This is the word of the Lord,

Matthew 16:24–28 ESV

24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.
25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?
27 For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.
28 Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

The dawn of every new year presents me with an opportunity to cast a vision for the church based upon what I believe the Lord is leading us to. And this year is no exception. Today’s sermon sets the stage for that vision.

The subject of this sermon is one of the most important things you will ever hear in your life.

Have you ever pondered on the question, “What is the most important aspect or the principle purpose of the Christian faith?” No doubt some of you will tell me it is to glorify God. And you would be right, but how do we glorify God primarily? Is it through obedience? Is it through Christian fellowship? Is it through worship and singing? How do we most primarily and effectively glorify God?

The Westminster Shorter Catechism that we read every Sunday, started with this first question, “What is the chief end of man?” What is man’s primary purpose?

• And the answer, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”
What is the chief end, the most important aspect of the Christian faith? Glorifying God through your enjoyment of him.

• John Piper argues that the Westminster divines were intentional when the used the singular word ‘end’ instead of ‘ends’. The chief end (not ends) of man is both to glorify God and to enjoy him forever. These are not two separate ends but the same. In other words, our primary purpose in life is to glorify God by enjoying him forever.

Your love for God, your delighting in Him, in his excellencies, his power and might, his holy beatitudes; your pleasure in having him is the chief experience of being Christian. You are mine Lord and I am yours.

This is the subject of this sermon. I want to talk about your love for God. And I want to question it, to have you put it to the test.

It is also true that the biggest problem in the evangelical world is a misunderstanding of this truth. Beloved, there is something more dangerous to the Christian than persecution, than wolves who come in sheep’s clothing, than money, than doubt, than uncertainty.

The most dangerous thing to the Christian is false assurance. In their commitment to love God, if they do not love him as they should, as the born-again does, then they may not be saved and are falsely assured that they are Christian.

Matthew 7:21 ESV

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.

You cannot manufacture this love by effort, you cannot fake it, you cannot rationally put it into effect, you cannot induce it through penance of self-induced suffering. This love is the result of true faith that is given to the Christian as a gift upon his conversion.

You can love God only if the Father reveals the glory of his Son to you, not by flesh and blood. So many Christians are ‘flesh and blood’ Christians, and maybe even some of you here, and you have come here because you believe in Jesus and have set your love on him by your own effort, a work of flesh and blood, and I’m here to tell you it won’t last.

If there be any among you who at the end of this sermon recognise that you haven’t loved the Lord with the sincere devotion that rises from true conversion and faith, turn away from your vain efforts and call upon God who is able to fill you with the Spirit of revelation and the knowledge of Christ.

Turn away from your efforts at trying to be Christian, and cleave to Jesus with tears and repentance. Let the revelation of the Father be the source of your faith and love for God.


Matthew 16:24 ESV

24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.

• This paragraph immediately follows Jesus’ rebuke of Peter who was setting his mind on the things of man and not on the things of God when he tried to correct Jesus for saying that he was going to die at the hands of the Jews.

Matthew 16:22 ESV

22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.”

After this remark, Jesus rebukes Peter, and then Matthew accounts for us this portion we have before us today. In context, this is Jesus saying, “Not only will I take up the cross, but so will you, Peter, and all of you who are my disciples”.

Which means that the fundamental counsel here is that we not set our minds on the things of man, but on the things of God.

If anyone would come after me – That is a direct call to salvation. If you desire to commit to Jesus as your Lord and Saviour, if the regenerative power of the Holy Spirit has convicted you to believe in the Son of God, if you would thus come after Jesus, then…

Let him deny himself – Here we have that most notable phrase in the Bible – deny yourself.

No doubt that all of you have heard many sermons on this phrase and have meditated on it yourself. So, there is no reason for me to believe that what I have to say will be new information to any of you.

Nevertheless, let us ponder on it together all the same. What does it mean to deny ourselves?

• The word ‘deny’ is a strong word in the Greek which means to utterly disown or repudiate.

How do we utterly disown ourselves? This presents us with a philosophical problem, an existential problem. If I deny myself from doing what I want to do, then I ought to deny myself from denying myself because that is what I want.

