Self-denial is inseparable from faith in God. Faith in self is the opposite of self-denial. The most important occasion of self-denial is the moment someone realizes that he cannot save himself and trusts Christ to do that. If he does not die and go into the presence of Christ soon after trusting Him there will be countless more occasions of self-denial. He will learn of many more things that he cannot do for himself that only God can do for him. When he becomes a mature Christian he will learn that he can do nothing of spiritual value without God*s help.
John 15:5: I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.
Matthew 16:24: Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.
Luke 9:23: And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.
Denying oneself is difficult to define and more difficult to do. And yet it is vitally important. Refusal to deny oneself keeps unbelievers lost and it keeps carnal Christians unfruitful.
As we grow as Christians we must depend upon pastors, teachers and others to help us understand the things of God more completely and more accurately. Our growth will also be greatly helped if we acquire and use things like Bible dictionaries, commentaries and concordances. I recommend the Unger*s Bible Dictionary and Strong*s Concordance. I have a Power Bible CD. It gives me access to several commentaries, dictionaries and other study helps. I purchased it for $19.95 on the internet. It is worth a million dollars. Several commentators on Matthew 16:24 have defined what it is to deny self far better than I could.
Geneva Bible Notes: No men do more harm to themselves, than they that love themselves more than God.
Adam Clarke*s Commentary: Will come after me (be my disciple). This discourse was intended to show Peter and the rest of the disciples the nature of his kingdom; and that the honour that cometh from the world was not to be expected by those who followed Christ.
The principles of the Christian life are: First: To have a sincere desire to belong to Christ-If any man be WILLING to be my disciple. Secondly: To renounce self-dependence, and selfish pursuits-Let him deny HIMSELF. Thirdly: To embrace the condition which God has appointed, and bear the troubles and difficulties he may meet with in walking the Christian road-Let him take up HIS CROSS. Fourthly: To imitate Jesus, and do and suffer all in his spirit-Let him FOLLOW ME.
Albert Barnes* NT Commentary: Let him deny himself. That is, let him surrender to God his will, affections, body, and soul. Let him not seek his own happiness as the supreme object, but be willing to renounce all, and lay down his life also, if required.
British Family Bible: Let him resign himself absolutely to the will of God, renouncing all worldly desires, and resolving both to do and suffer whatever God shall think fit to require of him. - Dr. S. Clarke. and follow me. In self-denial and in suffering. - Tillotson.
The self-denial which our Saviour claims from his disciples is nothing more than a willingness to part with all earthly comforts and conveniences, to quit all our temporal interests and enjoyments, and even life itself, for the sake of Him and his religion. And He who commands us to perform this duty, hath Himself in his own person given us the greatest example of self-denial, in that He denied Himself more, and suffered more grievous things than any of us can do. He bore the insupportable load of all the sins of mankind, and of the wrath and vengeance due to them. Never was sorrow like unto his sorrow. He underwent more affliction, and had more contempt poured upon Him, than ever was upon any of the sons of men; and yet He endured all this with incredible patience and meekness, with the most perfect submission and resignation of Himself to the will of God. If then He thus denied Himself, well may we, who have much less to deny, but much more cause and reason for it. He did it voluntarily and of choice, but it is our duty. He did it for our sakes, we do it for our own. His own goodness moved Him to deny Himself for us, but gratitude obliges us to deny ourselves in any thing for Him. We deserved nothing from Him, but He has wholly merited all this, and infinitely more, for us. - Tillotson.
Family Bible Notes: Come after me; follow my directions. Deny himself; abstain from all indulgences which stand in the way of duty. Take up his cross; resist the pleadings of carnal policy and appetite, and submit to whatever may be needful, in order to obey God. The life of disciples of Christ is one of self-denial. They must make sacrifices, and it is wise to do so, for it is the way to avoid the greatest loss and obtain the greatest gain.
John Wesley*s Notes: If any man be willing to come after me-None is forced; but if any will be a Christian, it must be on these terms, Let him deny himself, and take up his cross-A rule that can never be too much observed: let him in all things deny his own will, however pleasing, and do the will of God, however painful.
Should we not consider all crosses, all things grievous to flesh and blood, as what they really are, as opportunities of embracing God*s will at the expense of our own? And consequently as so many steps by which we may advance toward perfection? We should make a swift progress in the spiritual life, if we were faithful in this practice. Crosses are so frequent, that whoever makes advantage of them, will soon be a great gainer. Great crosses are occasions of great improvement: and the little ones, which come daily, and even hourly, make up in number what they want in weight. We may in these daily and hourly crosses make effectual oblations of our will to God; which oblations, so frequently repeated, will soon amount to a great sum. Let us remember then that God is the author of all events: that none is so small or inconsiderable, as to escape his notice and direction. Every event therefore declares to us the will of God, to which thus declared we should heartily submit. We should renounce our own to embrace it; we should approve and choose what his choice warrants as best for us. Herein should we exercise ourselves continually; this should be our practice all the day long. We should in humility accept the little crosses that are dispensed to us, as those that best suit our weakness. Let us bear these little things, at least for God*s sake, and prefer his will to our own in matters of so small importance. And his goodness will accept these mean oblations; for he despiseth not the day of small things.