“If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me” (Matthew 16:24).
Let us dwell upon this one word, “self.” It is only as we learn to know what self is that we really know what is at the root of all our failure, and are prepared to go to Christ for deliverance. Let us consider, first of all, the nature of this self life, then denote some of its works and then ask the question: “How may we be delivered from it?”
Self is the power with which God has created and endowed every intelligent creature. Self is the very center of a created being. And why did God give the angels or man a self? The object of this self was that we might bring it as an empty vessel unto God; that He might put into it His life. God gave me the power of self-determination, that I might bring this self every day and say: “Oh, God, work in it; I offer it to thee.” God wanted a vessel into which He might pour out His divine fullness of beauty, wisdom and power; and so He created the world, the sun, and the moon, and the stars, the trees, and the flowers, and the grass, which all show forth the riches of His wisdom,and beauty, and goodness. But they do it without knowing what they do.Then God created the angels with a self and a will, to see whether they would come and voluntarily yield themselves to Him as vessels for Him to fill. But alas! they did not all do that. There was one at the head of a great company, and he began to look upon himself, and to think of the wonderful powers with which God had endowed him, and to delight in himself. He began to think: “Must such a being as I always remain dependent on God?” He exalted himself, pride asserted itself in separation from God, and that very moment he became, instead of an angel in Heaven, a devil in hell. Self turned to God is the glory of allowing the Creator to reveal Himself in us. Self turned away from God is the very darkness and fire of hell.
We all know the terrible story of what took place further; God created man, and Satan came in the form of a serpent and tempted Eve with the thought of becoming as God, having an independent self, knowing good and evil. And while he spoke with her, he breathed into her, in those words, the very poison and the very pride of hell. His own evil spirit,the very poison of hell, entered humanity, and it is this cursed self that we have inherited from our first parents (Gen. 3:1-24; Rom. 5:12). It was that self that ruined and brought destruction upon this world, and all that there has been of sin, and of darkness, and of wretchedness, and of misery; and all that there will be throughout the countless ages of eternity in hell, will be nothing but the reign of self, the curse of self,separating man and turning him away from his God. And if we are to understand fully what Christ is to do for us, and are to become partakers of a full salvation, we must learn to know, and to hate, and to give up entirely this cursed self.
Now what are the works of self? I might mention many, but let us take
the simplest words that we are continually using,–self-will, self-confidence, self-exaltation. Self-will, pleasing self, is the great sin of man, and it is at the root of all that compromising with the world which is the ruin of so many. Men cannot understand why they should not please themselves and do their own will. Numbers of Christians have never gotten hold of the idea that a Christian is a man who is never to seek his own will, but is always to seek the will of God, as a man in whom the very spirit of Christ lives. “Lo, I come to do Thy will, oh, my God!” (Heb. 10:7). We find Christians pleasing themselves in a thousand ways, and yet trying to be happy, and good, and useful; and they do not know that at the root of it all is self-will robbing them of the blessing. Christ said to Peter, “Peter, deny yourself.” But instead of doing that, Peter said, “I will deny my Lord and not myself.” He never said it in words, but Christ said to him in the last night, “Thou shalt deny Me,” and he did it. What was the cause of this? Self-pleasing. He became afraid when the woman servant charged him with belonging to Jesus, and three times said, “I know not this man, I have nothing to do with Him.” He denied Christ. Just think of it! No wonder Peter wept those bitter tears. It was a choice between self, that ugly,cursed self, and that beautiful, blessed Son of God; and Peter chose self. No wonder that he thought: “Instead of denying myself, I have denied Jesus; what a choice I have made!” No wonder that he wept bitterly.
Christians, look at your own lives in the light of the words of Jesus.
Do you find there self-will, self-pleasing? Remember this: every time you please yourself, you deny Jesus. It is one of the two. You must please Him only, and deny self, or you must please yourself and deny Him. Then follows self-confidence, self-trust, self-effort, self-dependence. What was it that led Peter to deny Jesus? Christ had warned him; why did he not take warning? Self-confidence. He was so sure: “Lord, I love Thee. For three years I have followed Thee. Lord, I deny that it ever can be. I am ready to go to prison and to death.” It was simply self-confidence. People have often asked me, “What is the reason I fail? I desire so earnestly, and pray so fervently, to live in God’s will.” And my answer generally is, “Simply because you trust yourself.” They answer me: “No, I do not; I know I am not good; and I know that God is willing to keep me, and I put my trust in Jesus.” But I reply, “No, my brother; no; if you trusted God and Jesus, you could not fall, but you trust yourself.” Do let us believe that the cause of every failure in the Christian life is nothing but this. I trust this cursed self, instead of trusting Jesus. I trust my own strength, instead of the almighty strength of God. And that is why Christ says, “This self must be denied.”
Then there is self-exaltation, another form of the works of self. Ah, how much pride and jealousy is there in the Christian world; how much sensitiveness to what men say of us or think of us; how much desire of human praise and pleasing men, instead of always living in the presence of God, with the one thought: “Am I pleasing to Him?” Christ said, “How can ye believe who receive honor one of another?” Receiving honor of one another renders a life of faith absolutely impossible. This self started from hell, it separated us from God, it is a cursed deceiver that leads us astray from Jesus.
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Andrew Murray, The Master’s Indwelling (1953). (Cross references and italics added)
 In this context the author is using self-life as a dynamic equivalent translation of the Greek word sarx, literally “flesh” as in Romans 7:18,25; 8:4,12,13. For a study on the four uses of “self” in the New Testament, see Grace Note “Sorting Your Self Out.“