The Self Life
By Andrew Murray
"If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me" (Matt. 16:24).
In the 13th verse of Matthew chapter 16 we read that Jesus at Caesarea Philippi asked His disciples, "Who do people say the Son of Man is?" When they had answered, He asked them, "But what about you? Who do you say I am?" In the 16th verse Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." To this Jesus replied, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by My Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of hell will not overcome it."
Then in verse 21 we read how Jesus began to tell His disciples of His approaching death; and in verse 22 how Peter began to rebuke Him: "‘Never, Lord!’ he said, ‘This shall never happen to You!’ Jesus turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.’ Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.’"
We often hear about the compromising life and the question comes: What lies at the root of it? What is the reason that so many Christians are wasting their lives in the terrible bondage of the world instead of living in the manifestation and the privilege and the glory of the child of God?
Another question perhaps comes to us: What can be the reason that when we see a thing is wrong and strive against it, we cannot conquer it? What can be the reason that we have a hundred times prayed and vowed, yet here we are still living a mingled, divided, halfhearted life?
To those two questions there is one answer: it is self that is the root of the whole trouble. Therefore, if any one asks me, "How can I get rid of this compromising life?" the answer would not be, "You must do this, or that, or the other thing." The answer would be, "A new life from above, the life of Christ, must take the place of the self-life. Then alone can we be conquerors."
We always go from the outward to the inward; let us do so here. Let us consider in this text the one word "self." Jesus said to Peter: "If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me."
That is a mark of the disciple. The secret of the Christian life is to deny self and all will become right. Peter was a believer, and a believer who had been taught by the Holy Spirit. He had given an answer that pleased Christ wonderfully: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." Do not think that was nothing extraordinary. We learn it in our catechisms; Peter did not. Christ saw that the Holy Spirit of the Father had been teaching him and said: "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah."
But note how strong the carnal man still is in Peter. Christ speaks of His Cross but Peter continues to think about the glory, "You are the Son of God." The Cross and death of Christ was not in his mind. He ventured on in his self-confidence to say, "Never, Lord! This shall never happen to You. You cannot be crucified and die."
For this Christ had to rebuke him: "Get behind Me, Satan. You are a stumbling block to Me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men." In other words, Peter was talking like a mere carnal man, and not as the Spirit of God would teach him.
Then Christ went on to say in effect, "Remember, it is not only I who am to die, but you also. If a man would be My disciple, he must deny self, and he must take up his cross and follow Me."
Let us dwell upon this one word, "self." It is only as we learn to know what self is that we really know what the root of all our failures is and are prepared to go to Christ for deliverance.
The Nature of the Self Life
Let us consider, first of all, the nature of this self life. Then we will take note of some of its works and ask the question: "How may we be delivered from it?"
Self is the power with which God has created and endowed every intelligent creature. Self is the very center of a created being.
Why did God give the angels or man a self? The object of this self was that we might bring it as an empty vessel unto God, that He might put into it His life. God gave me the power of self-determination, that I might bring this self to Him every day and say: "Oh, God, work in it; I offer it to You."
God wanted a vessel into which He might pour out His divine fullness of beauty, wisdom and power. He created the world, the sun, and the moon, and the stars, the trees, and the flowers, and the grass to show forth the riches of His wisdom, and beauty, and goodness. They do it without knowing what they do.
God created the angels with a self and a will, to see whether they would come and voluntarily yield themselves to Him as vessels for Him to fill. But alas! they did not all do that. There was one at the head of a great company who began to look at himself. He thought of the wonderful powers with which God had endowed him and began to delight in himself. He began to think: "Must such a being as I always remain dependent on God?"
He exalted himself, pride asserted itself in separation from God, and that very moment he became, instead of an angel in heaven, a devil in hell. Self turned to God is the glory of allowing the Creator to reveal Himself in us. Self turned away from God is the very darkness and fire of hell.
We all know the terrible story that then took place. God created man, and Satan came in the form of a serpent and tempted Eve with the thought of becoming as God, having an independent self, knowing good and evil. While he spoke with her, Satan breathed into her poisonous words and the very pride of hell. With this his own evil spirit, the very poison of hell, entered humanity. It is this cursed self that we have inherited from our first parents.
It was that self that ruined and brought destruction upon this world, and all that there has been of sin, darkness, wretchedness, and of misery. All that there will be throughout the countless ages of eternity in hell will be nothing but the reign of self, the curse of self, separating man and turning him away from his God. If we are to understand fully what Christ is to do for us, and are to become partakers of a full salvation, we must learn to know, and to hate, and to give up entirely this cursed self.
