By Donnie V. Rader
Jesus said, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Mark 8:34). Self-denial is one of the most basic attributes of Christianity. Yet, it is one of the most difficult to attain. One reason for that is that it requires great strength of will.
Man has a great problem mastering himself. Those who willfully engage in sin have not learned to control them-selves. Those who are overcome in a moment of temptation have a problem (at least for the moment) with self-control. When we get angry and let our tempers flare and our words fly, our character is then flawed due to not practicing self-discipline. We exhibit a lack of will power when we overeat, are lazy, or are addicted to alcohol, tobacco or some other drug. Thus, mastering self requires constant work for all of us. The difference in us is that we may need to work on it in different areas of our lives.
Shakespeare wrote, “Brave Conquerors! for so you are, that war against your own affections and the huge army of the world’s desires.” John Sterling said, “The worst education which teaches self-denial is better than the best which teaches everything else, and not that.”
There are more passages that imply the principle of self-denial than we may think at first. To learn and grow in self-denial is to grow in heart, in soul, and in character. This is one quality that we can use every moment of every day in every place.
With this article we begin a series of five articles on mastering self.
1. Different words used in the New Testament. There are three different words or phrases used in the Bible that point to the same concept of denying or controlling self. (a) Jesus used the phrase “deny himself ” (Mark 8:34). (b) The NKJV uses the words “self-control” in 2 Peter 1:6, Titus 1:8. (c) The word “temperance” or “temperate” is used in the KJV in 2 Peter 1:6, 1 Corinthians 9:25, and Titus 2:2.
2. “Deny self” means “to forget oneself, lose sight of oneself and one’s own interest” (Thayer, p. 54). Liter-ally it means to say “No!” to yourself. It is hard to say no to others, but even harder to say no to ourselves.
3. “Temperance” means “self-government” (Thayer). Strong’s says the original words translated “temperance” comes from a word that means “to be strong in a thing (i.e., masterful).” It means dominion, power or strength.
Thus, temperance means to have power of dominion over self. William Barclay suggests that it is the “ability to take a grip of oneself.”
4. Aristotle proposed that there are four states of man with reference to the battle between reason and passion. (a) Perfect Temperance: This is where reason rules over passion. The fight is won. (b) On the other end of the spectrum is Unbridled Lust: This is where passion rules over reason. The fight is lost. In between these two states is where the battle within ourselves takes place. (c) Incontinence: This is where reason fights, but passion prevails. The battle is on, but at the moment reason is losing. (d) Self-Control: This is where passion fights against reason, but reason prevails. The battle is still on, but at the moment reason is winning. (Taken from Barclay’s comments on 2 Pet. 1:6.)
The principle of self-denial or self-control deals with the reality of life. The Bible does not picture the Christian void of all passion, drained of all desires or detached from all temptation. Rather, it envisions that all of his appetites, and desires remain, but he keeps them under control and mastery. With self-control man becomes the master and not the slave of his passions.
Passages That Require Self-Denial
1. Passages that specifically mention self-denial or self-control. Jesus said that those desiring to be his disciples must deny self (Matt. 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23). Paul preached to Felix about righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come (Acts 24:25). Peter lists “temperance” as one of the “Christian graces” which we are to add to our faith (2 Pet. 1:6). The fruit of the Spirit includes self-control (Gal. 5:23). Those who run the race and compete for the crown must be temperate in all things (1 Cor. 9:5). The comparison in this text is that we are to be self-controlled and self-disciplined just as athletes are. Elders are to have self-control (Tit. 1:8) and aged men should be temperate (Tit. 2:8).
2. Passages which deal with self-denial and self-control in principle. Paul urged the Romans not to continue in sin (cf. Rom. 6:1) by telling them not to let sin reign in their bodies (Rom.6:12ff). That requires self-control. The same writer said that it was no longer himself, but Christ who lives in him (Gal. 2:20). He had said “No!” to himself. Those who are God’s people willingly submit to Christ in everything (Eph. 5:24). That implies self-denial.
3. Any passage that forbids the following requires self-control: lust (2 Tim. 2:22; Matt. 5:28), lying (Eph. 4:25), immorality (1 Cor. 6:18), covetousness (Col. 3:5), retaliation (Rom. 12:17-21), laziness (Rom. 12:11; 2 Thess. 3:10), self-willed (Tit. 1:7) and hatred (Gal.5:20).
4. Any passage that commands the following requires self-control: meekness (Matt. 5:3), gentleness (2 Tim. 2:24), patience (2 Tim. 2:24), soberness (1 Pet. 1:13), contentment (Heb. 13:5), and chastity (Tit. 2:5).
This Is An Area In Which We
Need To Grow
The Christian life is a continual growing process. We should always be growing in grace and in knowledge of the Lord (2 Pet. 3:18). Each day and each year we should be gaining more and more spiritual maturity (Heb. 5:14).
Guardian of Truth XXXIX: No.24, p. 12-13
December 21, 1995