“From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day. Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, ‘Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!’ But He turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.’ 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. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works.”
Based on today’s Scripture passage, let us reflect together on the issue of how the born-again righteous people must deny themselves. For some of you, it’s now been a long time since you first received the remission of sin; for others, it’s been a few years; and for some, it’s only recently that you received the remission of sin. As we, the righteous, follow the Lord after being remitted from all our sins and justified, there are many times when we must deny ourselves in our everyday lives. For those who were saved only recently, denying oneself is still superficial, but for the saints who received the remission of sins a considerable time ago, they increasingly realize how much they must deny themselves in God’s Church.
The Word says that one can never follow the Lord unless he denies himself. This Word is indeed engraved in the hearts of the righteous and they come to reflect on how they can deny themselves and follow the Lord. Although there is so much for the righteous to deny themselves, it’s also hard at the same time since self-denial is something that every righteous person is grappling with. For the righteous who have received the remission of sin, the Word of the Lord commanding them to deny themselves is the Word of God that they must ruminate on most often.
Isn’t it hard for you to deny yourself? Don’t you come across this problem often? The Lord said, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.” Jesus didn’t tell us to just follow the Lord without any requirement, but He told us to first deny ourselves. It’s extremely hard for us to deny ourselves. In particular, we Christians must deny ourselves in everyday life because the Lord demands this from us.
As I follow the Lord, it’s such a struggle even for me to deny myself. My brothers and sisters are also struggling a lot with this. Yet even so, I still deny myself and follow the Lord, for I cannot follow Him unless I deny myself. What the Lord said is not something that should end in just words, as if it were some sort of schoolbook lesson or wise words of admonition. Rather, it is the Word of God that we must actually apply to our everyday lives. The Lord said this Word because we cannot follow Him unless we actually deny ourselves. Even if one has received the remission of sin, unless he denies himself he cannot follow the Lord. Therefore, anyone who wants to follow the Lord must deny himself. When the righteous deny themselves, they shouldn’t just deny only in good times, but they must deny themselves equally in times of hardship as well. To deny oneself even in extremely difficult times and to deny oneself even when it’s hard to follow the Lord—this is the real self-denial.
We need to consider a few things when it comes to denying ourselves. First of all, we must deny our weaknesses. The Lord of the righteous has blotted out all their sins. He has absolutely eradicated all the sins of the righteous and saved them all. However, even though the Lord has saved the righteous we often find ourselves falling into the flesh and disappointed at our inability to live according to the will of God. We are too weak. In spite of the fact that the Lord has blotted out all our sins, when we see ourselves unable to live virtuously, we get bound by our weaknesses and end up losing the courage of the heart to follow the Lord. As we find ourselves too weak and stumbling too often and as our self-esteem is bruised, we realize that our shortcomings are not few, but that we are completely insufficient. We then fall into weaknesses, wondering, “How can someone like me follow the Lord? How can I ever serve Him?” So even after receiving the remission of our sins, if we are not careful it is still possible for us to feel as if we still remain sinful. When you see just how weak you are, you may feel on your own that the Lord has nothing to do with you. In other words, because you and I see in our everyday lives just how utterly weak we are, we may even doubt our salvation, questioning, “Have I really received the remission of my sins?”
Some Righteous People Stumble over Their Thoughts So Often That They End up Feeling Guilty
Everyone has certain points of weakness and yet despite this, some people stumble over their thoughts too often so that they end up feeling guilty. We all have certain vulnerabilities that make us surrender ourselves unconditionally as soon as we face them. Those who are vulnerable to money surrender to it at first encounter and those who are vulnerable to the opposite sex stumble all over as soon as they meet an attractive one—everyone has his own Achilles’ heel. That’s why whenever we face it we all stumble. Since this happens often, every time we come across our vulnerabilities, we fall into despair, wondering how we could ever follow the Lord when we are so weak.
That’s why we must deny our weaknesses, saying, “Even though I am weak, the Lord has saved me. He has blotted out all my sins.” Only when we deny our weaknesses can we follow the Lord trusting in Him. Even if we were to commit many sins because of our weaknesses, is it possible for us to have sin? No, that’s not possible since the Lord has blotted out all our countless sins. He has saved us perfectly from our sins.
Salvation is not something that’s been fulfilled by mankind, but it is something that the Lord Himself has completed for us. Since the Lord Himself has already fulfilled our salvation on His side, there is no reason why we the righteous should be staring at just our own weaknesses. On the contrary, the right thing for us to do is to deny ourselves and only look toward the Lord, who has blotted out all our sins and saved us. If we do not deny our weaknesses even as we believe in the gospel, then we are bound to feel as if the Lord has drifted away from us. However, one thing that we must all realize is that our Lord, who takes care of even sparrows, would surely take care of us as well. Even a sparrow does not fall to the ground unless allowed by the Lord. Wouldn’t He then take care of us, His righteous people, who are in the likeness of His own image? The Lord has not only blotted out our weaknesses, but He has also blotted out all our sins and transgressions.