The Works of Self
Now what are the works of self? I might mention many, but let us take the simplest words that we are continually using – self-will, self-confidence and self-exaltation. Self-will and pleasing self is the great sin of man. It is the reason why there is much compromising with the world, which is the ruin of so many.
Men can not understand why they should not please themselves and do their own will. Many Christians have never gotten hold of the idea that a Christian is a man who never seeks his own will, but always seeks the will of God, a man in whom the very spirit of Christ lives. "Lo, I come to do Your will, oh, my God!" We find Christians pleasing themselves in a thousand ways, and yet trying to be happy, good and useful. They do not know that at the very root self-will is robbing them of the blessing. Christ said to Peter, "Peter, deny yourself." But instead of doing that, Peter said, "I will deny my Lord and not myself." He never said it in those words, but Christ did tell him the last night, "You shall deny Me," and he did it. What was the cause of this? Self-pleasing. He became afraid when the women servant charged him with belonging to Jesus. Three times he said, "I know not this man, I have nothing to do with Him." He denied Christ.
Just think of it! No wonder Peter wept those bitter tears. It was a choice between self, that ugly, cursed self, and that beautiful, blessed Son of God. And Peter chose self. No wonder that he thought: "Instead of denying myself, I have denied Jesus; what a choice I have made!" No wonder that he wept bitterly.
Christians, look at your own lives in the light of the words of Jesus. Do you find there self-will and self-pleasing? Remember this: every time you please yourself, you deny Jesus. It is one of the two. You must please Him only, and deny self, or you must please yourself and deny Him.
Then follows self-confidence, self-trust, self-effort, self-dependence. What was it that led Peter to deny Jesus? Christ had warned him; why did he not take warning? Self-confidence. He was so sure: "Lord, I love You. For three years I have followed You. I am ready to go to prison and to death." It was simply self-confidence.
People have often asked me, "Why do I fail? I desire so earnestly, and pray so fervently, to live in God’s will." And my answer generally is, "Simply because you trust yourself."
They usually answer me: "No, I do not; I know I am not good; and I know that God is willing to keep me. I am putting my trust in Jesus."
But I reply, "No, my brother, if you trust God and Jesus, you will not fall. You are trusting yourself." Do let us believe that the cause of every failure in the Christian life is nothing but this. I trust this cursed life, instead of trusting Jesus. I trust my own strength instead of the almighty strength of God. That is why Christ says, "This self must be denied."
Then there is self-exaltation, another form of the works of self. Ah, how much pride and jealousy there is in the Christian world. How much sensitiveness there is to what men say of us or think of us. How much desire of human praise and pleasing men there is instead of living in the presence of God with the thought: "Am I pleasing to Him?" Christ asked, "How can you believe if you accept praise from one another?" (John 5:44). Receiving praise from another makes a life of faith absolutely impossible. This self started from hell. It separated us from God and is a cursed deceiver that leads us astray from Jesus.
The Solemn Exchange
Now comes the third point. What are we to do to get rid of it? Jesus answers us in the words of our text: "If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me."
Note it well – I must deny myself and take Jesus Himself as my life – I must choose. There are two lives – the self life and the Christ life. I must choose one of the two. "Follow Me," says our Lord, "make Me the law of your existence, the rule of your conduct. Give Me your whole heart. Follow Me, and I will care for you."
Oh friends, the solemn exchange that is set before us is: Come and see the danger of this self with its pride and its wickedness, cast yourselves before the Son of God and say, "I deny my own life, I take Your life to be mine."
The reason why Christians continue to pray without result for the Christ life to enter into them is that the self life is not denied. You ask, "How can I get rid of this self life?"
You know the parable – the strong man kept his house until one stronger than he came in and cast him out. When the place was unoccupied, swept clean and put in order, he came back with seven other spirits worse than himself (Luke 11:21-26). It is only Christ Himself coming in that can cast out self and keep self out. This self wants to abide with us to the very end.
Remember the Apostle Paul. He had seen the heavenly vision, and, lest he should exalt himself, the thorn in the flesh was sent to humble him (2 Cor. 12:2-9). There was a tendency to exalt himself, which was natural, and it would have conquered him, but Christ delivered him from it by His faithful care for His loving servant. Jesus Christ is able, by His divine grace, to prevent the power of self from ever asserting itself or gaining the upper hand. Jesus Christ is willing to become the life of the soul. He is willing to teach us to follow Him and to have our heart and life set upon Him alone. He should ever and always be the light of our souls.
