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  • Writer's pictureMichael Gott


Jesus called out to people of all kinds, even the very worst of sinners, but there was one kind of person He never invited—people who knew how to take care of themselves!  Today there is a generation of preachers who preach mainly the positive, they appeal to human self-interest.  They advertise the advantages of accepting the invitation to come to Christ.  I’m forced to say, Jesus never used that approach!  He did not skillfully bait the hook, rather He said, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24)  Jesus never appealed to self-interest and to self-protective people to join Him—for He knew they could not!

Let’s lay it out in blunt order—the professor says, “Educate yourself,” the philosopher says, “Know thyself,” the egotist says, “Express yourself,” the glutton says, “Feed thyself,” and the hedonist says, “Enjoy thyself,” and along comes the prophet, Jesus, and He says, “Deny yourself.”

Here is a promise, self-denial is ultimately the key to self-realization or becoming the true person we were meant to be.  Self-denial, according to Jesus, adds to your life! — No, it’s not repressive and imprisoning.  And, yes, we know what often is said in the world today, “Let yourself go and go get it!  Be liberated, let your life have a free flow.”  And the result is, in time, enslavement not liberation—entrapment not freedom.  It’s a dark cell not a delightful celebration; it is death and not life!

I read of a young man applying to work in a famous national theater.  After several questions were answered, then he was asked, “What would you do in a sudden fire?”  He replied immediately, “Oh, don’t worry, I know how to take care of myself—no problem!”  Nothing matters but me—self-centered action, self-seeking response, self-protecting strategy!  And what about love that lays down his own life for his friends? (read John 10:11)

In the international waters off Norway a cruise ship passed through some of the most breathtaking scenery in the world.  It was awe inspiring.  But below in the casino four men were playing high stakes blackjack, hoping to beat the odds and win big money.  They missed it all, looking at only cards in their hands—they could not deny themselves, they saw only cards while others saw breathtaking beauty.  That’s, I think, a great illustration of how to miss the best because of wanton desires controlling us.  Refusing to deny yourself and living with a self-centered passion is one of the lower motives of life.  By no self-denial one does not add, that person robs.

Self-denial becomes a progressive and positive force.  In fact, here  is what you find:  when self is not negated and rejected, very soon it is applauded and worshipped!  Can you tell me of a positive thing you find in Scripture that did not require self-denial?  Dear old Matthew Henry rightly said, “The first lesson in the school of Christ is self-denial.”  But do not get caught up in wording—there is a vast difference between denying oneself things and denying yourself.  One has to do with acquiring and the other with attitude.

First, there is self-examination required and then there is self-denial experienced.  The old saying is true:  it’s one thing to condemn ourselves, it’s another thing to suspect ourselves.  Spurgeon said (it’s not an exact quote, but it’s what he said), the man who does not want to do self-examination is the very man that needs it most!  Being self-centered is not only a sin, but in fact, it lives at the root of every sin; Jesus knew that and called us away from its dangers.

What exactly is meant by self-denial?  Well, the insightful J. I. Packer said it is “to declare lifelong war on one’s instinctive egoism.”  (You might want to read that again thoughtfully like I did when I first read it.)  Non-Christian and anti-Christian thought, I fear, is everywhere today, even in the pulpit.  We are told, you deserve a break today.  To deny yourself is to make a pygmy of the real you.  It’s repressive and excessive.  Jesus said, no!  It’s a creative force.

Probably at no point does the teaching of Christ clash more violently with the secular attitude common today than at this point.  Look and see, most people who are hailed as successful people were driven by an inner urge to attain wealth, fame, or power.  But stop and think, is not God’s means of turning the world upside-down done by loving Him first, others second, and ourselves last?  Always sin reverses this order so in the life of the secular man God is put somewhere in the distant background, the farther the better in most cases for most people.

As a final statement related to the title “The People Jesus Never Invited,” which might seem extreme at first reading, I fall back on Jesus as He stood before the screaming crowd and Pilate:

“Now Jesus was standing before Pilate, the Roman governor. ‘Are you the Jews’ Messiah?’ the governor asked him. ‘Yes,’ Jesus replied. But when the chief priests and other Jewish leaders made their many accusations against him, Jesus remained silent. ‘Don’t you hear what they are saying?’ Pilate demanded. But Jesus said nothing, much to the governor’s surprise.”

Matthew 27:11-14, TLB

Notice, Jesus, when He could have spoken, remained silent.  At a moment where He could have defended Himself or called them to repent, He spoke not a word!  So we see, there were some people Jesus never invited to come to Him, those driven by self-interest and blinded by prejudice.  Jesus saw their hearts as hard as flint.  The Jesus who promised forgiveness to those that repented did not promise repentance to those that continued in rebellion.  He offered them no hope—He spoke not a word!  So then, never forget Jesus spoke not a word.  He could have spoken but flatly refused to utter a single word.  That should stop us all in our tracks and make us tremble.

Jesus sent none away without hope except those who were so full of themselves they had no room for Him.  When Jesus saw that, He remained stone silent.

Jesus knew that human conceit is the most incurable spiritual disease that can be known!  Jesus read hearts.  “… Jesus did not commit himself unto them, because he knew all men, and needed not that any should testify of man: for he knew what was in man.” (John 2:24-25)

So ours is a world where self-denial is foolish, for self-centeredness is a common worldwide human experience.  Just the common words in our language alone support this.  Go to a full dictionary and look:  self-will, self-interest, self-importance, self-appreciation, self-promotion, self-glorification, self-pity, self-indulgence, and self-centeredness.  And the list of words is much longer; I’ve just started!  Let these words echo, “Jesus remained silent … Jesus said nothing …”

Every act where our ego refuses to deny exaltation expresses a desire to become our own god—it’s a secret attempt to enthrone ourselves while we dethrone God.  John Stott insightfully said, “True freedom is freedom from myself and from the cramping tyranny of my own self-centeredness in order to live in love for God and others.”

Jesus is a revolutionary in saying, “deny yourself,” for He, almost alone in all recorded history knew with certainty that self-surrendering love makes a person authentically liberated and leads us to a glorious discovery of the person God makes us to be—free in Christ!


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1 Comment

May 09

Excellent, timely reminder of who Jesus approached, and those He did not, with the command to "deny thyself." In today's culture Christians seem to have forgotten that Jesus didn't invite all, to continue in their sinful lifestyle. Sad to see Christian denominations aligning with culture rather than going against it.

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