Our salvation, attained through the remission of sins, was fulfilled by Jesus through His baptism and blood and therefore has come entirely by the grace of God. And it is when we believe in the baptism and blood of Jesus that we reach our salvation of the remission of sin. All the righteous people sitting here must grasp this clearly. Even though we are now sitting here at peace, many of you will end up leaving the Lord when too many of your weaknesses are exposed, unable to deny yourself.
That’s why I am saying these things. Unless we deny ourselves, we cannot follow the Lord until the end. As we the righteous carry on with our lives of faith, whenever too many of our weaknesses are revealed and whenever we discover too many of our insufficiencies, we must deny our weaknesses and follow the Lord. Trust in Him and believe, “Even though I am insufficient like this, the Lord has saved me out of His love.” Only then can we avoid falling away from salvation until the end. That’s why the Lord said, “No one can follow Me unless he denies himself.” This applies to all those who want to follow the Lord, whether they are pastors or laypeople, and whether they hold church offices or not. In other words, all the born-again saints and even the entire human race throughout the whole world must deny themselves if they want to follow our Lord.
When it comes to denying ourselves, we must also deny our own righteousness. Jesus is telling us to deny our righteousness and to deny our self-loving ego. Since we all have our own ego, we love ourselves, we think we are right, and we are self-defensive, but this ego is something that must be denied. We need to raise the level of our faith by another notch. It’s not just a few times that you’ve been told to deny yourself. The Church has spoken this everyday until your ears are sore. Yet if you still can’t deny yourself and you find yourself struggling so much that you are thinking about leaving the Church, then you must recognize that the level of your faith still has not reached anywhere beyond that of a baby that’s not even been weaned yet. We can follow the Lord only if we deny ourselves and that’s why it’s so imperative for us to deny ourselves at all costs.
Because I myself am too weak, I sometimes even pray the following: “Lord, it seems as though I can no longer follow You. I think I should give up my life of faith. My heart is too tormented and suffering too much, Lord.” But it’s because of myself that I struggle. If it were because of something else rather than my own work, then I am bold as a lion, saying to myself, “You want to take this on? Let’s give it a try.” When I have done something well or I am right, I am confident of myself, but when I fail at certain tasks and see my insufficient self, I think, “Oh, boy! I should quit following the Lord. I just don’t think I can be of any benefit to the Church.” It’s such a torturing struggle for me. In times like this when I fail to deny myself, God says to me, “That’s just who you are by nature. But even though you are so weak and insufficient, I have saved you and it is I who is working through you. Do you think you are doing My work by yourself? Did you blot out people’s sins? Is it you who is leading the Church? No, I am leading the Church. Don’t be deluded.”
The Lord says, “If you want to come after Me, deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Me.” The Lord told us to deny ourselves and follow Him. Even though I am insufficient, I admit my shortcomings to God saying, “Lord, You are right. I am insufficient. I admit this before I follow You.” I then assure myself and say, “Yet the Lord has saved me perfectly. Because He has made me perfect, if I follow the Lord, then He will carry out His work through me, even though I am insufficient.”
Our saints also can follow the Lord only if they deny themselves. Realizing this clearly, they must deny themselves as well. Do not say to yourself, “I am so insufficient that I just can’t follow the Lord.” Instead, deny your weaknesses and look toward the Lord saying, “Lord, even though I am so insufficient, You have perfected me. All that I need to do is just follow You. You have taken care of all my needs. Even though I am insufficient, You have made me whole. Please hold me and guide me. Please take care of everything.” Only then can you continue to follow the Lord.
Once You Are Saved, Your Greatest Problem Is Being Bound by Yourself
When we try to follow the Lord after being saved, the biggest obstacle is none other than ourselves. The greatest problem is yourself and myself. Do you agree that the biggest problem in your way to follow the Lord is not anything else but yourself? To deny not only your own weaknesses and insufficiencies but also your own righteousness, is to deny your self-loving ego. For us to follow the Lord, first of all, we must not be bound by our weaknesses. Rather, we must follow the Lord with the following faith: “The Lord has raised me from the pit of my sins. He has made me perfect. Even though I am insufficient, the Lord works through me. It’s through me that He fulfills His will.” We must follow the Lord trusting that He has accepted us. If the Lord has taken away all our sins, then we are the ones who have been accepted by the Lord. No matter how insufficient we are, if God has accepted us then we are His beloved people who have been saved. Do you believe in this? Yet despite this, don’t you still feel like giving up your life of faith often, all because of your own weaknesses? Some people have given up their lives of faith by themselves, unable to deny their weaknesses. It’s none other than such people who end up leaving the church.