Then we come to what the Apostle Paul says: "Not I, but Christ lives in me" (Gal. 2:20). The two truths go together. First "Not I," then, "but Christ lives in me."
Look at Peter again. Christ said to him, "Deny yourself and follow Me." Where had he to follow? Jesus led him even though he failed. Where did He lead him? He led him on to Gethsemane, and there Peter failed. He slept when he ought to have been awake, watching and praying. He led him on toward Calvary, to the place where Peter denied Him. Was that Christ’s leading? Praise God, it was. The Holy Spirit had not yet come in His power. Peter was yet a carnal man. His spirit was willing but not able to conquer the sinful nature.
What did Christ do? He led Peter on until he was broken down in utter self-abasement and humbled in the depths of sorrow. Jesus led him on, past the grave, through the resurrection, up to Pentecost. Then the Holy Spirit came and in the Holy Spirit Christ came with His divine life. Then it was, "Christ lives in me."
There is but one way of being delivered from this life of self. We must follow Christ, set our hearts upon Him, listen to His teachings, give ourselves up every day that He may be all to us. By the power of Christ the denial of self will be a blessed, unceasing reality. Never for one hour do I expect the Christian to reach a stage at which he can say, "I have no self to deny." Never for one moment can we say, "I do not need to deny self."
No, this fellowship with the Cross of Christ will be an unceasing denial of self every hour and every moment by the grace of God. There is no place where there is full deliverance from the power of this sinful self. We are to be crucified with Christ Jesus. We are to live with Him as those who have been baptized into His death. Think of that! Christ had no sinful self, but He had a self and that self He actually gave up unto death. In Gethsemane He said, "Father, not My will." That unsinning self He gave up unto death that He might receive it again out of the grave from God, raised up and glorified. Can we expect to go to heaven in any other way than He went?
Beware! Remember that Christ descended into death and the grave, and it is in the death of self, following Jesus to the uttermost, that the deliverance and the life will come.
Humble Yourself Before the Lord
And now, what is the use that we are to make of this lesson of the Master?
The first lesson will be that we should take time to humble ourselves before God. Give thought to what this self is in us; put down to the account of the self every sin, every shortcoming, all failure, and all that has been dishonoring to God. Then say, "Lord, this is what I am." Then let us allow the blessed Jesus Christ to take entire control of our life, in the faith that His life can be ours.
Do not think it is an easy thing to get rid of self. At a consecration meeting, it is easy to make a vow, and to offer a prayer, and to perform an act of surrender, but as solemn as the death of Christ was on Calvary – His giving up of His unsinning self life to God – just as solemn must it be between us and our God – the giving up of self to death. The power of the death of Christ must come to work in us every day.
Oh, think what a contrast there is between that self-willed Peter and Jesus giving up His will to God! What contrast there was between that self-exaltation of Peter and the deep humility of the Lamb of God, meek and lowly in heart before God and man! What a contrast between that self-confidence of Peter and that deep dependence of Jesus upon the Father when He said: "I can do nothing of Myself."
We are called upon to live the life of Christ, and Christ comes to live His life in us, but one thing must first take place: we must learn to hate and deny self. As Peter said, when he denied Christ, "I have nothing to do with Him," so we must say, "I have nothing to do with self," so that Christ Jesus may be all in all.
Let us humble ourselves at the thought of what this self has done to us and how it has dishonored Jesus. Let us pray very fervently: "Lord, by Your light discover this self; we beseech You to reveal it to us. Open our eyes that we may see what it has done and the hindrance that it has been to keep us back." Let us pray that fervently and then let us wait upon God until we get away from all our religious exercises, religious experience and blessings, until we get close to God with this one prayer: "Lord God, self changed an archangel into a devil and self ruined my first parents. Self brought them out of Paradise into darkness and misery and self has been the ruin of my life and the cause of every failure. Oh, discover it to me."
Then comes the blessed exchange that a man is made willing and able to say: "Another will live the life for me." Nothing else will do. Deny self; take up the cross to die with Jesus; follow Him only. May He give us the grace to understand, to receive and to live the Christ life.
– Taken from The Master’s Indwelling by Andrew Murray.