A little while ago, I was in reading in Matthew 16:24–28 about what Jesus said it would take to follow Him as His disciple. The scriptures say: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me…”
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.
“Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”
Now, the question that continues to come up in this verse is, “What exactly does it mean to ‘deny’ yourself?”
How many times have you heard this verse interpreted by saying that in order to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, you must deny yourself “daily”? Have you heard that? ‘That to follow Jesus, denying ourselves “daily” is to deny our pleasures, desires, the way we’d respond to something, etc…like for example, you deny your desire to punch somebody out by instead turning the other cheek; or you deny your desire to sleep with somebody; or you deny your desire to eat chocolate cake before dinner…in other words, character-denial. Don’t get me wrong, these are all good things to do, but this is not what Jesus is saying.
Listen up, I’ll say it again: “People who have said that ‘in order to be a disciple of Jesus, we must deny ourselves (our characters) daily’, were made by people who do not know the Greek, nor the scriptures, and are not willing to accept what Jesus is actually saying.” Big claim! Can I back it up? Check this out:
In order for Jesus to be telling you to deny yourself daily, the word for deny, which also means to “disown” or “renounce claim to” (ἀπερνέομαι) would have to be an indicative verb in the present form…for an indicative present verb can often be interpreted as a continuous action. For example, in Luke’s version of “the Lord’s Prayer” (Luke 11:2-4), the word that Jesus uses for “Forgive” in “as we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to (or who sins against) us, is a Present – Active Indicative verb (1st person, plural): ἀφίομεν, from the verb “ἀφίημι”. In other words, in the same way as the Father continues to forgive us, we too are to be continuously forgiving others…continuously, daily.
But in Matthew 16:24, when Jesus says that anyone who wants to be His disciple, he must deny Himself, here Jesus is not using a present (continuous, daily) verb, but an aorist – middle – imperative (3rd person-singular). In other words, Jesus is commanding us to deny ourselves – NOT DAILY, but NOW, and BEFORE WE BEGIN to follow Him.
So how are we to understand the depth of this denial? How do we deny ourselves, not daily, but once and for all time? Here, we look to Peter’s 3-time denial of Jesus Christ: Matthew 26:69-70
Now, Jesus had been arrested and taken to the house of Caiaphas, the High Priest, for an illegal trial. John, Jesus’ disciple, had some friends in high places, and so was among them inside, while Peter was outside in the courtyard, sitting among the soldiers, disguised. Now understand, Jesus had just been arrested and His disciples had all dispersed, escaping arrest themselves. So even just for Peter to be there was a risk.
So Peter’s watching the illegal trial from afar with the soldiers, when suddenly, a servant-girl recognized him as one of Jesus’ disciples…as he’s sitting among the soldiers! Now, to be even associated with Jesus at that time would have landed Peter into chains, also. So immediately, Peter “denied (disowned/renounced) her words saying: “I do not know what you’re talking about!” So he disassociated himself as being Jesus’ disciple completely, then got up and walked out the gateway, thus trying to avoid any more recognition of his association with Jesus.
In verses 71-72, it says that another servant recognized Him as one who hung around Jesus of Nazareth, and “again, Peter denied it (but this time) with an oath, “I don’t know the man!”
Then in the next 2 verses, some bystanders came up to Peter and said, “Certainly you are also one of them, for your accent betrays you.” This time, scared out of his mind for his life, just by being associated with Jesus, scripture says, “then he began to curse and to (swear, vow, make an oath), “I don’t know the man!”
Now, to understand why I used this passage, we need to understand the Greek words that Matthew used in His Gospel:
In Matthew 26:69-70 (in Peter’s denial), the word for “denied” is ἠρνήσατο (taken from the word: ἀρνέομαι (3/1, Aorist, Middle, Indicative verb) meaning “Deny, disown, renounce”. In verse 72, Simon again ἠρνήσατο μετὰ ὅρκου…
- ἠρνήσατο (same word and form as in v. 70)
- μετὰ = Preposition, Genitive, meaning “with”
- ὅρκου = ὅρκοs (M1, Genitive), meaning “an oath, a vow”
So “again (Peter) denied/disowned/renounced it with an oath, ‘I do not know the man!”