Do you think that those who give up their lives of faith and leave the church even after being saved do so because they feel they are too good for the Church? No, that’s not the case. Ninety-nine percent of them leave precisely because they feel they are too insufficient. In my sermon yesterday on legalistic faith, I had told you that God already knows all about our insufficiencies. It’s because the Lord knows our insufficiencies that He said to us, “Deny yourself and follow Me,” lest we leave Him over our own shortcomings. We all must understand this clearly and live by faith.
The Bible says, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105). This passage must be our blood and flesh for us and actually be applied to our everyday life. The Word is not just to be memorized and understood, but it is to be experienced in our everyday life. Only then can we come to truly realize what the Word means. Anyone can memorize Bible passages. We have children in our Sunday school who can easily memorize even the Word of the remission of sin. When the Sunday school children recite, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me,” teachers commend them for memorizing the passage and even reward them with a small gift. In reality, however, it’s completely useless to just memorize scriptural passages.
What is more important than memorizing Bible passages is for you to know how to deny yourself. You can follow the Lord only if you actually deny yourself, not just limiting this only as knowledge. Do you realize this? Do you deny yourself? Do our sisters deny themselves? All of us must deny ourselves. It’s because you have denied yourself that you have been able to follow the Lord to this day. I know very well that you could have easily left the Lord, but every time you denied yourself and that is why you were able to follow the Lord. Now, in the days to come we must continue to deny ourselves and follow the Lord. Because we have been saved we must follow the Lord no matter what, whether we die or live. That’s why we must deny ourselves.
We Must Deny Our Carnal Thoughts, but This Entails Sacrifice
Leading a life of faith is not so easy. It requires self-denial, something that is very hard to practice. You have to grasp this properly. Do our ministry workers understand this? We can follow the Lord only if we deny ourselves. We can’t follow the Lord unless we deny ourselves. Do you think that our ministry workers are somehow special just because of their being gifted with talents? No, that’s not the case at all. For our ministers and leaders in the church, they can follow the Lord only if they deny themselves even more. No one can follow the Lord unless he denies himself. That’s why the Lord said that anyone who wanted to follow Him had to deny himself first.
There is a song in Korea that goes, “Who said that love was beautiful?” Do you also think along this line, wondering to yourself, “Who says that it is beautiful to follow the Lord? What’s so wonderful about following the Lord when this requires me to sacrifice and deny myself?” Far more difficult than gaining the world and even overcoming the world, is to fight against oneself and deny oneself and those who can achieve this are truly great warriors. Self-denial is true beauty.
Self-denial is absolutely indispensable to follow the Lord. While you don’t have to deny yourself when it comes to other human affairs, self-denial is absolutely necessary when it comes to following the Lord. As far as the affairs of the world are concerned, you can fight to the end and overcome your challenges if you have a diehard will, but following the Lord is not something that you can achieve by your own strong will alone. No matter how strong our determination is, it’s all useless. Only when we deny ourselves are we able to follow the Lord.
Take a look at Peter. Just how strong was his will? Peter had such a strong will that when Jesus said, “I must go to Jerusalem, suffer many things from the elders and chief priests, be killed, and be raised on the third day,” he said to Jesus, “Far be it from You, Lord!” Although Peter said, “Lord, I will follow You to my death. And please don’t do this,” when the Lord was actually seized by the men sent by the elders and chief priests, he fled from the scene. Peter even denied Jesus three times that night. In reality, those who are strong-willed cannot follow the Lord. It’s not the people with a strong will who follow the Lord, but is those who know how to deny themselves. And these people are actually the strongest.
It Is Not So Easy to Follow the Lord
Once we realize how to deny ourselves, it’s so easy to follow the Lord. However, for those who do not know how to deny themselves, it’s a living hell to follow the Lord. You must all grasp this. When a sinner is saved from his sins, he must first learn to deny himself as soon as possible. Only then can he lead a happy life of faith, walk on the pasture holding the Lord’s hand, and carry out His work together with Him.
For some of you, it wasn’t that long ago when you were first saved. But you are not exempted from denying yourself. Everyone must deny himself. Isn’t it true that we have so much of our own thoughts, our own righteousness, and our own weaknesses arising in us? All these things must be denied. We must hold onto the Lord and follow Him, saying, “If this is the will of the Lord, then even though I think differently, I am wrong and the Lord is right. My weaknesses are nothing. Even though I am weak, the Lord has saved me. I believe in You, Lord!” To achieve this, you must know how to deny yourself.
