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Bible verses about Self Denial
(From Forerunner Commentary)

Numbers 11:4-6

There are quite a number of serious sins exposed in this particular issue - perhaps the most serious being their lack of faith in God's promise. There they were, eating "angels' food," as Paul calls it - the very best nutrition they could possibly receive - and it was not good enough! They had to have something extra, just as all the people in the world do, and they were willing to go back into captivity to get it. Is that not compromising? Is that not a lack of self-discipline? Is that not wanting to be like everybody else around them? Is that not seeking after a variety of experiences?

God is interested in unity, in oneness. There is one way, one God, one religion, one set of commandments, statutes, judgments, and so on. But Israel wanted to be like everybody else. They had the best laws, the best country, the best God, the best Husband, but it is not enough. Whenever self-denial becomes an issue, she did not deny herself to serve and submit to her Husband, God. Is that not serious?

God promises to supply our every need, but in Israel's fearful and fickle discontentment, they did not seek Him to understand what He was doing, but instead, they sought something different from what He was providing them within their relationship with Him. We really need to be aware of this, because this drive for fulfillment in variety is still within the Israelitish people, and therefore in us. God shows us in numerous ways that His desire is for His children to be unified in one system, and that is why He told Israel: one God, one place of worship, one system.

They were permitted only one place to keep the Feast of Tabernacles. In my experience in the Worldwide Church of God, people in almost every congregation had to go to a different festival site every year. When we begin to see that this is immaturity, we realize that not everything that God makes available to us is a right choice for us. God shows this right at the beginning of the Book. In Genesis 3, Eve looked at that forbidden fruit and saw that it was good to eat. She could not deny herself the satisfaction of tasting that luscious looking fruit, even though God said not to.

We (especially those of us who live in America, which is far wealthier than any nation has ever been in the history of mankind) have so many things to choose that it is incredible. But what does God say is our responsibility? He says, "Choose life," and there is more to that word "life" than merely being the opposite of death. By "life," He means choose the things that will be good for eternal life.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Where Is the Beast? (Part 6)


 

Proverbs 3:27-28

Cotton Mather, a Puritan preacher, once said, "The opportunity to do good imposes the obligation to do it." He is implying that we have been favored when an opportunity to serve in this manner arises. We are not to do it only when it is convenient or when it will contribute to our fame, but we should do it when we have opportunity, no matter how often it occurs or how much self-denial it takes.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Beatitudes, Part Four: Hungering and Thirsting After Righteousness


 

Matthew 9:27-30

As Christ passes by, the two blind men have the ultimate opportunity, and they take advantage of it. He did not pass by every day. If the two men had not pursued Him for healing at once, they may never have had another opportunity to be healed. Spiritually, the same is true for everyone. God opens doors of opportunity for salvation and service, but very few take Him up on it: "For many are called but few are chosen" (Matthew 22:14). A person must pass through those doors quickly, or they will close and the opportunity will be forever squandered (Matthew 25:6-12; Revelation 3:20). A Christian may also miss rendering service to others because he fails to take advantage of opportunities. With opportunities come blessings, and if an opportunity is missed, so are the blessings.

If we want blessings from Christ, we must follow Him. The blind men desired physical sight and so followed Him. Those who are indifferent in their faithfulness to Christ will have trouble receiving any blessing from Him, for He treats His followers differently from those who do not follow Him. At times, even a church member will complain of a lack of God's blessings in his life, but it may be that he has not followed Christ diligently and recognized the abundance of spiritual blessings he has received. God even goes so far as to warn His ministers that, if we fail to take to heart His warning about due diligence in serving Him with integrity, He will curse us (Malachi 2:1-2).

Christ calls, "Follow Me!" (Matthew 4:19; 8:22; Luke 18:22), but following is not easy because, "Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me" (Mark 8:34).

Martin G. Collins
The Miracles of Jesus Christ: Healing Two Blind Men (Part One)


 

Matthew 10:38

Christ calls us to take up our cross and follow His example. This call is not so much a call to martyrdom as a command to deny self or, crucify the flesh, even to the point of death. We must be prepared to die, if that is where the course of events leads, but in most cases it is not so much literal martyrdom as it is to have the attitude of self-denial that is willing to give up all. Christ's disciples live to serve God, not self. Paul admonishes us to put off our former conduct and put to death our sinful actions.

Martin G. Collins
Overcoming (Part 5): Self-Denial


 

Matthew 16:24-25

He tells us to deny ourselves. This means we must disown and renounce ourselves and subjugate everything—all our works, interests, and enjoyments—to the standards set by God. Paul commands us to bring under our control every thought that opposes God and His way (II Corinthians 10:5).

