The Lord Jesus said that, if we want to follow Him, we should deny the self; today we want to see what are some expressions of the self and how we can exercise the key of denying the self to lock up the self in every situation.
What is the self, and why do we need to deny the self? The origin of the self is Satan: he injected his thought into our mind, and now our mind is saturated with Satan’s mind, and whether we have good or bad thoughts and intentions, as long we are not setting our mind on the spirit, we open the gate of Hades in our self for Satan to come in.
Peter thought he’s expressing his good feeling for the Lord when he took Him aside and told Him not to go and be crucified, but what he actually did is allow Satan to speak through him to hinder God’s purpose being fulfilled. Therefore, the Lord Jesus clearly exposed the self saying, Get behind Me, Satan!
Wow, the Lord was strong; He didn’t sugar coat or try to explain to Peter some things: He identified the self being the embodiment of Satan, and He rebuked him.
The reason the church has not been built up very much for the past two thousand years is because the self is not denied but rather, it is exercised and expressed, thus opening the gates of Hades in the church for Satan to come in and operate.
The Lord doesn’t have regard for what we do: He rather appreciates more our dependence on Him than many works that we would do for Him. If we do many things for the Lord yet not one with Him but in our self, this damages the Body of Christ and draws the Lord’s rejection and even judgement.
Because the self is independent from God and from the Body, the self is the enemy number one of the Body; when we live in the self, we cannot be built up with the saints in the Body, and there’s much frustration and opposition to the Body in our being.
We need to exercise the key of denying the self by depending on the Lord in everything and by depending on the saints; we need to see our need of God and of the saints, and depend on the Lord and on the saints.
The Lord is the Head of the Body, and the saints are the many members of the Body; when we depend on the Lord, the result is that we also depend on the saints in the Body. However, if we are independent of the Body, we do not depend on the Lord. When we depend on the Lord and on the Body, the self is gone, and we have the Lord’s presence and peace with us.
Seeing some Expressions of the Self so that we may Know how to Deny the Self
The Bible is faithful in exposing the expressions of the self, and we do well to take heed to what the self is, what are its expressions, and what is the way for us to deal with the self. We may think we are alright and our self is not that bad, but according to the Bible and to our experience, the self is in opposition to the Body and the greatest frustration for the building up of the Body.
There are at least ten main expressions of the self that the Bible exposes:
1. With the self there is ambition, pride, and self-exaltation (see Matt. 20:20-28; 1 Pet. 5:5; Rom. 12:3; Num. 12:1-10; 16:1-3; Phil. 2:3-4).
John and James’ mother came to the Lord with the ambition that her sons would sit at His right and left hand in the kingdom; this is ambition, which the Lord exposed and dealt with by simply saying, Whoever wants to be first among you shall be your slave (Matt. 20:27).
Miriam (Moses’ sister) and Korah with other leading ones were also ambitious to be like Moses and lead God’s people, for, they said, God also speaks through them and not only through Moses (Num. 12 and 16); the result was God’s judgement on these ones.
We need to do nothing by way of selfish ambition nor by vainglory, but with lowliness of mind we should consider one another more excellent than ourselves, not regarding our own virtues but the virtues of others also (Phil. 2:3-4). Self-ambition, pride, and self-exaltation are expressions of the self.
2. With the self there are self-righteousness, self-justification, and exposing, criticizing, and condemning others.
The Pharisees were self-righteous and criticized the Lord Jesus for eating with the tax collectors and the sinners, but He told them, I did not come to call the righteous, but the sinners (Matt. 9:10-13). There are many who trust in themselves that they are righteous, while at the same time despising the rest; the Lord spoke the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector going to pray, in which the Pharisee was praising his self-righteousness while criticizing the tax collector next to him (Luke 18:9-14).
May the Lord save us from being self-righteous, and may we be those who love others and cover them, not criticize them (1 Pet. 4:8). May we not judge others so that we ourselves would not be judged (Luke 6:37), and may we not look at the splinter in others’ eye but rather deal with the beam in our own eye (Matt. 7:1-5).
May the Lord have mercy on us to expose any self-righteousness and self-justification in us, and may we be saved from exposing, criticizing, and condemning others.