The Righteous Must Always Deny the Righteousness of Their Flesh
The righteous must deny their righteousness. While leading our lives of faith in the church, serving this gospel, serving the Lord, serving our brothers and sisters, and serving other souls, we have seen many born-again people leaving the Lord because of their own righteousness. They say to us, “What I am thinking and saying is right so why don’t you accept what I’m saying? Why do you work like this? How can you do this?” But this is nothing more than their own righteousness. So they end up leaving the church saying, “That is not my way of doing things; I just can’t understand why they are doing this. How come the so-called leaders are so pathetic? I can’t work with such people.” One’s own righteousness must all be denied. The righteous who have too much of their own righteousness must deny themselves.
How right could we be even if we were right and how much merit could we have if we had any merit at all? Could we ourselves be more right than God who has saved us out of His love by bearing and blotting out all the sins of the people of this world? No matter how right we may be, there is nothing more right than the fact that God has saved mankind from sin. Quarrelling over who is better among fellow human beings is like the pot calling the kettle black. At most, one may be slightly better than someone else in a certain area, but even this is nothing when compared to God.
Yet despite this, some righteous people mistakenly think that they are better than their fellow brothers and sisters of faith even while carrying their lives of faith together. They sometimes can’t tolerate others saying, “I am just not compatible with them.” It’s because they are too self-righteous, taking on a holier-than-thou attitude that they can’t tolerate others. Since they are too self-righteous, they end up tormenting others, and since they cannot tolerate others, they themselves are also tormented—how shameful and wrong is this before God? Self-righteousness must also be denied.
Some Righteous People Have Too Much Righteousness of Their Own Flesh That They End Up Leaving the Lord
Some people leave the church thinking that they are better than everyone else, saying, “I can’t be with such people. I’d rather be alone. Since I’ve already received the remission of all my sins, I will just lead my life of faith all by myself.” To repeat, there is nothing more foolish than quarreling among ourselves over who is better than whom when we are all righteous. Of course, if we had to compare ourselves against each other, it’s true that some of us are better or worse at certain things, but that is plausible only when the comparison is based on human standard or a relative concept and not the absolute standard. Besides, no matter how meritorious we may be, can we really be more right than the Lord? No, of course not; the Lord is the most right. The fact that the Lord shouldered all the sins of everyone in this world, was punished for everyone, and has saved everyone from all sins—that alone is the most righteous. Therefore, it’s foolish for you to be conceited and look down on others over anything else.
That is why the righteous must cast aside their righteousness and serve the gospel. That is the right thing to do. It’s only proper for the righteous to deny themselves and work together to serve the Lord. What is truly right for you to do is to deny yourself, deny your own righteousness, and follow the Lord instead.
Can Any of Your Carnal Thoughts Ever Be Right?
Do you have any righteousness? When you look at yourself based on a human standard, there is so much that’s right. However, for the righteous, whatever they do or whether they eat or drink, they must do all for the glory of God. That’s why each righteous person, no matter how much righteousness he may have, must know how to boldly cast it aside when it’s not beneficial to the gospel and refrain from any action that’s not beneficial to the gospel.
We, the righteous, must deny our own righteousness. Even the righteous make mistakes and everyone has certain weaknesses. Yet in spite of this, some people still say “I am different from everyone else. I can serve the Lord better than anyone else.” But even if we were to serve the Lord more properly, could we really serve Him to complete perfection? No, that’s not humanly possible. We must realize that we also make the same mistakes that have been made by our fellow righteous people and judged by us. The wise are those who realize that another person’s mistakes are their mistakes. In short, those who deny themselves are the wise.
By any chance, is there anyone among you who is so conceited that he is thinking about going on his own separate way from the Church, saying to himself, “Since I love the Lord far more than these people, I will separate myself from the church and serve Him by myself”? I have never had such thoughts, not even once. Because I know very well that I am insufficient by nature and because I admit this, it’s rather preposterous for me to be conceited. However, when I look at our workers, there are quite a few righteous people who are too conceited, as if they were serving the gospel by themselves. Do the self-conceited workers then truly serve the gospel? No, they don’t even serve the gospel. Even though they may seem to serve the gospel in God’s church, they actually trust in their own righteousness and don’t really care about the gospel.
The righteous must cast aside their righteousness. They must also deny themselves. And they must be united with the gospel. To serve the gospel faithfully, we must be united together. Rather than preaching the gospel all by oneself, we must pool our strength together. That’s why it’s so imperative for us to deny ourselves and front our own righteousness. You, too, have your own righteousness, right? Don’t you also want to go on your separate way to establish your own righteousness sometimes? I’m sure that you all have such a desire from time to time. But you must deny this. You must deny yourself. We must deny ourselves if this is beneficial to the spreading of the gospel. If it’s for the spreading of the gospel, what is there that we can’t do? If it’s beneficial to the gospel, then we must be wiling to give up anything from our own wishes to our own thoughts. If you really are a righteous person, then whatever you do you must first think about what would be beneficial to the spreading of the gospel and take the course of action that would serve the gospel. If we have indeed become the saved saints and God’s servants, then we must all think about what it is that we should do to benefit the gospel more.
