Deny Him or Deny Himself
And He was saying to them all, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. (Luke 9:23)
And He said, "I say to you, Peter, the rooster will not crow today until you have denied three times that you know Me." (Luke 22:34)
In these verses the Greek word translated 'deny' is defined by Strong's this way.
aparneomai; to deny utterly, i.e. disown, abstain:--deny.
What motivated Peter to deny that he knew Jesus, that he was a disciple of Jesus?
It was fear: fear of what others would think about him, fear of what might happen to himself if he were too closely associated with Jesus when He was extremely unpopular and nearly everyone was intent on hurting Him.
In a sense Peter was actually telling the truth. He didn't really know Jesus very well at this point in his life. But to deny that he was even a disciple of Jesus was an outright lie and an act of cowardice motivated by natural desire for self-preservation. But this event was also the means whereby God was able to finally expose to Peter and to everyone else how shallow Peter's acquaintance was with the real truth about Jesus. Peter finally came to see his own weakness that had been hidden from him in his dullness of heart. His self-confidence, assertiveness and pride rooted in comparing himself to others rather than to Jesus set him up for this moment and kept him in the dark about his true condition.
What does it mean to deny one's self and take up a cross daily or to die daily as Paul puts it?
It would be to do the very same thing that Peter did only in the opposite direction.
Peter denied that he knew Jesus or was even his follower when fear of what others might think or do to him overwhelmed his loyalty to Jesus. He was looking out for his own skin when it was clear that Jesus was losing His. Fear is always about how we are going to feel.
The opposite of this would be to deny that we know ourselves for fear that God's reputation might be harmed because of our profession of knowing Him. This is the true fear of the Lord; fear that we will damage His reputation in attempts to protect our own.
This is all about our choices as to what we are going to believe about our identity.
Our natural heart and the world around us insist that our true identity is revealed by and based upon our mistakes or achievements, our weaknesses or strengths, our failures and sins or our sterling reputation. The world is keen to make sure that we don't become too much different than everyone else, that we don't make others uncomfortable like Jesus did, that we maintain our pride and selfishness so we fit the world's mold. There is constant pressure both within and without to believe in our identity as sinners that are always trapped in the slavery of sin in our lives to at least some degree. Or we are pressured in some circles to believe we have to work very hard and perfecting our behavior and conform to the laws of God in order to become righteous enough to be accepted in His sight.
On the other hand, God declares that He views us as friends. He says that His word and thoughts about us are only good and that from His perspective we are His special children. And while He is totally aware of our sinful condition, rebellion and helplessness apart from Him, we are forgiven, are loved, are valued and cherished by the greatest and most powerful Being in the universe. But it is up to us as to whether we will believe His thoughts about us and embrace the relationship of mutual 'knowing' that He desires for us to experience with Him.
Peter had lived his whole life from the perspective of religion and the world's concepts about identity. He saw improvements in his life from hanging around Jesus for several years and he was quite confident that his loyalty to Jesus was strong – stronger than anyone else's in fact. He was even willing to go to battle with anyone challenging that assumption. But at the same time he was unwilling to humble himself with Jesus and listen carefully and seriously to what Jesus had been trying to point out to him during those years about his own self-dependence and pride.
Yet despite all of Peter's weaknesses Jesus still maintained that His own view and opinion of Peter was more reliable than Peter's view of himself. This is why He told Peter even before his denial of Jesus that after this experience they would in essence still be good friends. Jesus had no less affection or belief in Peter after his public disgrace than before and He made sure Peter heard that ahead of time. He wanted Peter to have something to remember from Jesus, that Jesus was a more reliable evaluator of his identity that Peter was about himself. When Peter would be converted by renouncing his dependence on his own opinions about himself and turn to rely wholly on Jesus' opinions about him, then he would be fitted to nurture and strengthen others who would struggle with similar problems.
To deny myself is to renounce my own opinion about my identity and embrace God's opinion about my true identity. This includes renouncing my own preconceived assumptions and feelings about God's identity in favor of His own declarations about His true identity and feelings towards me. In short, it is allowing God to be the source of defining reality, value and identity on both sides rather than depending on my perspective and my deeply ingrained opinions, emotions and beliefs. I must die to my ideas about reality, religion, God and myself and come alive by allowing His Spirit to dwell in me.
This is a true saying: If we undergo death with him, then will we be living with him: If we go on to the end, then we will be ruling with him: if we say we have no knowledge of him, then he will say he has no knowledge of us: If we are without faith, still he keeps faith, for he will never be untrue to himself. (2 Timothy 2:11-13 BBE)
In this verse the original word translated 'deny' is a little different than in the previous verses quoted.
arneomai; to contradict, i.e. disavow, reject, abnegate:--deny, refuse.
I affirm, brethren, by the boasting in you which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily.... Do not be deceived: "Bad company corrupts good morals." Become sober-minded as you ought, and stop sinning; for some have no knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame. (1 Corinthians 15:31, 33-34)
Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!' (Matthew 7:21-23 NKJV)
Later the other virgins also came, saying, 'Lord, lord, open up for us.' But he answered, 'Truly I say to you, I do not know you.' (Matthew 25:11-12)
This is much deeper than simply a profession of faith in God. Peter tried that for years and discovered in a crunch that it was far too weak to stand up to outside pressures. The kind of 'knowing' that is needed to transform us into powerful witnesses and intimate friends of Jesus who will be safe to live with Him for eternity is one that requires deep humility, transparent honesty, vulnerability in His presence and trusting in His words about us and about Him rather than our own perceptions. But this intimacy and trust in Him also embraces His declarations about our true identity 'in Christ' that is emerging into the open as we spend more and more time listening to His beliefs about us.
Knowing God and Him knowing me shifts my priority from self-preservation to preservation of His reputation above mine. “Your will be done, not mine.” I come to the place where I would rather be persecuted and even die rather than have God's reputation damaged or ruined because of my words, spirit or actions.
But at the same time I become keenly aware that in myself it is impossible to maintain my loyalty to him just as Peter found out the hard way. Only by humbling myself, listening to the warnings of Jesus who knows me far better than I will ever know myself, and allowing His Spirit to dwell in me and live His life from inside of me will I be empowered to represent Him effectively and vindicate His reputation before unbelievers all around me.
To deny myself is to renounce my depairing feelings about the possibility of me changing and becoming like Jesus.
To deny myself is to defer to what Jesus says and thinks about me in every respect rather than allowing my history, my failures or even my achievements to define my identity and value.
To deny myself is to embrace Him and His opinions about my true identity, value and place in creation.
To deny Him is to give preference to what feels normal inside, to continue to believe that I am a product of my past and that even God cannot change me enough to make me perfect and complete in character and lifestyle. Or on the other hand it may be to think that with help from God I can someday achieve perfection if I just work at it hard enough. Both of these options are in reality a denial of what God says about the reality of my life.
Denying myself and dying to my ideas, perceptions and feelings is only the beginning though. I must also follow Him and become intimately acquainted with Him so that we both can come to say that we truly know each other. This 'knowing' is a transformative experience that will restore me from the inside to my original design as a child of God, a prince in the family of the King of the universe, an ambassador for heaven to a world desperate for a fresh revelation of the true God who is ready and eager to save all who will respond to His invitation. Jesus, do this in my life today!