Death to Self – The Importance of Self-Denial in the Christian Walk – Part 4

Where we have been:
A few weeks ago we learned that to love God is to:
·  “Hate and despise all that does not serve God nor come from Him, to break with all other ties, to cut away all that hinders, to snap all bonds except that which binds to God alone”.
·  It is “total commitment and total trust” to His Lordship and purpose – TDNT.

We learned that to have any shot at loving God this way our hearts needed changing.
·  The will and desires of our heart need realigning.

We learned that this can only happen with a life lived in self-denial.
·  Self-denial is to “lose” our life and “hate” our life in comparison to our love for God.
·  It is the killing off of our passions and desires.
·  And replacing them with God’s will and desires as found in His commandments – His Word.
o   thus the importance of commandment keeping
·  And it is foundational to the Christian walk; to loving God properly; to having God’s best for us.

We learned that both God and us have a role to play in this sanctification process.
·  God is working in us; energizing our hearts to desire and act according to His will.
·  Our work is to put on the new self – mainly by renewing our minds in the knowledge of God.
·  We called this “right thinking” – knowing God’s interpretation of the facts.
·  “Right Thinking” shows us what God’s motives, will and desires are – the very things we need to know to displace our motives, will and desires.

Dallas Willard put our work like this:
·  It is necessary, “to assert boldly and often that becoming Christ-like never occurs without intense and well-informed action on our part. In our fallen world this life is prepossessed by evil, so that we do not have to think to do what is wrong, but must think and plan and practice--and receive grace--if we are to succeed in doing what is right – Dallas Willard, “The Human Body and Spiritual Growth”.
·  In other words, “wrong thinking” comes naturally and “right thinking” has to be a deliberate choice.
·  And importantly, our “right thinking” leads us to be better receivers of grace!

Finally, last week we learned the danger of the “tyranny of circumstances” to a life lived in self-denial.
·  And how “right thinking” and God’s working in us can overcome the “tyranny of circumstances”.
·  And fundamental to this overcoming was realizing that our “Christian faith has less to do with [acting on] what you feel than [acting on] what you know” – Michael Horton.

Today we come to the issue of failure and sin.
·  For the Christian life of self-denial to have success, we must learn how to fail correctly.
·  But first we have to see what it is to fail incorrectly.


The Christian life is to be one of progressing and growing in Christ-likeness.
·  not my will but thy will be done
·  However, it is simply a cold, hard fact that the Christian life involves failure.
·  We saw this last week with David and Peter.

And failure for the Christian is especially acute because of our relationship with God.
·  Failure is sin; to be outside of the will of God; to reject His best for us; to love self more than Him.
·  It involves the pain of both:
o   Guilty knowledge before God – “fallen short of the glory of God
o   Guilty feelings before God – shame

The O.T. captures our guilty knowledge especially well.
·  Genesis 4:10 (ESV) — 10 And the Lord said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground.
·  Psalm 51:14a (ESV) — 14 Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, O God of my salvation.
·  Isaiah 59:2 (ESV) — 2 but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.

Ground Zero:
This guilty knowledge and the shame it brings are ground zero for learning to fail correctly.
·  At the moment these come upon us we are ripe for disaster.
·  This is because acting on “right thinking” becomes very difficult.

At these moments it is so easy to:
·  Fall deeper into sin.
·  Choose what we feel like instead of what God would want.
·  Be dissatisfied with our Christian walk.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.
·  We need to learn to fail correctly.

And failing correctly is about making the right choice:
1.       We can make our failure about us – the wrong choice.
2.       We can make our failure about Jesus – the right choice.

And the choice centers around what we do with the debt our sin and guilt has incurred.
·  A “debt that must somehow be paid” – J. Budziszewski.
·  The problem is that, “the miserable Christian, is wrong in his ideas as to how this rightness with God is to be obtained” – Martyn Lloyd-Jones.

The Wrong Choice – Making Our Failure about Us:
·  It seems to me that there are at least three things involved.
·  And they all stem from “wrong thinking” about how to pay the debt we incurred.

1) We wrongly assume that we can do something to make payment on this debt; to put things aright  – Budziszewski.
·  This is called false atonement.

The prophet Micah rhetorically speaks of false atonement this way:
·  Micah 6:6–7 (ESV) — 6 “With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? 7 Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”

 Except, instead of offering “calves”, “rivers of oil”, “thousands of rams” or “my firstborn” for our transgressions, we offer to punish ourselves with our own guilt and shame.
·  “Sometimes we think that if we punish ourselves with guilt long enough, after a while, it will be okay to face God” – Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry.
·  And since the guilt and shame we use to punish ourselves is found in sin, we must either continue in the offending sin, or seek out other sin.
·  And this leads us directly to the second thing.

2) Because false atonement doesn’t actually atone, it leads to a cycle of failure.
·  We get stuck on a “treadmill—the futility of the calves, the rams, and the rivers of oil, of the ‘fruit of my body for the sin of my soul’” – J. Budziszewski.

The O.T. graphically depicts this principal for us:
·  Hosea 4:2 (ESV) — 2 there is swearing, lying, murder, stealing, and committing adultery; they break all bounds, and bloodshed follows bloodshed.
·  Hosea 5:2 (ESV) — 2 And the revolters have gone deep into slaughter, but I will discipline all of them.

3) Finally, as a result, we become alienated from Jesus and the Gospel.
·  We feel as if we become what Lamentations calls “fugitives and wanderers” from the power of our faith.
·  Lamentations 4:14–15 (ESV) — 14 They wandered, blind, through the streets; they were so defiled with blood that no one was able to touch their garments. 15 “Away! Unclean!” people cried at them. “Away! Away! Do not touch!” So they became fugitives and wanderers; people said among the nations, “They shall stay with us no longer.”
·  Our Christian walk becomes too often a walk of dissatisfaction.

But it gets worse, because when we make failure about us, there are unintended consequences.

Unintended Consequences of Failing Incorrectly:
1) Our efforts at false atonement neglect the power of Christ’s atonement.
·  Our guilt and the punishment and payment it requires has already been covered and paid by Christ.
·  To think we have any contribution to make is to discount the reality of the Gospel.
·  There is nothing we can do to make payment against our debt.

2) Our continued efforts at false atonement neglect the “once for all” atonement of Christ.
·  Hebrews 7:27 (ESV) — 27 He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself.

3) Our continued efforts at false atonement mistakenly connect our sins to our identity (Timothy Keller).
·  1 Corinthians 4:3–4 (ESV) — 3 But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. 4 For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me.
·  We are not who we think we are; we are not who we feel we are; we are not who others say we are.
·  We are who Christ says we are.
·  To make our sins about us is to completely misunderstand our identity in Christ.

So when we fail incorrectly we make wrong choices using wrong thinking.
·  In God’s grace, we have both guilty knowledge and usually guilty feelings.
·  As Christians, we even rightly understand that a debt has been incurred.
·  However, we too often make our sin and failure all about us.
o   Selfishly thinking we can do something to pay down the debt.
·  We think that to become worthy before God we need to punish ourselves.
·  We punish ourselves with more guilt, which of course comes from more sin.
·  We become alienated, “fugitives and wanderers”, from the Gospel and the freedom it can provide.
·  We neglect Christ’s “once for all” atonement.
·  We become dissatisfied in our Christian walk.
o   Something that nags at us continuously.
·  And this whole process of failure demonstrates that we find our identity in our sin and ourselves.

It doesn’t have to be this way!
·  We need to learn to fail correctly.
·  We need to reacquaint ourselves with the power of the Gospel.
·  We will get to that next week.