Regardless of any circumstances, the righteous must deny themselves and their own righteousness. When it comes to the church serving the gospel, whether or not this fits your personality or particular quarks is completely irrelevant. We must deny ourselves. And it’s because we have denied ourselves to this day that we are now standing here at this place. If you had not denied yourself, then you would all have left the church long ago and there would be no one left here. However, because you have denied your thoughts until now, you are here with me in this place. Only if you continue to deny your thoughts in the days to come will you find yourself still sitting here. If you had not denied yourselves, you could not be seated here now. It’s because all the righteous who are sitting here in the church have denied themselves that they can faithfully carry out their tasks from each of their assigned places. Just as the Lord said, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself,” anyone who wants to follow the Lord must deny himself first and then follow Him.
We Must Deny Our Love of the Self
Everyone loves himself the most. Above everything else in this entire world one loves himself the most. So when we come across hardships while we are following the Lord, we sometimes are tempted to think about only ensuring our own welfare. This concern over only our own well-being arises in us from time to time, leading us to think, “I should first save my own neck.” This, too, must be denied since we cannot follow the Lord if we love ourselves too much and take care of only our own bodies.
Those who have done very little to serve the Lord even think about giving up their lives of faith to spare themselves, thinking, “I was told how great it would be if I were saved, but now that I’ve done a little calculation, I see that this is not true.” Of course, they, too, love the Lord and cherish the gospel, but the problem is that they love themselves even more. Since they think that they themselves would be ruined if they were to serve and follow this gospel, they are tempted to give up their lives of faith in order to ensure their own welfare.
The greatest enemy that obstructs the righteous from following God is their love for self. This applies to everyone equally. That’s why the Lord demanded us to hate ourselves, saying that we can follow Him only if we deny even our self-love. Those who have not been born again, on the other hand, say that we should love ourselves, right? Of course, it’s true that we should love ourselves. But if we really want to love ourselves, then we should deny our flesh so that our souls would go to Heaven. The problem for many people, however, is that they love their flesh more than their souls, and so they don’t hesitate to forsake their own spirits for their flesh.
Once we are born again, we do need to hate our flesh when it comes to something that’s related with the Lord’s work. In other words, when we want to follow God, we ourselves must deny our self-love. Only when we deny the love that we have for ourselves can we follow the Lord. Because our carnal thoughts are constantly changing, unless we deny these thoughts of the flesh, we cannot follow the Lord. After all, how could we ever follow the Lord without even denying ourselves?
In return for saving us, the Lord has demanded from us something that’s tremendously difficult, for nothing could be harder than self-denial. Given how the righteous must deny their thoughts, deny what they like, and even deny their love for the self, we can see just how hard it is to live as righteous people. The Lord has remitted away our sins and promised to send us to Heaven in the future. Before we are welcomed to Heaven, while carrying on with our lives of faith on this earth, we still have to deny ourselves and suffer many things. If I were to preach the gospel in the beginners’ class at this discipleship training camp and also teach right away that one has to deny himself, then many of the participants there would probably return home without even being saved. That’s why the beginners’ class is taught separately from the advanced class.
To those who have come to meet the Lord for the first time, I try to stay away from food that’s too hard or fatty and instead I lead them to salvation by feeding them with bland food that they can digest. If they knew from the very beginning just how hard it was to live for the Lord once they were saved, who would want to be saved? You and I, on the other hand, have already become righteous and received the remission of our sins, so what can we do? Would you return your salvation? No, there is now no other way for us but to follow the Lord.
When we deny ourselves for the gospel, there is a reward for this making it more than worthwhile to deny ourselves. When the righteous deny themselves and follow the Lord, many worthwhile achievements are made. In other words, countless souls that are more precious than everything under the heavens are saved and grow in faith. The Kingdom of God is expanded and we ourselves come to live by trusting in God. God Himself takes care of and solves all our problems, helps us, blesses us, and leads us all. So just how many amazing blessings has God given us then? That’s why it’s all worthwhile for us to deny ourselves. If we would just deny ourselves, God would surely bestow us with commensurate rewards, therefore, it is more than worthwhile for us to deny ourselves.
We the righteous must be mindful of the following three requirements of denial: we must deny our weaknesses, our own righteousness, and our own love for the self. Once this is achieved, we will be more than able to follow the Lord. If, however, you try to deny your self-love without keeping God in your mind then you will have little success and you will only follow the religious way of life that fits your tastes. We can deny ourselves only if we are mindful of the work of the Lord. In fact, if we were not mindful of the work of the Lord, then there wouldn’t be anything that we have to deny either. It would be okay for us to just live in our own way, saying, “Well, that’s just who I am, and so I’ll just live in my own style.”
