23 And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.
The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001 (Lk 9:23-24). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
What does it mean to deny self? I wonder sometimes if we don’t misunderstand this concept. Is “self” a bad thing? Does God want there to not be a “self”? If so, why did he make a bunch of “selfs”? Before creation didn’t he already not have a bunch of “selfs”? Is the goal of Christianity for me to become a big nothing? I don’t think so.
The Greek word for “self” in this and similar passages is psuche. It is the word for “soul”. My soul is my mind, emotions, and will: what I think, feel, and want. Does God want me to stop thinking, feeling, and wanting? Is that what denying self means? Again, I don’t think so.
My soul is a gift from God. Intellect, affection, and desire are gifts. They are part of what make me a “me”. They comprise what it is for me to be a “self” at all. The issue is not that God wants to eliminate my mind, emotions, and will. My soul, however, was never designed to rule. My mind, emotions, and will were never designed to be in charge. My intellect, affections, and appetites are wonderful servants but horrible masters (That’s almost a direct quote from somebody. I just can’t remember who!).
To deny self is to refuse to be ruled by the soul. It is to lay down my life (psuche = soul). To deny self is to surrender, to yield my thoughts, feelings, and desires to the thoughts, feelings, and desires of another. We see Jesus laying down his self when he only did the things he saw the Father doing, when he only said the things he heard the Father saying. We see Jesus laying down his life in Gethsemene: not my will but yours.
Jesus came and laid down his soul so that I can lay mine down too. It’s really the only way to ever become the real me.