Chapter 43 Self-Denial In The Cross

The Son of man must suffer…and be slain… If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me (Luke 9:22-23).

In this Scripture our Lord speaks for the first time concerning His coming sufferings and death. Immediately afterward, He speaks of those who would be His followers taking up their cross. As a propitiatory offering, the sacrifice of our Lord was final and complete. He died unto sins once, and Calvary is never to be repeated.

When He rose from the dead He still bore the marks of the nails. He showed His disciples His hands and His side (John 20:20). The material and physical aspects of the cross were gone, but the marks were still there. They were there to show His disciples what fellowship with Him would mean—oneness of mission, oneness of spirit, and oneness of wounds.

The cross is the only pattern for Christian discipleship. We cannot emulate the Lord in the days of His flesh. There were things He did which we cannot do. The pattern of His death is the only pattern for Christian life. We are called to be conformed to His death.

The kind of death believers and followers are involved in is not physical death—though it may include that, as martyrs can testify. But not all believers are called to be crucified on a cross as our Lord was. Nor is the death to which we are called a redemptive one. We can have no part at all in redemption, nor can we contribute the slightest thing to it. That is the mischief of the church of Rome. It denies that Jesus alone can suffice.

But no human work can be the groundwork of a sinner’s hope. The sacrifice for sins was Christ’s and His alone. It is an offense to God to add anything to that finished work. It is not Christ added to angels, Christ added to saints, Christ added to the church, Christ added to mediators, Christ added to human toil, Christ added to penance, or Christ added to purgatory. That is an idol of clay, and the Word of God concerning it is sure: “Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace” (Galatians 5:4).

There are two sides to the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. One is redemptive; the other is exemplary. The Scriptures are clear that we can have no part, nor make any contribution, toward the redemptive aspect of the cross. But there is an exemplary side which we may emulate. In this aspect we gaze upon Him as our example; and, having been saved through the redemptive work of the cross, we are to imitate certain elements in that cross-work. Since we are saved wholly by His grace, we are to dedicate ourselves—our souls, our bodies, all that we are, all that we have, all that we can do—as a living sacrifice to God. We are not to keep anything from Him who has given all of Himself for us. This is what must rise from redeemed hearts, and what alone can make our offering a sweet savor unto God.

The Self-Denial in the Cross

“If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.” The taking up of the cross is a figure of speech. It is not copying our Lord when the wooden cross, upon which He was crucified, was forced upon Him. We are to take up our cross daily. Whatever is involved, it is a continuous exercise, a daily thing.

Apart from the redemptive aspect, then, the cross of Jesus calls for the utmost self-denial. But taking up that wooden cross was used by our Lord as a metaphor to express this self-denial. When that cross was laid upon a man, it meant his life was forfeited—given up—surrendered to the state. He had now no rights of his own. His life was given up to another. Our Lord uses such an extreme case to show us what self-denial really is.

Self-denial is not giving up sweets, tobacco, alcohol, movies, and such things for a certain period of the year called Lent, though it may involve the surrender of such things. It is giving up our whole self to the Lord; not only laying down the burden of every sin but, having done that, and having trusted the finished work of Christ for our salvation, to offer, by the Spirit’s power, the whole of a devoted and adoring life.

The example of this is our Lord in His cross—in His sufferings and death. Paul makes this clear in Philippians 2:6-8. The Lord Jesus, before His descent into the world, was existing as God over all—Sovereign Lord of all the universe. But He counted not this form of existence something to be held on to. He could change the form of His existence without ceasing to be who He was—the mighty God.

It meant, however, the surrender of certain privileges and prerogatives, the laying aside of all visible manifestations of glory, clothing Himself with the poor rags of our humanity, and existing as a servant in the likeness of men. Therefore He humbled Himself. He exchanged sovereignty for servitude. He came as the Divine Servant to do nothing but God’s will. There was no compulsion—and no reluctance. His step was perfect willingness.

This is His example for Christian living. There can be no imitating our Lord in such self-denial until we are saved by the Lord through His grace and have that life of His imparted to us. It is only His life in us which can reproduce that abnegation. Thus the apostle says, “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5). There can be no such abnegation without the mind of Christ in us. With His mind, God’s interests alone will be our consuming desire.

Saviour, Thy dying love
Thou gavest me,
Nor should I aught withhold,
Dear Lord, from Thee:
In love my soul would bow,
My heart fulfill its vow,
Some offering bring Thee now,
Something for Thee.

Give me a faithful heart,
Likeness to Thee,
That each departing day
Henceforth may see
Some work of love begun,
Some deed of kindness done,
Some wanderer sought and won,
Something for Thee.

All that I am and have—
Thy gifts so free—
In joy, in grief, through life,
Dear Lord, for Thee!
And when Thy face I see,
My ransomed soul shall be,
Through all eternity,
Something for Thee.

Sylvanus D. Phelps