In contrast, when we are mindful of the Lord’s work, we are compelled to think, “I shouldn’t do this, otherwise the will of the Lord will not be fulfilled. God will be disappointed in me if I do this.” In other words, when we are mindful of the things of God and the work of the Lord, we come to deny ourselves, telling ourselves, “I shouldn’t be like this. Even though this is how I was born from the very beginning and who I am by nature, when I think about the gospel, I shouldn’t be like this.” It’s by thinking about the work of the Lord that we are able to deny ourselves.
Our Lord loves us all. We, too, love one another. However, to ensure that the will of the Lord is fulfilled, sometimes we are unable to express our love for each other and have to forsake our sympathy. That’s because the will of the Lord is fulfilled only if we do this. If we were to let our sympathy overtake us and end up tolerating what must clearly be dealt strictly, then often this will obstruct the will of the Lord from being fulfilled. Like this, because the will of our Lord must be fulfilled, sometimes we must deny our sympathy as well.
In other words, we must deny even our carnal love. This is very painful for the righteous. After all, how can any righteous person not like another righteous person? We have many unmarried brothers and sisters here with us; let’s assume that a certain brother really likes one of our sisters and is in love with her. Since this brother loves the sister, he would want to do many things for her. However, if this is not beneficial to the gospel, then he must even forsake his love. That is denying oneself. None other than this is denying one’s love when it does not accord with the will of the Lord.
The Lord spoke about actual occurrences that arose in everyday life. If the Word of God were not providing actual guidelines for our lives, but only hypothetical notions then there would be nothing more to be learned once we are saved. Just as denying ourselves is essential to reach our salvation, denying ourselves is also necessary to lead our lives of faith properly. A life of faith is all about following the Lord. Because faith is all about following the Lord, we must forsake our love for self and do whatever is necessary for one another in order to fulfill the will of the Lord in the Church. We need not deny ourselves if our individual work is concerned; but if the work of the Lord is concerned then we must deny ourselves for His will. It’s not because you don’t love yourself that you do so, but it’s to ensure the fulfillment of the will of the Lord that you do this. Even as your heart is in pain and you know this, it’s imperative that we realize this and understand it.
“Whoa, that man is so heartless! How can he be so mean? He is so self-absorbed and egotistical!” I know that this is how many of you think about the other saints or the ministry workers in the church. There also are certain troubling issues in your relationship with your fellow saints that make you disappointed and angry at each other, unable to understand one another. In times like this, you have to realize why God’s servants did what they did to you.
I am not different from anyone else as I serve the gospel; there are times when I am mindful of God’s work and there are also times when I am mindful of the work of man. My primary purpose in serving the Lord is spreading the gospel. However, when our work is focused exclusively on the spreading of the gospel, some individuals get very tired and weary. I know very well that as we continue to push our work in this way, some people would inevitably suffer in pain. But I believe that they, too, will be rejoiced in the end to see the work of the Lord fulfilled, for He dwells in their hearts as well. If it pleases the Lord, the Holy Spirit inside them is rejoiced even if they themselves are in pain.
For example, there are times when the Church makes pledge-offerings for world mission. Whom does the church then ask for pledge-offerings? It’s none other than the saints whom the church asks to pledge their contribution. So when the plan of the pledge offering is announced, some saints don’t like this since they have to offer to God what they had stashed away for themselves. To make pledge-offerings, we have to give up our prior plan to spend the money on something else. What hurts right away then? It’s our flesh that’s in pain.
If You Are More Mindful of Man Than God, You Can Never Serve Him
Because Peter loved Jesus too humanly, he came very close to making a disastrous blunder. Jesus is a spiriting being. It would be a great mistake to think of what He does only as a human affair. Like this, when we consider the work of God, we must think spiritually rather than in carnal terms. Whatever we do, we have to do everything for the work of God. This requirement is underscored by the passage that says, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful” (1 Corinthians 10:23). This means that even though everything is allowed for us, sometimes we have to deny our self-love for the sake of the gospel.
How, then, can we seek the interest of the gospel? I believe with all my heart that if you all care for the gospel, then God will use each and every one of you as His precious instrument and bless you all. Yet despite this, many righteous people do not have this faith in their hearts and cannot deny themselves and that’s precisely why they are suffering.
It’s because we love ourselves that we are unable to serve the Lord and follow Him. It’s because we love ourselves that we stumble so often. If, however, we really offer our entire lives to God, asking Him, “Lord, I want to live for You all my life. I want You to be responsible for my everything,” then the Lord cannot help but be responsible for our lives. Once we follow only the will of God entirely, saying to Him, “Lord, I want You to take care of my family and everything else,” then from that point on our work turns into God’s work.