Jesus also instructs us to bear our cross. We need to embrace the situations God has set us in, and with faith in Him to bring us through them, bear the troubles and difficulties that come upon us. Just as Jesus accepted His role, even to "the death of the cross" (Philippians 2:8), we need to be content with what God gives us to do (Philippians 4:11). As Paul says in I Timothy 6:6, "Godliness with contentment is great gain." What an achievement it is not to be driven by evil hungers!

God has called us to lay down our lives in subjection to Him. The supreme object of our lives is not our personal happiness or fulfilling our every desire. Our goal is God's kingdom and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33), but notice what Jesus says next: "And all these things shall be added to you." If we yield ourselves to God's instruction and grow and overcome, He will fulfill our legitimate desires!

Matthew 16:25 shows us the two sides of this issue. Jesus says that if we insist on preserving our way of life, with all its wrong hungers and desires, we will lose it eternally! But if we take control of our mind and emotions and destroy our way of life—ridding ourselves of all the wrong hungers and desires that are against God—then God will save it eternally! The better option is obvious.

Satan has filled this world with hungers of every sort to tempt men, including the people of God. Hungers of lust, power, money, and fame seem inviting after the monotony of day-to-day living, but Satan's way is a trap, though an enticing one. It always looks good on the outside, but inside is sin, destruction, and ultimately death, eternal death.

God allows us to make decisions. He allows us to learn from the decisions we make—both right and wrong. The right decision to make about the wonderful calling and opportunity He has given to us is to yield ourselves under the mighty hand of God in faith that He will work in us. His work is always wonderful and good. Once we yield, we can set our mind to overcome, hungering and thirsting for righteousness. And God will satisfy us!

John O. Reid (1930-2016)
Do You Have 'the Hunger'?


 

Matthew 16:24-26

Jesus calls upon His followers to reject the natural human inclination toward self. The first step is to submit and surrender to God our will, our affections, our bodies, and our lives. Our own pleasures and happiness can no longer be primary goals. Instead, we must be willing to renounce all and lay down our lives, if required. Peter admonishes us to "no longer live . . . in the flesh for the lusts of men," meaning we should no longer pursue wrong desires. Are we willing to forsake all, to give up everything including our lives? Our Christian duty is to deny our lust of the flesh.

Martin G. Collins
Overcoming (Part 5): Self-Denial


 

Matthew 16:24-25

Everybody has a natural inclination to avoid suffering and pain, and this is not necessarily wrong. There is a drive within all of us to preserve our lives and to extend them. Self-preservation, it is said, is the first law of the universe, and so we desire to ensure that we do not suffer any pain.

On the other hand, Jesus seems to be counseling us that, somehow, this drive for self-preservation, for self-satisfaction, for comfort, has to be be pushed from the forefront of our lives and into a secondary place.

John W. Ritenbaugh
A Place of Safety? (Part 5)


 

Matthew 16:24-25

Like the Messiah, we must deny ourselves.

Put Satan into this picture. What is he going to do to us? Through disinformation and affecting our attitudes, he will lead us toward self-satisfaction, not self-denial, because self-satisfaction is the essence of sin. When we sin, we bring upon ourselves the death penalty.

To teach the right lesson, Jesus immediately taught—to counteract what Satan was subtly teaching through Peter—that the way to the Kingdom of God is through self-denial, not self-satisfaction. Satan will try to persuade us not to deny ourselves but to fulfill ourselves at the expense of others.

Another thing this can teach us is that great temptations can come through well-meaning friends. Peter meant well. It must have shocked him right out of his sandals when Jesus turned and said, "Get behind Me, Satan!" right in Peter's face. Jesus was probably not angry, just urgent, so that Peter would grasp what had happened.

Surely, God would not want us to face this kind of a trial, would He? Yes, it could happen if the temptation comes through well-meaning people. We are particularly vulnerable when we can be led to believe that we are not being treated as we deserve.

Satan used this major ploy against Adam and Eve: "Oh, has God said so? He's withholding from you." Such was his implication. "Why, if you do things the way you want, you can have much more. You can be god." We always want more; it is part of human nature.

