deny yourself verse
The Life of Faith

What Does it Mean to Deny Yourself in the Way God Wants?

One of the hardest things you’ll ever do on your journey of faith is deny yourself. But you cannot accomplish what Jesus said, to “take up your cross” or “follow Me” unless you first deny yourself. But what does it mean to deny yourself in every day life so you can then take up your cross and follow Jesus? 

Many people claim they follow Jesus Christ, yet live a life that contradicts His Word because they cannot deny themselves the “lusts of the flesh”, “the lusts of the eyes” and “the pride of life.” (1 John 2:16) The spirit and the flesh will always be at war in the Kingdom of God. 

“For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other…” (Galatians 5:17, ESV)

The only way to take up your cross and follow Jesus is to learn what it means to deny yourself in the way God wants.

What Does the Bible Say About Denying Yourself?

Following Jesus isn’t defined by personal feelings, desires, experiences, expectations, hopes and dreams or good intentions. The Christian life is about faith in Christ Jesus.

  • The whole world wants you to define yourself, while Jesus said to deny yourself. (Matthew 26:24) 
  • The world wants you to “follow your heart” when the Bible says “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jeremiah  17:9)
  • The world wants you to follow your own desires and interests when Jesus said to enter heaven, you must do the will of the Father. (Matthew 7:21-23)
  • The world wants you to find your “true self” when God’s Word says you need the Holy Spirit to show you who you truly are. (Proverbs 20:27)
  • The world says you can find your own way to heaven, when Jesus said, I am the way, the Truth and the Life and no one goes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6)

As a follower of Jesus Christ, to “deny yourself” doesn’t mean to “deprive” yourself of things you want. Self denial is not an act of the will to resist temptation or even a refusal to allow the trials you’re experiencing to affect you. That is self-control, which is a fruit of the Spirit. (Galatians 5:22) 

Denying yourself is a spiritual discipline and it has a purpose: To enable you to take up your cross and follow Jesus. 

deny yourself verse

​How Can You Deny Yourself in the Way God Wants?​

Paul the Apostle understood what it meant to deny yourself. It is the very reason why he wrote:

“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20) 

Because the spirit and the flesh exist together in a constant state of tension, you must develop a lifestyle of dwelling in the presence of God. God’s presence is the safest place for your should and as a follower of Christ, your praise is a weapon of spiritual warfare.

Praise and worship are God-focused and through the power of the Holy Spirit, you’ll find the strength you need to keep fighting.

Think of if this way: If you cannot learn to deny yourself, you’ll be carrying too much baggage to also carry your cross and follow Jesus. 

more of Him less of me quote

1. First, to deny yourself, you have to identify who you are now. The world wants you to self-identify, but you have a God-given identity and a unique calling! You might gain the world when you define and identify yourself according to the world’s standards, but you will lose your soul, as Jesus said. (Mark 8:36) 

2. Second, you must deny yourself according to who you used to be. In Galatians 5:24 Paul wrote, “Those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and lusts.”  

To deny yourself means you must:

  • Deny who you once were
  • Deny the definitions and labels of other people
  • Deny how you feel about yourself
  • Deny the names you’ve been called  
  • Deny the past mistakes, regrets, hurt feelings and experiences

3. Third, you must redefine yourself according to the Word of God. You cannot follow after the will of God in the fullness to which He has called you if you are still in control, and part of that control is that you are still labeling yourself and defining yourself. 

If you cannot learn to deny yourself, you’ll be carrying too much baggage to also carry your cross and follow Jesus.

~Alicia Purdy

God cannot do a new thing in you or through you if you refuse to let go of the old things! 

The Holy Spirit will show you not only who the Father is, but who you really are as you allow Him to reshape you in the refiner’s fire to be stronger and to look more like Him.

Learn more about the 7 Hebrew Words for Praise and how each one helps create strength, intimacy, and fresh revelation as you understand more about God’s plan for praise in your life!

What Does the Bible Say About Taking Up Your Cross?

When Jesus said to “… take up your cross and follow Me” in Matthew 16:24, He made no mention of how heavy that cross would be! But if you don’t know which burden to bear, you will get weighed down. So what is your cross?

Jesus carried a literal cross. You carry a spiritual one. Remember that your fight isn’t with flesh and blood. Your struggle to is always spiritual (Ephesians 6:12) in areas such as these:

  • Taming your own interests
  • Commanding your own soul
  • Walking in victory
  • Submitting your own will to God’s will
  • Living in peace with others

You’ll need spiritual weapons to stay strong in your faith! People often collapse under the weight of their own cross and they give up the fight. They stop growing in faith or become exhausted and walk away from their faith entirely. 