3. With the self there is introspection and self-despising (see Song of Songs 2:8-9; 1 Cor. 12:15-16).
We may not be self-righteous or proud but rather we may be introspective, having a false humility, considering ourselves to be so unworthy of the Lord and of the Body that we may think we shouldn’t even be in the Body. Introspection is a sign of the self; analyzing ourselves and concluding we are so bad that we shouldn’t even be here – this is the self.
Also, despising our own function because it is not as great as others’ function – this is the self. May the Lord save us from introspection: may we look away to Him! May the Lord save us from self-despising: may we just function in our measure in the Body!
4. When we are in the self, we can be offended by the church, the leading ones, or the saints.
In the church life and in all the aspects of our life, we need to forgive others so that our heavenly Father would also forgive us (Matt. 6:14-15). We should forgive those who offend us or cause us trouble, and we should not hold it against them, or else we will also be under the Lord’s discipline (Matt. 18:21-35).
Especially when we pray, if we have any offense, we should forgive before the Lord, so that He may also forgive us (Mark 11:25-26). And if we have anything to complain against others because they offended us, just as the Lord forgave us, we should also forgive them (Col. 3:13).
If we live in the self, it is easy to be offended by the saints in the church life or by the leading ones. But when we are one with the Lord by setting our mind on the spirit, we cannot be offended.
5. With the self there is disappointment and discouragement. When we are in the spirit, we do not lose heart (2 Cor. 4:1) but we know that all things work together for good to those who love God (Rom. 8:28-29), but when we are in the self, we have expectations and we get disappointed and discouraged.
We may have certain expectations of things that should happen to us in the church life or in our Christian life, and these expectations are not met; therefore, the self gets disappointed and then discouraged. Our sense of disappointment and discouragement is a sign of living in the self.
We need to be one with the Lord who was never disappointed, no matter how much trouble those around Him gave Him, and no matter how much His disciples (and we also) failed Him.
6. With the self there are self-love, self-preservation, self-seeking, and self-pity. If we love ourselves, try to preserve ourselves from being dealt with by the Lord, and if we seek the things of the self, we live in the self and the result is that we pity ourselves whenever something happens to us.
We need to deal with the soil of our heart, eliminating the rocks in our heart such as hidden sins, personal desires, self-seeking, and self-pity, which hinder the Lord to take root deep down in our heart (Matt. 13:5 and footnote). If we don’t deal with the things in our heart, we will stumble and, when persecution or trial comes, we will fail.
7. With the self there are murmurings and reasonings (Exo. 16:1-9). Murmurings are of our emotions and reasonings are from our mind; both of these frustrate us from carrying out our salvation to the fullest extent and from experiencing Christ and enjoying Him to the uttermost.
In the church life and in our family life we need to do all things without murmurings and reasonings (Phil. 2:14). When we murmur or reason this is a sign of the self being expressed.
8. With the self there is natural affection (friendship) based on natural taste and preference. The Lord Jesus denied His natural affection for His mother and brothers (Matt. 12:46-50), and Paul encouraged us to be joined in soul, thinking the one thing (Phil. 2:2).
As members in the Body of Christ, we should not have any “special relationship” or particular affection for any other member, but we should care for one another with the same care in the Lord (1 Cor. 12:25). We shouldn’t love some saints more than the others because they are from our country, but we should be freed from the self and love all the saints with the same kind of love.
9. With the self there are the matters of being opinionated and dissenting. When the Lord Jesus came to Martha and Mary, after Lazarus had died, they were both filled with so many opinions (you should have come earlier….why open the tomb, he’s already dead for four days, etc) – see John 11; this frustrated the Lord very much.
A sign of being in the self is having an opinion about everything; when someone says or does something, we have to express our opinion – this is an expression of the self. When someone talks to us and we reply with, I agree with you, but…. – and we give our opinion, this is the self.
Being opinionated is an expression of the self, and it eventually causes us to be dissenting. May the Lord save us from being opinionated and dissenting!
10. When we are in the self, we are individualistic and independent (see 1 Cor. 16:12). No one is according to our standard, no one is as good (or as bad) as we are, and we can be built up with no one when we are in the self.
When we are in the self, we just want to be left alone, and we want to do things in ourselves, by ourselves, without being matched with others, because we know the best way to do it. When we live in the self, we are individualistic and we are independent.