Unfortunately, mankind keeps making things worse by making the same general mistakes over and over again in each generation. It will not end until each individual decides he will not do it regardless of the cost to himself. This is denying oneself. Some things in life are beyond our control, and we must leave them to God to solve.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Satan (Part 4)


 

Mark 8:31-34

Jesus teaches self-denial to His disciples not only with His words but also by His actions. Notice that His call to self-denial comes immediately after predicting His own sacrificial death. He is the supreme model of the self-denial to which He calls others. He even denies Himself any urge to avenge Himself or to threaten His persecutors for what they had done to Him. In Jesus' example, we see that, by committing ourselves to God who judges rightly, we deny ourselves the temptation of worldly lusts.

Martin G. Collins
Overcoming (Part 5): Self-Denial


 

Mark 8:34-38

Why does Christ have to say things like this? Because human nature is driven by the impulse that the only way to the things a person deeply desires is through self-centered, assertive, competitive concentration on getting what it wants. We all have this drive; however, individuals differ in the strength of human nature in them and the methods they employ to achieve their goals. Jesus says the self must be denied because human nature is driven by pride and covetousness.

Of course, the Bible is not urging us to court martyrdom. It is speaking of a general approach to life, of crucifying the self-centered impulses of human nature. This means subordinating a clamoring ego with its preoccupation with "I," "me," and "mine"; its concern for self-assertion; and its insistence on comfort and prestige. It is denying the self for the sake of embracing Christ's cause. To be ashamed to live this way of life is equivalent to being ashamed of Christ Himself.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Elements of Motivation (Part Six): Eternal Life


 

John 1:6-9

To appreciate this self-subordination of John, we must relate what is said here to the cultural environment in which these books were written. We must consider what the apostles wrote from the perspective of first-century Jews who witnessed John the Baptist's ministry.

In the twentieth century, we tend to think that John's ministry was little more than a blip on a radar screen. However, in terms of impact and importance, there was no true ministry greater than his except Jesus'. Thinking that John's ministry was insignificant flirts with diminishing what Jesus says about none born of a woman being greater than John.

In God's own estimation, recorded in Luke 1:15—the very first thing said about him by the angel speaking for God—John would be great! He was the prophesied messenger who fulfilled Isaiah 40:3, "The voice of one crying in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God'" (see Matthew 3:3; Mark 1:3; Luke 1:76; 3:4; John 1:23). He also fulfilled Malachi 3:1, "Behold, I send My messenger, and he will prepare the way before Me" (see Matthew 11:10; Mark 1:2; Luke 1:76; 7:27).

His greatness lay:

1. in the office he filled;

2. in the subject he dealt with (repentance and true knowledge of the Messiah);

3. in his humility in calling no attention to himself and voluntarily receding into the background when the Messiah appeared (John 3:30), as well as his great zeal in performing his function;

4. in his personal attributes of character, above reproach in terms of sin;

5. in his self-denial in terms of his manner of life;

6. in his courage in the face of opposition;

7. in his lifelong service to God.

John was the crown of a long line of Old Testament prophets.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Elijah and John the Baptist


 

1 Corinthians 9:24-27

Paul uses runners in the Greek games as examples of how we are to live as Christians. The first thing to notice is the utmost tension, energy, and strenuous effort pictured by athletes straining for the finish line in hope of the glory of winning. "This is the way to run," says Paul, "if we want to attain our potential."

This requires steady, intense concentration or focus of the runners. They cannot afford to become distracted by things off to the side of their course. If they do, their effectiveness in running will surely diminish. Keeping focused requires control—not allowing distractions to interfere with the responsibility at hand. "Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness," says Jesus (Matthew 6:33). Here, the issue is single-mindedness. James writes, "[H]e who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. . . . [H]e is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways" (James 1:6, 8). Controlling our focus can go a long way toward making the run successful.

Paul then says the victorious runner sets Christians an example of rigid self-control: "Everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things." It is not only a matter of concentrating while he is racing, but in all areas of life because his whole life impacts on the race. The runner religiously follows a rigorous program within a rigid schedule each day: He rises at a certain hour, eats a breakfast of certain foods, fills his morning with exercises, and works on his technique. After a planned lunch, he continues training, eats a third planned meal, and goes to bed at a specified hour. Throughout, he not only avoids sensuous indulgences, he must also abstain from many perfectly legitimate things that simply do not fit into his program. An athlete who is serious about excelling in his chosen sport must live this way, or he will not succeed except against inferior competitors. He will suffer defeat by those who do follow them.

We can learn a great deal here about self-indulgence and self-control. It is not enough for us to say, "I draw the line there, at this or that vice, and I will have nothing to do with these." We will have a very difficult time growing under such an approach, as Paul shows in Hebrews 12:1:

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.

Many unsinful things are "weights" simply because they are so time- and mind-consuming. Because we do not want to fail in accomplishing the highest purposes for which we were called, we must run light to endure the length of our course successfully.

