Death to Self – The Importance of Self-Denial in the Christian Walk – Part 3

In the last couple of weeks we have discussed:
1.       How our hearts have been transformed to live a life of self-denial.
2.       How God energizes us through the Holy Spirit to live a life of self-denial.
3.       And our role of “Right Thinking” in living a life of self-denial.

Today we will see how to apply “right thinking”.
·  Specifically, we will see how “right thinking” can help us overcome the “tyranny of circumstances”.

Important reminder:
“Right Thinking” refers to our work at displacing our personal motives, will and desires with God’s motives, will and desires as found in His Word.

“Right Thinking” cannot be separated from:
1.       The work of God energizing our actions and desires.
2.       The call of God on our lives to live a life of self-denial.
3.       The application of all of this in a life that can properly love God and neighbor due to a life lived in self-denial.

So when we refer to “right thinking” we are referring to all of the above.


The factor that tends to thwart our work in sanctification more than any other “may well be described as the tyranny of circumstances” – Martyn Lloyd-Jones.

What is the Tyranny of Circumstances?
·  When our desires are jeopardized or railroaded by the daily circumstances of life.
·  Not only that, they impose upon us hardship instead of satisfaction.

So what is the problem?
·  All too often, when our efforts at loving God properly through a life of self-denial run head on into the tyranny of circumstances, we fail.

The failure can take the form of:
·  Robbing us of our Peace
·  Robbing us of our Joy
·  Robbing us of our Contentment
·  Robbing us of our Rest and Sleep

And the failure can be even more sinister:
·  With our peace, joy and contentment gone, we simply choose to sin.
·  We will address this more next week.
·  But, suffice it to say that failure breeds failure.

Jones says the tyranny of circumstances is one of the Christian’s biggest challenges:
·  It is easy to say you’re a Christian.
·  It is easy to say you’re a Christian who knows the Bible, believes it and lives by faith.
·  But it is not quite as easy to say your “faith [is] triumphant and victorious and maintaining you in a state of joy, when everything seems to have gone against you and well nigh driven you to despair” – Martyn Lloyd-Jones.

We are not alone – Examples from Scripture:
·  There are a number of examples from Scripture of the tyranny of circumstances.
·  I want to look at just a couple of them.

Example 1:
Mark 14:66–71 (ESV) — 66 And as Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came, 67 and seeing Peter warming himself, she looked at him and said, “You also were with the Nazarene, Jesus.” 68 But he denied it, saying, “I neither know nor understand what you mean.” And he went out into the gateway and the rooster crowed. 69 And the servant girl saw him and began again to say to the bystanders, “This man is one of them.” 70 But again he denied it. And after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, “Certainly you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.” 71 But he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know this man of whom you speak.

What was the tyranny of circumstance Peter faced?
·  His Messiah had just been betrayed by Judas, arrested and hauled off to an illicit trial.
·  Many of the other disciples had already scattered.
·  What I am I to do?
·  This was not how it was supposed to be.

What was his (initial) response?
·  Clearly, Peter was responding to the circumstance with a great deal of anxiety.
·  His first answer to the servant girl was to play dumb and lie – “I don’t understand you”.
·  And when pressed again, and no doubt feeding off of the anxiety of the moment, he took it a step further.
·  I do not know this man of whom you speak
·  I wonder if Peter slept peacefully that night?

Example 2:
2 Samuel 11:1–4 (ESV) — 1 In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab, and his servants with him, and all Israel. And they ravaged the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem. 2 It happened, late one afternoon, when David arose from his couch and was walking on the roof of the king’s house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful. 3 And David sent and inquired about the woman. And one said, “Is not this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?” 4 So David sent messengers and took her, and she came to him, and he lay with her. (Now she had been purifying herself from her uncleanness.) Then she returned to her house.

What is the tyranny of circumstance David faced?
·  The circumstance was not being where he should have been.
·  As a result, while most men were off fighting, he was at home.
o   The woman’s husband included.
·  Apparently bored out of his mind, he spent his time lounging on his couch and walking on the roof.
·  And this led to seeing a beautiful, presumably naked, woman taking a purification bath.

What was his response?
·  He saw this woman PLUS the circumstances as an opportunity to gratify his sexual desires.
·  So he used His servants to arrange a tryst.

Let’s compare Peter’s and David’s tyranny of circumstances.
·  How are they different?
o   David’s circumstance was self-inflicted.
o   Peter’s was happenstance.
·  How are they the same?
o   But in each circumstance they were both faced with a moment of choice.
o   And in each case the wrong choice was made.

Why was the wrong choice made?
·  At the moment of choice there was no self-denial.
·  They loved themselves more than God.
·  They choose to look out for their desires instead of God’s.
·  In other words, there was NO RIGHT THINKING.
·  2 Samuel 12:9 (ESV) — 9a Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight?

So in each of our examples we catch a glimpse of right thinking gone awry.
·  The tyranny of circumstances had exerted its power.
·  2 Samuel 12:13a (ESV) — 13a David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.
·  Mark 14:72 (ESV) — 72 And immediately the rooster crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had said to him, “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept.

But is this how it is supposed to be for the Christian?
·  Are circumstances supposed to have such power over us?
·  The answer is a resounding, “NO”.