May the Lord save us from being individualistic and independent – may we be corporate people, members in the Body who depend on the Lord and on the Body!
Lord Jesus, save us from the self with its many expressions. Keep us in our mingled spirit, setting our mind on the spirit and being one with You, so that we may be saved from ambition, pride, and self-exaltation. Save us from self-righteousness, self-justification, and exposing, criticizing, and condemning others. Save us from any introspection and self-despising; keep our eyes focused on You and not on ourselves. We want to forgive others and be saved from being offended. Keep us in spirit to be saved from disappointment and discouragement. Lord, may our living be without any murmurings and reasonings, and without any natural affection based on our taste and preference. Keep us depending on You and save us from any independence and individualism.
When we Deny the Self and Locked it up in Every Situation, the Church will be Built up
If we exercise the key of denying the self to thus lock up the self, it will be impossible for us to be offended; when we deny our self and set our mind on our spirit, we are not offended by others, because the Christ who lives in us is not offended (see Luke 23:34; Acts 7:60).
Blessed are those who are not offended! If we can be offended, this is a proof that we are full of self. But if the self is locked up, we will not be offended no matter how others treat us; if others are nice to us or mean to us, we will not be preferential or offended with them.
We need to learn to exercise the key of denying the self to lock up the self in every situation, so that the church as the Body of Christ may be built up. Whether a situation is for us or against us, whether the saints love us or not love us, we must deny the self and lock it up (2 Cor. 12:15).
Whether the saints receive us warmly or may not talk to us, whether the things happening to us are positive or not so positive, we need to deny the self and exercise our spirit to live Christ for the building up of the church as the Body of Christ.
If the self is locked up, the church will be built up. If unbelievers deny the self, there’s nothing left; but if we believers deny the self, Christ will live in us. Denying the self is not asceticism; asceticism is denying the self by the self, depriving ourselves from our privileges so that the more refined self would live.
When the Lord says that the self should be denied, He means that we should experience the crucified and resurrected Christ so that we may deny the self. How wonderful it is for us when we deny the self, for it is then that Christ lives in us for the building up of the church!
The way to enjoy Christ is to deny the self and repudiate our flesh and our entire fallen being. When we reject ourselves in this way, Christ will live in us, and whatever we do will be an experience of Christ.
We shouldn’t be afraid to exercise our spirit and say NO to our feelings, reject our opinions and thoughts, and deny our will to desire things; we should not be afraid to deny the self, because when we do, we will have Christ living in us. This is the genuine experience of Christ.
Lord Jesus, we want to exercise our spirit and cooperate with You to deny the self and lock it up so that the church as the Body of Christ may be built up. We want to learn to exercise the key of denying the self to lock up the self in every situation. Lord, keep us turning to You and setting our mind on our spirit. Save us from living in the self and expressing the self. May we learn to exercise the key of denying the self to lock up the self so that the gate of Hades would be locked and the church would be built up in spirit!
References and Hymns on this Topic
- Inspiration: the Word of God, my enjoyment in the ministry, the message by brother James L. for this week, and portions from, Collected Works of Witness Lee, 1978, vol. 1, “The Exercise of the Kingdom for the Building of the Church,” pp. 72-74, as quoted in the Holy Word for Morning Revival on, The Direction of the Lord’s Move (2016 Thanksgiving Conference), msg. 6 (week 6), To Bring In the Kingdom of God (2) – The Exercise of the Kingdom for the Building Up of the Church.
- Hymns on this topic:
# Exercise the spirit! / Soulish life deny; / Helping one another, / On the Lord rely. / Freed within the spirit / From self-righteousness, / From self-condemnation / And self-consciousness. / Freed within the spirit / From self-will and pride, / From self-love and glory, / All to override. (Hymns #866)
# Now my love for the brothers abounds more and more / By saying Amen to God’s Word. / And I’m being related as never before / By saying Amen to His Word. (Hymns #1219)
# Lord, teach us to discern the spirit / From soul that we Thyself may know; / Thou art the Spirit in our spirit, / In oneness mingled with us so. / Lord, teach us to discern the spirit, / The soul-life ever to deny, / And ever follow Thee in spirit, / Thyself, the Spirit, to apply. (Hymns #746)