On the surface, being a Christian appears easy to do, in as much as a Christian is basically a man that trusts in Jesus Christ. No one is more worthy of our trust, and He is fully able to bring us into the Kingdom of God. But this is a mere surface observation. The truth is that being a Christian can be very difficult because the real Christian is one who, because he trusts Christ, must set his heel upon human nature within him and subordinate the appetites of his flesh and the desires of his mind to the aim of pleasing Him. No wishy-washy, irresolute, vacillating, lukewarm, disorderly, and unrestrained Christian will please his Master and glorify our Father.

Jesus says, "[N]arrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it" (Matthew 7:14). Paul writes, "You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier" (II Timothy 2:3-4). The Christian is exhorted to control himself and run to win.

In I Corinthians 9, Paul illustrates self-control in its positive aspects by showing what it produces along the way and—most importantly—in the end. Jesus makes it clear in Revelation 2 and 3 that the overcomers (conquerors, victors) will go into the Kingdom of God. Self-control plays a major role in bringing victory through our trusting relationship with Jesus Christ. Andrew MacLaren, a Protestant commentator, states, "There are few things more lacking in the average Christian life of today than resolute, conscious concentration upon an aim which is clearly and always before us." Self-control is not the only factor we need to do this, but it is a very necessary one. Its fruit, good beyond measure, is worth every effort and sacrifice we must make.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fruit of the Spirit: Self-Control


 

Galatians 5:23

In Galatians 5:23, "self-control" (temperance, KJV) is the translation of the Greek word enkrateia, which means "possessing power, strong, having mastery or possession of, continent, self-controlled" (Kenneth S. Wuest, Word Studies in the Greek New Testament, "Galatians," p. 160). Vincent's Word Studies of the New Testament adds that it means "holding in hand the passions and desires" (vol. IV, p. 168). The word thus refers to the mastery of one's desires and impulses, and does not in itself refer to the control of any specific desire or impulse. If a particular desire or impulse is meant, the context will indicate it.

Self-control is comprehensive in practical application to life, but the Bible does not use the word extensively. It is implied, however, in many exhortations to obedience, submission, and sinless living. The noun form is used only three times, the verb form twice (I Corinthians 7:9; 9:25), and the adjective form once (Titus 1:8). The negative form of the adjective is used three times. In II Timothy 3:3, it is translated "without self-control [incontinent, KJV]"; in Matthew 23:25, "self-indulgent [excess, KJV]"; and in I Corinthians 7:5, "lack of self-control [incontinency, KJV]."

Another Greek word, nephalios, has the same general meaning, but it generally covers a more specific area of self-control. It is often translated as "temperate" or "sober." Even though its root condemns self-indulgence in all forms, the Bible's writers use it to refer to avoiding drunkenness.

Despite self-control's obvious importance, we should not limit our understanding of these words to merely the stringent discipline of the individual's passions and appetites. These words also include the notions of having good sense, sober wisdom, moderation, and soundness of mind as contrasted to insanity.

We see a good example of self-control implied in Proverbs 25:28: "Whoever has no rule over his own spirit is like a city broken down, without walls." No specific Hebrew word in this sentence means "self-control," but "rule" certainly implies it. In its comments on this verse, the Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible states:

The picture is that of a city whose walls have been so nearly destroyed as to be without defense against an enemy; so is the man who has no restraint over his spirit, the source of man's passionate energies. He has no defense against anger, lust, and the other unbridled emotions that destroy the personality. (vol. 4, p. 267)

Proverbs 16:32 shows a more positive side of self-control: "He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city." Here Solomon uses an entirely different word for "rule," but the sense of self-control remains. A comparison of the two proverbs reveals the great importance of self-control as both an offensive and defensive attribute.

Undoubtedly, self-denial, self-sacrifice, and self-control are inextricably linked in Christian life; each is part of our duty to God. Yet human nature exerts a persistent and sometimes very strong force away from God, as Romans 8:7 clearly shows: "Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be." It is this force that each Christian must overcome. Controlling ourselves, denying human nature its impulse to satisfy its desire, and even sacrificing ourselves are necessary if we are to stop sinning as a way of life. When we add the concepts of self-denial and self-sacrifice to our understanding of self-control, we can see more easily how large a role self-control plays in the Bible.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fruit of the Spirit: Self-Control


 

Philippians 2:5-11

God commends the humble, not those who consort with the rich and famous, and He promises to exalt the humble at the appointed time (Proverbs 16:18-19). Jesus Christ's example of humility helps us to realize the meek stature of true Christians. In Him we see the zenith of virtue from which the apostles drew illustrations and admonitions for us. He gave up inexpressible glory to take upon Himself the humble form of humanity and perform the lowliest of services to us. He consented to be without distinction or honor and was willing to be despised and disregarded. When He laid aside his former rank and dignity, He became as nothing, yet now He is exalted above everything and everyone. He set this example for us that we might overcome self-exaltation and develop the true and ultimately exalting trait of humility.