Look at Paul and Silas beaten and in prison:
·  Acts 16:19, 22–23, 25 (ESV) — 19 But when her owners saw that their hope of gain was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the rulers. 22 The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates tore the garments off them and gave orders to beat them with rods. 23 And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, ordering the jailer to keep them safely. 25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them,

Look at Peter after Pentecost on trial at the Sanhedrin:
·  Acts 4:19–20 (ESV) — 19 But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, 20 for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.”

Look at Jesus hours before His crucifixion:
·  Luke 22:42 (ESV) — 42 saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.”

In fact, Paul explicitly teaches that we can be victorious over the tyranny of circumstances.
·  Philippians 4:11–13 (ESV) — 11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
·  2 Corinthians 9:8 (ESV) — 8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.

Content” here literally means a freedom “independent from external circumstances” – ESL.
·  And “sufficiency” is from the same root word.
·  So the contentment of which Paul speaks provides sufficient freedom or enough freedom that we are “not mastered or controlled” by circumstances – Martyn Lloyd-Jones.

So if victory over the tyranny of circumstances is to be found in contentment, how are we to find contentment?
·  The answer lies in, you guessed it, the “right thinking” we just defined.
·  Paul even says in our text above that he has “learned in whatever situation” (Phil. 4:11) to be content.

“Man’s mind may be likened to a garden, which may be intelligently cultivated or allowed to run wild” – James Allen, As a Man Thinketh (not a Christian).
·  To reject “right thinking” is to allow the tyranny of circumstances to run wild.
·  “Right Thinking” on the knowledge of the Lord is to “intelligently cultivate” – to learn.
·  Contentment is a fruit that God cultivates from our “right thinking”.

Why can God’s energizing and our “right thinking” bring contentment?
·  Because “right thinking” on the knowledge of the Lord teaches us something profound.

What is this profound thing we learn?
·  What we learn is that the right motivation for action comes from “right thinking”.
·  It does not come from our desires or feelings.
·  Prior to “right thinking” we simply assumed that because it seemed so natural to act on our desires that sanctification would work the same way.
·  In other words, if God wanted us to do it we would also desire it.

But “right thinking” turns this on its head.
·  This is why acting on “right thinking” seems so unnatural to us.
·  And why Timothy calls the sanctification process something for which we “toil and strive” (1 Tim. 4:10).
·  We no longer act because we desire it.
o   In fact, we often desire the complete opposite.
·  We act because God desires it.

As we mature and progress in our sanctification, our desires will gradually begin to come in line with “right thinking”.
·  Yet, it most certainly doesn’t start out this way.
·  This is simply the way God intended it to be.

Dallas Willard puts it like this:
·  “The new vision becomes an attachment and takes on an ever greater reality as we progress; and that, in turn, pushes the old attachments toward the exits of our lives – which we then are not sad to see go” – Dallas Willard.
o   Doing what we “feel like” doing is an “old attachment”.

So where does the contentment come from?
·  Living as just described brings complete satisfaction in God.
·  And this satisfaction is immune to the tyranny of circumstances.
·  This is contentment.

A Choice to Make – Live Passively or Actively:
·  So now that we know about the tyranny of circumstances we have a choice to make.
·  Michael Horton puts the choice like this – are you going to be “transformed by words” or be “consumers of experiences”?
·  I see it like this: we can choose to live passively or choose to live actively.

Choice 1 – Live Passively – Tyranny of Circumstances Reign:
·  Living passively is to respond to circumstances as they dictate.
·  It is to be “consumers of experience”.
·  It is to live under the illusion that our desires, not “right thinking”, are to be our impetus for action.
·  It is to simply acquiesce to the tyranny of circumstances and do what they tell us to do.
·  It is to allow thinking to “run wild” instead of “intelligently cultivate”.
·  It is to have no contentment.
·  It is to see a beautiful woman from your balcony and sleep with her.
·  It is to deny your relationship with Jesus to save your own hide.

Choice 2 – Live Actively – Right Thinking Reigns:
·  Living actively is to respond to circumstances as dictated by right thinking energized by God.
·  It is to be “transformed by words”; God’s words.
·  It is to live knowing that “right thinking”, not our desires, is to be our impetus for action.
·  It is to “intelligently cultivate” thinking and not let it “run wild”.
·  It is to be content no matter the circumstances.
·  It is, “Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done”.
·  It is, “we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard”.

Living actively is to talk to yourself from the wisdom of God's Word found in "right thinking".
·  It is then to act on this wisdom.
·  Once we fully grasp that "right thinking" is to lead us into action, and not our desires, we can find contentment.
·  We can find freedom from the tyranny of circumstances.
·  We can then look forward to and long for one of the greatest blessings we could ever hope to have - when our desires are replaced by God's and thus begin to come into agreement with our "right thinking".
·  This is truly putting on the new self.

It is my prayer that we all choose to Live Actively.
·  We must not forget that we have to decide to live this way at every moment of every day.
·  It is a toiling and a striving.
·  Sometimes we will succeed.
·  Sometimes we will fail.

And this leads me to our next section.
·  Failing itself can be devastating to our progress in self-denial.
·  We must learn how to fail correctly!
·  We will contend with this next week.