This article is part of Sister Michelle Watson’s deep dive into the concept of “deny yourself” (Mt. 16:24, Mk. 8:34, Lu. 9:23, 3 Ne. 12:30). Today, she’s taking a look at what’s at stake.
It’s been roughly a half-year since I’ve been pondering “deny yourself.” I’ve attempted to define it, and I’ve studied up on how subjects like self-indulgence, self-justification, pride, and submission intersect with self-denial. Now, I’m ready to ask, why does denying myself matter, and what’s at stake if I don’t?
Particularly, is my soul’s salvation in jeopardy?
I won’t make you read all the way to the end of this article to tell you the answer I’ve come up with. YES — my salvation is at risk — not lost, understand, but at risk — if I fail to deny myself and I seek only to satisfy and affirm myself.
Wait, Sister Michelle. What about God’s forgiveness and grace? You can’t be perfect all the time. Aren’t you going a little overboard?
Hold your horses and let me explain.
I don’t think that God is going to kick me out of the kingdom for single acts of selfishness, self-justification, self-righteousness, or self-will, especially when I sincerely repent. However, if these things characterize my general behavior and everyday living, and repentance is half-hearted or non-existent, then I’m in trouble because I’m not really following the Master.
Jesus said, “Follow me.” How can I be a true follower if I don’t do the things He’s asked me to do but instead go my own way and pay Him mere lip service? How can I be one of His sheep if I’m constantly found in someone else’s pasture? How can I meet Jesus at the end of my life if I’m hardly ever found on the straight and narrow path that leads to Him?
If I’m only embracing the parts of the gospel that make me feel good about myself and affirm what I want, and I reject everything that challenges me to change, sacrifice, and submit, then I’m not following the true and living God. My god is myself, and “me” isn’t the door that leads to eternal life.
I hope that it comes through loud and clear that I’m talking about a pattern of me-first thinking and behavior rather than single acts, which God is mighty to forgive. Even so, I must try my best and remain vigilant because when I slip a few times, then it’s easier to capitulate again and again. What were a few isolated oopsies can quickly become a pattern that defines my life.
This rhetoric may sound convincing enough, but you probably want proof from scripture. Give me some chapters and verses that link self-centeredness (and its related concepts) to soul salvation. Here are a few:
Jacob 2:16 – “Let not this pride of your hearts destroy your souls!”
1 Peter 2:11 – “Abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul.”
Alma 39:9 – “I would that ye should repent and forsake your sins, and go no more after the lusts of your eyes, but cross yourself in all these things; for except ye do this ye can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God.”
1 Cor. 9:27 – “But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.”
Matt 5:29 – “And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.”
What do you think? Do these verses make a strong case for self-denial being an essential component to inheriting eternal life?
This article has undergone ministry review and approval.