Have you ever wondered: Should I deny myself? Or should I accept and love mySELF?
It depends on which “self” is being referred to! If we don’t define and clarify the meanings of this term, we’re bound to end up confused. As a fellow once jokingly said to me, “B.I.K.!” I asked, “B.I.K.?” He replied, “Yea: ‘Boy, I’m Konfused’!”
We’ll be confused unless we can navigate a course that avoids pride and false humility, selfishness and self-rejection. Let’s clarify four different uses of “self” and trace out the implications for sanctification and mental/emotional health.
1. “Self” sometimes refers to the “old self” = the “old man.”
The “old man” is who you were in Adam prior to salvation. This old you has already died if you are in Christ. As Colossians 3:9 affirms,
“Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds” (emphasis added).
“Knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin” (Rom. 6:6).
The reason you don’t need to put your “old man” to death is that it already happened if/when you were put into Christ at salvation. In your spirit, you are a new creation in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17). Come to grips with what this means to you personally. Say good bye to the old you that was inherited from Adam (Rom. 6:10,11).
In other words, have a “funeral” for the old identity. As Oswald Chambers put it, “No one experiences complete sanctification without going through a “white funeral’–the burial of the old life. If there has never been this crucial moment of change through [reckoning] death, sanctification will never be more than an elusive dream. There must be a ‘white funeral,’ a death with only one resurrection–a resurrection into the life of Jesus Christ. Nothing can defeat a life like this. It has oneness with God for only one purpose–to be a witness for Him.” This leads us to another use of the word “self.”
2. “Self” sometimes refers to the residue of the “old man” (man’s mortal, soulish independence, depraved tendencies) = “the flesh.”
The flesh is in you, but is not essentially “you.” As Paul testified,
“For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I [my new spirit] will to do, I [when I walk independently] do not do; but the evil I [my new spirit] will not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I [my new spirit] will not to do, it is no longer I [my new spirit] who do it, but sin that dwells in me” (Rom. 7:18-20; Cf. Gal. 5:16).
This distinction does not absolve us responsibility; instead, it confirms the essential holiness of our new nature in Christ.
A similar reference to dealing with the flesh is mentioned by the apostle in 1 Corinthians 15:31. Alluding to his afflictions he declared, “I die daily.” This is a figurative use of “die.” In the face of the ongoing risk of martyrdom, Paul kept himself fully surrendered to God.
Another figurative use of “die/put to death” is found in Romans 8:12,13: “…put to death” the [immoral] deeds of the body…”
Therefore, deny your selfish independence.
“Then He [Christ Jesus] said to them all, ‘If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me’ ” (Luke 9:23, emphasis added).
So, continually surrender to God and trust in Christ to live His life through you (Gal. 2:20). This brings us to a final use of “self.”
3. “Self” sometimes refers to one’s personhood.
In this sense we have dignity and value because we have been created in God’s image. Genesis 1:26,27 records,
“Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”
To reject or deny one’s personhood is to malign God’s creation (Cf. Gen. 1:31; 9:6).
As a famous poet once said, “God don’t make junk.” That includes you!
God sustains the countless varieties of animals He created on planet Earth, yet Christ assures us that we are worth more than many sparrows (Matt. 10:29-31).
King David testified of the value of life from conception onward:
“For You formed my inward parts;
You covered me in my mother’s womb.
I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Marvelous are Your works,
And that my soul knows very well …
Your eyes saw my substance,
being yet unformed.
And in Your book they all were written,
The days fashioned for me,
When as yet there were none of them” (Psalm 139:13-16).
Is it, therefore, selfish to love ourselves? That depends. Scripture assumes that we care about our own well being. That’s why the second greatest commend is to “love your neighbor as yourself“(Matt. 22:39). Usually we don’t need to increase our self-interest.
On the other hand, many believers have subtly or overtly rejected themselves. This may take the form of wishing their “unchangeable features” were different. ‘I wish I were taller;” or “I wish I were shorter.” “I wish I was born into a different family or nationality…” Yet, God explicitly told the reluctant Moses that all unchangeable features are within the scope of His providential purpose (Exodus 4:10,11). Our basic physical traits, gender, race, parents, time in history, I.Q., etc. are all part of God’s good, wise plan (John 9:1,2).  However, we may not understand some of the “why’s” because God’s ways are higher than our ways (Isaiah 5:8,9).
Fellow believer, you also have dignity and value because of the price paid for your redemption. “Knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Peter 1:18,19).
4. “Self” may refer to the believer’s regenerated spirit–the new self.
We’ve save the best for last. When a person is redeemed through faith in Christ he/she is regenerated. This essentially relates to one’s human spirit being born again and made alive to God (John 3:3; Titus 3:6).
Colossians 3:10 declares that God’s children “have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him” (NASB). Similarly, in Ephesians 4:24 we are exhorted speak and behave in a way that corresponds to our new spiritual nature: “and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth” (NASB). Notice the past tense of the verb. At conversion, the believer has put off the old self (the “old man” identified in #1 above) and has put on the new self (literally “new man”). Through the miracle of salvation, we are united to Christ spiritually (1 Cor. 6:17) and are recreated at the core of our personhood. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new [spiritualy]” (2 Cor. 5:17).
When we appreciate how our essential self is united with Christ, made holy and blameless, we can lift our hearts in worship due to God’s marvelous grace. “If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died [the old man/old self], and your life [your new spiritual self] is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory” (Col. 3:1-4).
Therefore, have a “white funeral” for your old self and appropriate by faith your identification with Christ in His death, burial, resurrection, and ascension. Take up your cross daily, saying “no” to the old programming (the flesh) and “yes” to the indwelling Christ and the new divine nature of which you are a partaker. Accept your worth and dignity as a redeemed, made-in-God’s-image person. Give thanks for your new, positive, unshakeable spiritual identity. Abide in Christ as your ultimate resource for living.
“As I live submission to–and in union with–the Great I AM, I am blessed.”
Yes, you can sort yourSELF out!
 Oswald Chambers, My Utmost For His Highest, January 15 Discovery House Publishers, http://utmost.org/
 How to Gain Self Acceptance, published by http://www.IBLP.org
This study was prompted by a lecture by Mike Rule of Living Covenant Ministries. Thanks! http://www.livingcovenant.com
An audio edition of this teaching is online here: http://gfiworld.sermon.net/main/main/10549589
Copyright by John Woodward, revised 2016