So, you see, the denial of the self is a nonsensical notion in any circumstance except one. When Buddhists try to distance themselves from desire and pleasure as a way to deny themselves, they fail to realise that they do so by a desire and pleasure to deny themselves.

Paul dealt with people like that in Acts 17, who considered themselves stoics (belonging to the school of stoicism, an ancient Greek Philosophy) that embraced knowledge and rejected pleasures of any kind. The failure of all these philosophies is that pleasure or desire can never be detached from the human intent because we do not do anything without a desire to do it. We were created that way.

So, in effect, by denying ourselves, what we can do is deny certain pleasures for the sake of other pleasures. We do this quite often for things we like to call ‘delayed gratification’.

• However, Jesus doesn’t just say ‘deny some of your pleasures’, he said, ‘deny yourself’. Which is the sum of all that is the person, the self. You need to abandon the self if you are to follow me.

“But Jesus, how can I follow you if I must abandon the self ?” Isn’t it contradictory statement? Yes, the denial of the self is a nonsensical notion in any circumstance except one.

In the circumstance of the regenerated heart of the Christian. We can step away from ‘flesh and blood’ because something else has awakened in us, the power of the revelation of God.

Ephesians 2:4–5 ESV

4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,
5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—

1 Peter 3:18 ESV

18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit,

The conversion experience of the Christian is a detachment from the flesh and an attachment to life in the spirit. John 3:6

John 3:6 ESV

6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.

There wages a war in the Christian soul that does not exist in any other human being. Galatians 5:17

Galatians 5:17 ESV

17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.

Romans 7:21–23 ESV

21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand.
22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being,
23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.

There is a war raging in the Christian life between the flesh and spirit, one self desiring the world and the other desiring God. To set our minds on the things of the flesh is to set our minds on the things of man. And to set our minds on the things of the spirit is to set our minds on the things of God.

Romans 8:5–8 ESV

5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.
6 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.
7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.
8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

John Piper calls this the Christian Schizophrenia, a conflict of two identities in each Christian person, between the identity of the flesh and that of the spirit.

Therefore, Jesus is not saying that we must deny pleasure altogether for that would be a contradiction to reality, but rather he is saying that we must deny all those pleasures of the flesh, for the greater pleasures of the spirit.

• This denial of the self is our volitional effort. It is not an automatic effect on the Christian, but one that we are commanded to do. It is a biblical imperative.

However, this denial of pleasure is an act of pleasure. There is not one of us here who if asked the question, “Do you love Jesus?”, would say, “No”. Is there?

Jonathan Edwards extolled the virtue of what he called ‘disinterested love’. Here are two quotes from Edwards,

There is no other love so much above the selfish principle as Christian love is; no love that is so free and disinterested, and in the exercise of which God is so loved for himself and his own sake.

I must leave it to everyone to judge for himself . . . concerning mankind, how little there is of this disinterested love to God, this pure divine affection, in the world.

The Christian ‘love’, according to Edwards is a ‘disinterested love’, meaning that this love is not a love that delights in God because of what God can give us or benefit us, but a love that delights in God ‘for himself and his own sake’, for his own greatness and his beauty.

Do you love God because of what he does for you, or do you love him because of who he is?

pick up his cross and follow me – The imperative for self-denial is immediately followed by an imperative pick up the cross and follow Jesus.

• There is no following Jesus if any desires to come after him, without picking up the cross. For the self that is being denied (the flesh), this is unthinkable. It is sorrow and loss. It is pain and suffering.

To pick up the cross and follow Jesus is to be willing to suffer the shame and horrors of being one with Jesus, even if it cost us our lives. There is none who follow Jesus truly who does not pick up his cross.

• Each one picks up his own cross. God has sovereignly apportioned for each the trial and tribulations of being Christian. Whatever that be, we are called to carry our crosses.

An unbelieving husband, a rebellious child, or an infectious disease is not taking up the cross that Jesus is referring to here. For those trials are for all men whether Christian or not. Instead, taking up the cross is to be willing to pay any price for the sake of the glory of Christ.

Matthew 16:25–26 ESV

25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?

Michael Teddy Fernandez

Author Michael Teddy Fernandez

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