Then in verse 74, τότε ἤρξατο καταθεματίζειν καὶ ὀμνύειν ὅτι οὐκ οἶδα τὸν ἄνθρωπον. “Then he began to curse and to (swear, vow, make an oath) that ‘I don’t know the man!’”
Verse 75: “at that moment, the cock crowed. Then Simon remembered what Jesus had said (in Matthew 26:34), ‘Before the cock crows, you will ἀπαρνήσῃ (ἀπερνέομαι) me 3 times.’”
So according to the Greek Lexicon, to become a follower of Jesus Christ, you must:
- (ἀπερνέομαι) Deny yourself
- Affirm that you have no acquaintance or connection with who you were before answering His call
- Forget your old self; lose sight of your old self and your own previous interests.
Peter’s 3 denials caused him to:
- Deny himself (his identity)
- Deny, renounce, reject
- Disregard his own interests or prove false to himself…act entirely unlike himself
So let’s look at how we can apply Peter’s denials in following Jesus:
Verse 70: Peter separates himself from being associated in any way whatsoever with who this servant-girl is accusing him. In this case, it was Jesus. For you, it’s about separating yourself from any and all recognition of who you are now (or were before accepting Jesus’ call to follow Him). This is a problem that I and other Pastors have often mentioned among Christians, especially youth. For many seem to think that once you accept Jesus, you can continue in your sins (as the saying goes, “Christians are not perfect, just forgiven”). But the Apostle Paul says later in 1 Corinthians 6:11 that when we came to Christ, there should have been a transformation: “you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” The person who you were before knowing Jesus should now be in the past, left there with your forgiven sins. If somebody comes up to you today about something you did or somebody you were in the past, there should be the same type of separation when you reply, “I’m sorry, but you have mistaken me for somebody else…I don’t know who you’re talking about.” Now, we never really forget who we were before coming to know Christ, but because of the transformation that should have taken place in us since, we should at least be able to say, “that may have been me at one time, but that is not me anymore,” stressing that we denied who we were before Christ, and that who we are now is SO far from that previous person that it is almost as if you are two separate people. In other words, in the same way that there is no association (in God’s eyes) between you and your previous sins, there too should be no association between who you are now and who you were before knowing and following Jesus Christ.
Verse 72: Peter took an oath (insisted) that he was not associated with Jesus. For us, it is to take an oath (or insist) on not returning to the person we were (in every way) before Jesus, even if it means getting a new set of friends in order to keep from returning. For example, drug addicts often realize after getting cleaned up that their “friends” were only such when the drugs were involved. But once detoxed, they no longer behave like friends. So in the same way, you may need a new group of friends. Consider sin as the drug you were on. Now you have been detoxed (cleansed), and so you need to find a new group of friends who do not resemble or partake in the sins that you renounced. (Please understand, I am not saying that everybody should leave their friends once they are saved, for there may be a chance of ministry and witnessing to them. What I am saying is that if your friends influence you into sinning to where you cannot help but indulging in sin when you are around them, then you need to get a new set of friends who will instead encourage and influence you in Christ and holy living.) “I promise you, I am in no way associated with whom you say that I am.”
Verses 73-74: The bystanders said, “Certainly you are also one of them, for your accent betrays you.” In response, Peter began to curse, and swore to them with an oath, “I do NOT know the man!” Did you catch that? Even Peter’s accent identified him! Therefore, let nothing resemble the person you were, not even your speech. For example, after I accepted Jesus, I read a fictional book called “Joshua”, where Jesus was incognito as an outsider-carpenter named Joshua. As I read the book, I began wearing khakis and white T-shirts (vs. ripped jeans and concert T-shirts), just as the Jesus-character in the book did; I put away the Aerosmith emblem from around my neck and began wearing a cross (again); I cancelled my Playboy subscription and began reading my Bible (which at the time was the NKJV), and as I (daily) read from it, I even began to talk like the words in it, get excited about what I was learning, and talk with people about it just out of my excitement!
Denial of yourself, as Jesus states here in Scripture, is neither a suggestion, nor a daily routine. It is a command and a requirement that you must take on NOW, once and for all time, if you wish to follow Jesus (assuming you have not done so already).
Jesus said: “If anybody desires to become my disciple, he/she MUST ἀπερνέομαι (disown, renounce) him/herself, take up his/her cross, and follow Me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for My sake, will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life? ‘For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done.’ Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”