You’ve probably seen some people who lunge themselves completely to the work of God, right? Such brothers and sisters, and such servants of God, are the most fearless people. That’s because the Lord then has to be responsible for them. On His part, He just can’t refuse to help them. When the Lord sees such people, He says, “Since they are following Me and trusting in Me, if they are ruined then I will be accused of not having helped them. I feel responsible for them. I must help them.” My fellow believers, I admonish you to let the Lord be responsible for you. It’s wise for you to make Him feel responsible for your life.
The Righteous Must Deny Their Carnal Thoughts First before Desiring to Receive God’s Precious Blessings in Their Lives
Once the righteous free themselves from their hearts’ desire to love themselves, and instead look toward God and learn to deny themselves by faith, from then on it’s quite easy for them to lead their lives of faith. They can walk with the Lord and live with Him anywhere, in good times and bad times, in blessings and hardships alike. We can all live like this if only we would deny ourselves. That is why it’s such a precious blessing to be able to deny ourselves. At the same it’s why it’s so hard to do this because when we deny ourselves God’s precious blessings are bestowed on us. It’s priceless precisely because it’s so hard to achieve.
Nevertheless, those who have received the remission of their sins and desire to follow the Lord must all deny themselves. Only someone who denies himself can follow the Lord. Anyone who does not deny himself will see his life of faith over. Do you grasp this? If you want to end your life of faith, then by all means don’t deny yourself.
If our hearts indeed have the desire to follow the Lord, then the Holy Spirit dwelling in our hearts will lead us to such desires even more. My fellow believers, listen and obey the voice of the Holy Spirit. And deny your heart’s desire to love yourself. Deny your weaknesses and your own righteousness. Deny your love for self. The Lord will then lead you. If we follow the Lord, He will surely solve all our problems and take care of them.
If we are together in the same boat with the Lord, then He will solve all our problems, for our problems will become the Lord’s problems, and His problems will become our problems. We will come to live in a blessed place with the Lord, serve Him in His arms happily forever, be blessed by Him, receive glory from Him, and attain precious blessings from Him, not suffering. In other words, our lives will be made precious by God. It’s not through our own strength that we find prosperity, but our prosperity comes from God’s blessings. Even though sometimes we face hardships because of the grace of God, it is because of His love that we have put on this love and it is because of God that all our lives are completed.
We must deny ourselves. Do you, our sisters, understand this? Since you all understand this so well, there is nothing more that I need to teach. Yet because you are prone to forget your lessons in little time, I still have to teach you again and again.
In this year, let us all love ourselves a little less and deny our ego and our own righteousness a bit more. Also in this year, let us deny our weaknesses as well and believe that God has saved us despite our weaknesses. Let us bring joy to the Lord’s heart embraced in His arms. It is my sincerest hope and prayer that we would all indeed please the Lord by denying ourselves. There is one reason why I have been able to follow the Lord in my life so far, last year and this year alike, and it is all because I have denied myself. It’s because of this single factor that I have been able to follow the Lord. And my self-denial did not come about through my own effort, but I could not help but deny myself for the work of God. Because the work of God is so precious, He loves people’s souls so much, has given them such amazing salvation, and because He has made them so happy, I could not help but deny myself since this work was so precious. I had no choice but to deny myself, and so I denied myself half by my own volition and half by force; that is how I have barely managed to live out my faith until now. God has helped me to reach where I am now. And I want the Lord to continue to help me in the days to come also.
Jesus said, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself.” What did He say next? He said, “Take up his cross, and follow Me.” That’s right. We each must take up our own cross—not just anyone else’s cross, but each of our cross. Following the Lord even in your trials is to take up your cross. How wonderful would it be if only good things were to happen to us once we were saved? How wonderful would it be if nothing bad ever happened to us but only good things or if we only had easy tasks to do with the Lord taking away all other difficult tasks? Wouldn’t it be great if we had no problem whatsoever?
Yet we have both our problems and our hardships. Because the Word of the Lord is the Truth, it is fulfilled exactly as it is. The Lord said to us, “I will remember your sins no more; I will blot them out as white as snow,” and He has indeed eradicated all our sins according to this promise. So we have become sinless by believing in the Word with our hearts, and since the Lord has commanded us to take up our cross and follow Him, we must each have a cross and bear it. The Lord’s Word is fulfilled exactly as it is, for it is the Truth. He has permitted all of us who are following Him to face individual problems. All of us must therefore take up each of our own cross.
I believe without any doubt that our Lord has saved me for sure. So it’s only a matter of fact for me to follow the Lord. But because I am still facing difficult problems for both myself and my family, these things can sometimes make me struggle. If I were to just follow the Lord without any trials, then I would have dashed in full sprint. While following the Lord, however, I have faced hardship not just for the sake of the Lord, but also because of my own private problems and I detested this so much. So I sometimes think to myself, “If it weren’t for this problem, I would be serving the Lord so well!”