Jesus wants you to be a person of victory, but in order to truly follow Him and be called a disciple of Jesus Christ, you must look to Jesus’ life and His example when your faith is tested to see what you need to do because He always went first- to make a way!

glory to glory verse

5 Ways Jesus Showed How to Take Up Your Cross

The journey of your life must be on the road of faith, which means even it is a difficult task or when you don’t feel it, you still believe it. (2 Corinthians 5:7) That is the cost of discipleship – setting aside the things of this world that your flesh wants to live a new life in Christ.

As a disciple of Christ, taking up your cross is not a one-time choice, but is a daily commitment. 

Even when you feel the old self definitions creeping back into your soul – addict, abuser, abortion, crazy, cheater, divorced, criminal, mean, idiot, ugly, stupid, retarded, worthless, useless, fat, lazy, selfish, bitter, alone, depressed, unworthy and more… you must lift your soul to the Lord in prayer and in worship and deny yourself

As a disciple of Christ, taking up your cross is not a one-time choice, but is a daily commitment.” 

~Alicia Purdy

Here’s how Jesus demonstrated what it looks like to carry a cross:

  1. Move forward in your life while still carrying its weight. (Read Psalm 55:22)
  2. Keep walking forward into the presence of God in worship, even if you stumble to get there. (Read Psalm 37:24)
  3. Refuse to stay down even if that “cross” lands right on top of you. (Read Proverbs 24:16)
  4. Get back up, even if you shake, cry, groan and feel weak. God is your strength and He loves you. (Read 2 Cor. 12:10)
  5. Take up your cross and carry it until you haul it to Calvary and crucify that thing once and for all. (Read Philippians 3:13-14)

The cross that Jesus carried represented weights and burdens and pains that are the result of sin, death, punishment, evil actions and spiritual darkness. What you bear is no different.

  • Your cross may be the burdens of your own bad choices, or the pain of the choices heaped upon you by another person.
  • You may bear the despair, anger, unforgiveness, bitterness, addictions, jealousy, temptations and trials that come with a life lived in a fallen world.
  • You may bear the cross of a struggle of the flesh contending with the spirit – fighting against pride or lust, fighting to love, fighting to control yourself, fighting to be patient, fighting to find peace, fighting for joy. 

This is why you must deny yourself and how you feel, and who you once were, to find your identification through Christ.

DENY YOURSELF Free Printable Coloring Page

How Do You Follow Jesus According to the Bible

All of Jesus’ disciples must learn to give up themselves, to let go, and submit to Him.

Let go of control from your desires, dreams, hopes, thoughts, habits, cravings, expectations, hurts, worries, emotions, family baggage, pressures, obligations, careers, hobbies, your personal agendas, your relationships and everything else by which you define your “life” – to be found in the Son of Man – to find who Christ has created and called you to be.

In Matthew 16:25-26 Jesus said about eternal life:

“For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?”

The kind of self-denial Jesus has called you to is not easy and it is a constant battle against the flesh and it’s the reason why so many “follow” Jesus and even preach or pastor, evangelize, go on mission trips, lead worship, teach Bible studies and more and still miss the mark. 

Jesus said good things weren’t enough to truly follow after Him saying, “I never knew you; depart from Me”. In fact, then Jesus said it was the practice of sin to appear to “follow” Him while still seeking anything except for Him. 

Jesus not interested in what you can do for Him. Jesus is interested in what you’ll allow Him to do for you. ​

The apostle Paul wrote:

“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him.” (Philippians 3:7-9)

“Follow Me,” Jesus said. What a difficult thing to do! Do you know why Jesus said, “…small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it”? (Matthew 7:14)

Because when something is narrow, you’ll only be able to walk without falling if you walk with no one alongside you. To “follow Me” is to walk knowing that Jesus is all you need.

Every Christ follower can get so busy ministering for Jesus that we forget to minister to Him. Many have a good reputation and say they know the Lord, but that’s not the same as inviting the Lord to know you.

That’s why you must never spend more time ministering to others than you do ministering to the Lord. Praise and worship are how you minister to the Lord. Spend time in His presence. Get on your knees. Be alone with Him. Sing to Him. Speak to Him. Let Him speak to you.

Your primary ministry is to the Lord before you ever minister to anyone else.

Learning to deny yourself might be a day by day, moment by moment process for you sometimes, but you must persist in faith. The more you deny yourself, the better able you’ll be to “take up your cross” and “follow Me” as Jesus said. 

Forget gaining the “fortunes” of the world’s approval. Shake off their idolatry and self-love and move forward in WORSHIP and PRAISE, expressing your love and gratitude to the Lord. He will help you know yourself more as you get to know Him more.

Then, when you hear those old definitions and labels accuse you again, silence them again and again through worship and prayer and meditating on the Word to learn what God says about you. Deny yourself so you can take up your cross and follow Jesus!