What is the meaning of “denying yourself”?

I was in my car listening to the audio bible when I heard the words “deny yourselves” in Leviticus. It was God speaking to Moses. It is the same person who said “deny yourself and take up the cross”. The problem with many people is that they forget that Jesus was speaking to Jews in their mother tongue and in the context of their culture. As such to a Jew denying yourself is to rest on the Sabbath God provided.

We cannot take what is in the eastern culture and try to apply it in our western culture. This is why there is so much confusion in the church today. Paul in fact says that he has actually deny himself by dying to the law. He took up the cross by being crucified with Christ. He also has “followed Jesus”, when Christ now lives in him.

Most of the time when you hear someone speaks to you about “denying yourself”, they usually refer to the costs of discipleship and “carrying the cross”. Many preachers thus encourage us to live a life of suffering in their preaching. “Work! work! work!” so that God is pleased with you. “You should not have anymore ambitions, career and give up everything for Christ”, they say.

It is important to note that Jesus was speaking to Jews and in its context speaking about the Law. As such it is only right for us then to look at the law and see what “denying yourself” mean under the Law.

Leviticus 16:29
New International Version (NIV)
29 “This is to be a lasting ordinance for you: On the tenth day of the seventh month you must deny yourselves[a] and not do any work—whether native-born or a foreigner residing among you—

Numbers 29:7
New International Version (NIV)
The Day of Atonement
7 “‘On the tenth day of this seventh month hold a sacred assembly. You must deny yourselves[a] and do no work.

Leviticus 23:32
New International Version (NIV)
32 It is a day of sabbath rest for you, and you must deny yourselves. From the evening of the ninth day of the month until the following evening you are to observe your sabbath.”

Leviticus 23:27
New International Version (NIV)
27 “The tenth day of this seventh month is the Day of Atonement. Hold a sacred assembly and deny yourselves,[a] and present a food offering to the LORD.

Leviticus 16:31
New International Version (NIV)
31 It is a day of sabbath rest, and you must deny yourselves; it is a lasting ordinance.

It is clear here that the denial of self is related to resting on the sabbath. In the New Testament Sabbath is entering the rest Jesus purchased for us. In the book of Hebrews and in Chapter 4 we find that Sabbath is a person and he is Jesus.

It simply means resting from working.Yet why are we asked to work out our own salvation? It means to rest from your own righteousness and trust in the righteousness that comes from the cross. This is fulfilled in:

Galatians 2:19-21
New International Version (NIV)
19 “For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”

As such “denying yourself” in its Jewish context means resting in the righteousness of Jesus and denying yourself of the righteousness that comes from performance of the law.


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