part due to association, but I feel words like 'surrender' etc make it sound like the fight's between me and God, and to win I have to let him! I just feel that when we appreciate the main clause of the new covenant, we will run in delight towards our Father. We want to be what we are. Our adequacy in him overflows. Perhaps it's in part because I see the Rom7 man as not a new covenant believer. I just feel that God has worked it out that we bring all thoughts into captivity to the obedience of Christ by bringing them into captivity to our sufficiency in a glorious inheritance we partake of as co-heirs with Christ in his exaltation. I tend to feel that, in line I think with a couple of my favourite verses, 2Cor3v17,18, that if we quite simply realize that we are blessed with all blessings in Christ, who's laid up redemption from every death-consequence of Adam's sin, and we have access to the same by our righteousness in him, with the veil of the law gone, we cannot but cycle up from glory to glory. In the love of a Father who cares and provides for every detail of our lives. And oh how much I want to believe and experience it, in spite of my failings! The new covenant glory visaged from us should never have to fade. Surely, it only will if we 'fall away from grace'. When it goes wrong at the root of things. I take that as way of life thing, I think, a la Galatians, rather than a moment by moment thing. But I've got a lot of growing to do.

Terry Rayburn said...


Everything you say about our not falling from grace, and standing in the truth of the grace we have in the New Covenant, I wholeheartedly agree with.

I also agree that if we fully keep those truths in mind and closely commune with Christ as a result, that the rest will tend to take care of itself.

However, the simple truth is that we will not do this to perfection in this life. We simply won't.

Why? Because the world, the flesh and the devil are unceasing in their mission to deceive us.

Then we again walk by the flesh (though we aren't IN the flesh) instead of by the Spirit, and we "do that which we [in our spirit, our nature, our new heart] don't want to do".

[This is why Romans 7 rings so true to me as the description of a true believer.]

The Lord then graciously turns us back to the Truth and we hopefully grow in that knowledge, and particularly in the [intimate] knowledge of Him, and again stand on the ground of grace.

This is also why I think it's important to understand a tri-part make-up of man -- body, soul [mind, emotion, will], and spirit.

It's out spirit which is born again (2 Cor. 5:17 you referenced).

But the soul, particularly the mind, has to be renewed. And the body, wherein dwells "sin", and closely connected to the mind through the brain, needs to be governed by the spirit and soul (until the glorious day when we have a glorious body in which sin no longer dwells).

You are very much on the right track, IMHO. But I would take care not to shy away from taking the New Covenant commands at their face value, seeking to follow them (while not coming "under" them as a way of seeking the love and favor of the Lord).

Simply seek to walk with the Lord, loving and relishing His imperatives even as you love and relish Him.

When you fail and fall, as you will, simply share your sorrow with Him, accept His total love and acceptance of you, rest in that, and walk with Him in grace.

Otherwise I think you might end up berating yourself because you can never get the "reckoning" thing perfect.

Phil said...

Thanks, again. That last sentence certainly struck me. I certainly agree we need to have our minds renewed, and thanks for the comment on not shying away from the commands in a wrong sense. I also totally agree we'll never do this perfectly in this life. It also makes sense to me that there is some sort of distinction between spirit and soul, though I'm not sure quite how substantial/ontological we can assume it to be. To be honest, though, still not convinced on a believer view of Rom7 man. I feel that the chapters 5-8 are purely contrasting two identities- in Adam, in a position and prison-house of imputed sin, thus subjectively under law and the power of sin and death; or in Christ, a prisoner to a position of righteousness, thus to the power of righteousness as a controlling principle under grace by the Spirit. To me, Rom7 is vindicating the law itself, while showing how we needed to be objectively delivered from it to be freed from the power of sin to 'service in the new way of the Spirit', in deliverance from 'the old way of the written code'. Then, the image of indwelling sin isn't 'remaining patterns of sinfulness', but sin (the noun) as master of the house of the body, with all it's reigning death-consequences. He's not there anymore. I think there's more life-consequences to the body etc then many tend to allow, but I totally agree that we still have liabilities with a body that has not yet been raised glorified, and is weak/dead in and of itself...Thanks again for your comments. Best to you and yours.

Terry Rayburn said...

Thanks Phil, great discussion.

I've discussed Romans 7 with many people, and I've never been able to be convinced that "I delight in the law of God, in my inner being" (vs. 22) has ever been true of an unregenerate person.

In the words of that great theologian [wink] Bill O'Reilly, "You may have the last word".


Phil said...

Yeah, that would be the toughest verse. For me, I think it's possible to see it as delight in the sense that the pre-conversion Paul had in God's law. He zealously approves of the rightness of the command in the form of demand/ordinances, and the 'rightness' of the righteousness in the commands. I think it's possible to see it as an extension on v16, which tells us that if Paul was doing the things he didn't want to do when he was living under the Law, then the logical conclusion was that the law itself was good, and he knew it. But was the slave of another that took captive his 'good' intentions, while he was believing fundamental, heart-defining lies. His 'inner man' I think equals his mode of heart, expressed through the seat of his responsibility, his mind, v23, orientated about works-righteousness...But I guess you've heard something like that before, so I'll shut up now! ;)

Bhedr said...

What a blessing sis!

Michele Rayburn said...

Thanks Brian. It's good to hear from you. I've been missing you, and praying that you are doing well.

queenkelster said...

Wow, I see that this discussion took place a while ago, but I am so happy to find people who have seen these truths! I think you all agree on what I have found to be a great revelation.