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Taking the Plunge: Living a Life of Self-Denial

Pastor Dominic Cardamone

In my last article (here), I wrote about the increase of Christ from John’s declaration in John 3:30, “He must increase.” But now let’s consider the rest of the verse. The second part of the verse says, “but I must decrease.”

I remember as a teenager going to a church camp in New Hampshire. On a few of the days, our group went to a swimming spot that had large rocks off of which we could jump. It was awesome! Two things stick out in my memory from that experience. First, the water was extremely cold. It made my lips turn purple/blue. But it was worth it considering the fun we were having and the reprieve it brought from the summer heat. Second, I remember a certain teenage boy that wanted to jump off of one of the high rocks into the water. He was being coaxed and encouraged by everyone to do it. He climbed to the top of the rock but only stood there for what seemed to be an eternity. He eventually climbed back down the rock and never got to experience the thrill of jumping off the rock into the ice-cold water. He was afraid to take the plunge.

Like that teenage boy, many Christians are afraid to take the plunge into a life of self-denial and consequently miss out on experiencing that increase of Christ in their lives and in the lives of those around them. Self-denial is what John was getting at in the second part of John 3:30. The increase of Christ is mutually exclusive to self-aggrandizement. Jesus taught that self-denial ought to be an earmark of a disciple. Consider the following passage:

Mark 8:34-35, "And when he had called the people unto him with his disciples also, he said unto them, Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it."

How did John come to this place of self-denial in his life?

Have a Proper Estimation of Self (I am less.)

John 3:27 indicates that John evaluated and assessed a proper estimation of himself. He saw the impossibilities of his own human nature when he said, “a man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven.” The ministry John and his disciples had was given to them from God. Their success and effectiveness were not because of them, but rather because of God working in and through them. We tend to think more highly of ourselves than we should. Paul encouraged the believer in Romans 12:3, “...not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think.” And we can see that Paul practiced what he preached when he made this statement in 1 Corinthians 15:9, “For I am the least of the apostles.” David got it too. When he considered the power of God that created the heavens (moon and stars), he was astounded that God would even be mindful of or visit man who is seemingly so insignificant compared to the Almighty (see Psalms 8:1-4). Read Daniel 4:28-37 and see how it took Nebuchadnezzar 7 years as a madman/beast to come to a proper estimation of self in comparison to the majesty of God. We must divest ourselves of pride. Jesus said in John 15:5, “...without me, ye can do nothing.”

Have a Passionate Esteem for the Savior (He is more.)

In John 3:31-ff, John begins to talk of how Christ is superior to all (especially him). Christ is superior in His nature (from above/heaven and is above all), superior in His witness (from heaven and has a first-hand knowledge to speak on the things of heaven), and He has a superior relationship with the Holy Spirit and the Father (He has the full measure of the Spirit and the love of the Father). This proper view of the Savior fueled John’s passion for Jesus and was also the catalyst to John’s self-denial. Essentially John was saying, “He is everything, and I am nothing.” Paul expressed a similar sentiment as well when he said in 1 Corinthians 15:10, “But by the grace of God I am what I am.” The wonderful, mighty grace of Jesus at work in our lives ought to humble us (because it is an incredible display of the power and love of God and we don’t deserve it) and ignite a passionate esteem for Him in our hearts.

Have a Practical Enactment of Surrender and Service

A life of self-denial is a spiritual posture we must assume. However, it is not only a bowing of the heart (proper estimation of self and passionate esteem for the Savior), but it is a bending of the knee (surrender and service). One is inward, the other is outward. If I am less and He is more, if I am nothing and He is everything, if it’s not about me and it’s all about Him, then it must be demonstrated in my life via an entire surrender to His will and in an obedient service to His way. We must say, “I will deny myself and serve the Savior.”

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