Why then, do I face such problems? I wish I could ask the Lord why I must endure such trials and why there must be so much hardship in my family, at my work, and everything that’s related to me, when in fact I myself yearn so much to serve Him and follow Him faithfully. Yet despite this, the Lord says firmly, “Follow Me even in such trials.” This, my fellow believers, is the Lord’s commandment.
When the righteous follow the Lord not everything that happens is always good. Even when we find ourselves in trials, it is the will of God for us to still follow the Lord. If this is what God has set for us, then we have no choice but to follow the Lord even in our trials. It’s impossible to follow the Lord completely free from all of our difficulties without any hardship. Trying to do so only means that we don’t want to deny ourselves and would rather disobey the Word of the Lord. Even though it’s hard, if it’s the will of God for us to take up our cross and follow the Lord and if this is what the Lord has said to us, then we must deny our thoughts. Although it would be nice if there were no hardships for us, we must be determined to deny ourselves and follow the Lord even amid our difficult trials. Following the Lord like this is to live according to the will of God. Even when we are facing hardships, we must still deny ourselves, deny our thoughts, and follow the Lord. That is how we can live out our faith properly.
All the born-again people are facing many difficulties. It’s not the case that hardships are confined only to a few certain people. When looked at individually, each and every one of us is facing one type of hardship or another. We all have a cross for each to bear, do we not? Of course we do. Do the unmarried people have no cross, just because they are single now? No, everyone has a cross to bear.
If there is anyone who doesn’t have a cross now, he too, will soon have his own cross to bear. That’s because this is what the Word has said, and therefore those without a cross will inevitably come to have it. Even in such trials, however, we the righteous must never betray the Lord, nor reject the gospel, far less drift away from the Church, but follow the Lord always. If we really want to follow the Lord, we must deny ourselves.
Some of our fellow saints purchase expensive flowers and arrange them beside the pulpit every week. If floral arrangements are created just because someone likes this activity, then it’s a hobby for them. In contrast, if floral arrangements are done to serve the Lord, even though they don’t know how to do this well and have no interest in it at all, then it’s not just a hobby, but it’s something that they are doing to serve the Lord and follow Him. Whatever is done for the Lord even when it does not fit one’s preference, none other than this is to follow the Lord.
I got married after I met the Lord. In my private thoughts, I sometimes feel that there are many things that I can’t do because I am a married man, but I still feel very strongly that marriage is beneficial to the spreading of the gospel. Since our sisters have many issues that they find uncomfortable to discuss with me, they ask for my wife’s fellowship. Whatever they can’t discuss with me, they are able to discuss it with my wife. So I thought to myself, “Oh, so God has given me my wife so that I would work together, rather than serving Him by myself. I’m so glad that I got married.” As the Bible says that all things work together for the good of those who love God, that is exactly what has happened to me.
Following the Lord even amid hardships is what it really means to follow the Lord. If you are leading your life of faith in too much comfort only according to your own desires, without any need to break your own thoughts nor any need to deny yourself, then you should know that you are not living out your faith properly now. The right thing for you to do is to deny yourself, deny your self-love, deny your weaknesses, deny your righteousness, and follow the Lord by faith, believing that it is only proper for you to do so even in your difficult trials. We must focus our energy on denying ourselves. So let us deny ourselves. Let us keep training ourselves to deny ourselves even better. Exercise is indispensable for us. Even self-denial must also be exercised regularly. Starting from small things to big things, we have to train ourselves, otherwise if we all of a sudden find it necessary to deny ourselves one day, it will be very hard for us to do this.
If you find it impossible to deny yourself, then remain quiet in the church. You will then come to deny yourself. If you can’t submit yourself to this Word on your own individual strength, then stay still in the church. I feel somewhat sorry for saying this, but that is still true. If you stay quiet in the church, saying, “Do whatever you want to do to me,” then the Lord will speak to you, teach you, untie whatever knots that are in your heart, give you the ability to deny yourself, strengthen you, help you, and bless you. Our Lord will enable you to do everything.
Above all else, you must remember that the born-again must always deny themselves. I admonish you to follow the Lord by faith, remembering that self-denial is an indispensable part of your life of faith, and that it is only by denying yourself that you can follow the Lord. The Lord will then take care of everything else that remains. Even if we are unable, the Lord is capable of doing everything. Are you happy, my fellow believers? Are you happy even though you have so much to deny yourself? It’s my sincerest hope and prayer that you are all indeed happy to follow the Lord even in your trials. Let us then end our morning service with the praise, “I Am Truly Happy.”
Let us always deny ourselves for the rest of our lives.