Martin G. Collins
Overcoming (Part 9): Self-Exaltation


 

Colossians 3:5

The word translated "covetousness" here is the Greek word pleonexia. It is an ugly word describing an ugly sin. It is ugly because it is idolatry and destructive. Lexicons describe pleonexia as "the insatiable desire to have what rightfully belongs to others." It suggests ruthless self-seeking and an arrogant assumption that others and things exist for one's own benefit.

Covetousness is idolatry because it puts self-interest and things in the place of God. A man sets up an idol because he desires to get some pleasure or satisfaction from it. So he serves to get, which is idolatry. The essence of idolatry, then, is to get for the self. Christians, though, must give themselves to God, and we do it by yielding to Him in obedience to whatever He says.

Colossians 3:5 says we are to "mortify therefore [our] members which are on the earth" (KJV). This does not mean merely to practice an ascetic self-discipline. It is a very strong word, meaning "to kill." The Christian must kill self-centeredness. He must radically transform his life, shifting the focus from himself to God. This is exactly what Jesus taught in Matthew 5:29-30. Everything that keeps us from fully obeying God and surrendering to Jesus Christ must be spiritually excised. The tenth commandment, like the first, serves as a governor, controlling whether we keep the others.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Tenth Commandment (1998)


 

2 Thessalonians 3:10-12

Commentators believe these brethren stopped working due to misunderstanding the nearness of Christ's return. Nonetheless, they were breaking the pattern of conduct set by Christ Himself and taught by the apostles. Jesus worked right up until He was crucified. Paul calls their conduct unacceptable and serious enough that those brethren who were patiently working should withdraw from those who quit (II Thessalonians 3:6)!

This example contains a practical truth about work that is not mentioned but is helpful to understand. Costs are tied to work, whether it is for the Lord or an employer, and not the least of these is sacrifice on the part of the laborer. Jesus teaches this in Matthew 16:24: “Then Jesus said to His disciples, 'If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.'”

To be an active, producing Christian, Jesus says that, in laboring under and with Him, we must deny ourselves and then take up, carry, or bear up under whatever the cost may be. Thus, sacrifices are involved in Christian responsibilities, as well as in our day-to-day job, but Jesus particularly aims this comment about Christian works at His followers. Denying ourselves is required because the carnal nature is always present and invariably desires to take it easy and do the wrong things through ingrained habit. However, if we give in to this, profit in Christian life diminishes.

This we do not want because, without denying ourselves, life is guaranteed to be a failure. Recall how concerned Solomon was about profit. Life will be profitable if we do the right things, but sometimes, to do so we must literally will ourselves to do what is required. Sacrificing is the only means to accomplish what needs to be done.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Two): Works


 

2 Timothy 2:11-12

The concept of self-denial is at the heart of Paul's teaching on submission to God: We have died with Christ and must sacrifice our lives for Him. In Titus 2:12, Paul writes of the grace of God training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, that is, to deny what the self desires. Self-denial requires genuine humility in submission, or it is merely a counterfeit.

Martin G. Collins
Overcoming (Part 5): Self-Denial


 

2 Timothy 2:13

A somewhat different use of the concept deny oneself occurs in II Timothy 2:13. God is faithful and cannot deny His character or His promises (Romans 3:3). However, a comparison of Paul's statement with Jesus' call to self-denial is enlightening. God, being so different from self-centered men, has nothing in His perfect character that needs to be denied. In His perfect goodness, God can only affirm Himself.

Martin G. Collins
Overcoming (Part 5): Self-Denial


 

James 1:12-15

As soon as we are tempted, we must begin to deny ourselves the wrong desire. Jesus calls us to practice self-denial in our actions even before we do them. Temptations vary according to the weaknesses of each person. What may be an easy self-denial for one may be tough to resist for another. Appetite (Proverbs 23:2), material goods, worldly ambitions, personal prestige (Matthew 6:1-4, 16-21), and sexual desires are very common areas where self-denial is tough for many.

Martin G. Collins
Overcoming (Part 5): Self-Denial


 

 




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