How We Tragically Misunderstand Jesus’ Command to Deny Ourselves

I’m so pleased to welcome Jill E. McCormick to share her wisdom with us today. Jill loves to help women and moms live a grace-filled life in a try-hard world. Welcome Jill!

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Romeo and Juliet’s love story is a tragedy because of a misunderstanding.

Romeo took the fact that Juliet’s eyes were closed—oh, and that she was in a tomb—to mean that she was dead rather than asleep. Upon discovering Juliet with closed eyes, Romeo drinks poison to join her in death. Then, when sleeping Juliet wakes up to find her beloved dead, she takes her own life too.

The tragic part of this story is the misunderstanding. God’s Big Story has a plot, but sometimes we misunderstand His words, specifically when He calls us to deny ourselves.

The plot of what we read

Towards the end of Jesus’ life, He explains to His apostles what will happen next. Jesus says these words that have jarred me for years:

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” – Matthew 16:24

In Sunday School, no one explained what this meant, so I filled in my own blanks. I misunderstood what denying myself meant in a tragic way.

I understood “denying myself” to mean two different things:

1. Giving up the essence of who I am.

As I kid, I thought this meant giving up my personality, emotions, talents, dreams, and passions. Whatever made me a unique individual got tossed.

As an adult, this manifested itself in denying my needs. I worked at our church despite my fatigue, God’s cue for me to rest. I told myself there was a dying world out there, so I should just suck it up and get to it. Side note: children’s ministry is hard!

The tragedy is that I dismissed God’s cues to me—the emotions I felt, the needs I neglected, the dreams I ignored—and put on a mask of fake-fine.

2. Taking on terrible, uninspiring tasks.

As a kid, I thought this meant that I would deny using my skills and talents. I thought I was destined to a life of drudgery and jobs I was inept at doing.

As an adult, I served in areas where I wasn’t gifted and felt the awkwardness of being out of place. I gave and helped out of guilt because I assumed “denial of self” was code for “hard stuff you don’t want to do.”

The tragedy is that I took roles that were meant for someone else and, in so doing, wasn’t available for the good work He had in mind for me.

Try-hard girls, it’s time to break free from our tragic misunderstanding so we can move into the beauty He intended.

Towards the end of His life, Jesus told those gathered to “deny themselves” so they could see things from God’s perspective. He wanted them to deny their sinful nature and become who He created them to be.


God never wants us to lose our “very self” (Luke 9:23-25), but He does want us to deny, disown, and abstain from our sinful nature. He wants us to forget our own concerns and adopt the Father’s concerns instead (Matthew 16:23).


God always wants us to be who He created us to be. We are image-bearers made in the presence of Christ, and we are called to shine our light in a way only we can.

Only you have your exact circle of influence.

Only you have the hopes and dreams and passions that fit perfectly with a hurting world that longs for what you have to offer.

Only you can tell your unique testimony to the gospel of grace and the Savior of all the people.

Adam S. McHugh says this in The Listening Life, “While we aim to glorify God in all we do, the way of following Jesus is not self-abdication. Yes, we set aside what is passing away—the old ways, the old life, the old self—and then we become fully alive by taking on our new creation life, our truest and deepest self.”

God put you in this time in history to be who you are, to do what He has invited you to do, so you can glorify Him in a way that only you can.

Try-hard girls, let’s not live out our own version of *Romeo and Juliet* because of a misunderstanding of God’s word. Instead, let’s remember that we’re to deny our sinful nature, not our personality, needs, or gifts.

Jesus invites us to become who we most fully are. That’s no tragedy. That’s one heck of a love story.

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Thank you so much Jill. I love your words and wisdom, and am so grateful to you for sharing you post with us today.

I’d love to hear from you!

What jumped out at you from Jill’s post? Have you misunderstood what Matthew 16:24 meant?  How does it impact you to know that we are to deny our sinful nature, not our personality, needs, or gifts?

Jill McCormick is the writer behind, a blog where she shares common-sense grace with the try-hard girl.

Jill’s married to her high school sweetheart Ryan. They live in South Texas with their two daughters, born 18 months apart. Most days you’ll find her with a book in her hand or a podcast in her ears. She starts and ends everyday with sprinkles: on oatmeal for breakfast and on ice cream for dessert.

12 thoughts on “How We Tragically Misunderstand Jesus’ Command to Deny Ourselves

  1. Jill’s explanation of this particular scripture is wonderful. It makes perfect sense! This is one reason that the inductive studies of the Bible are so helpful in getting into the original meaning of the scriptures from when they were written in Greek, Aramaic, etc. The languages of the scriptures have vastly different meanings for words than we have for them today. “Wait”, meaning to trust, etc.
    Dave has also been helpful in explaining a scripture to make clear what it truly means and how to understand and apply it from its original language.
    Love to both of you…..

  2. Oh boy, how loudly this spoke to me, as it would to many my age!!
    We have tragically misunderstood: It’s no longer I that liveth, and other teachings,
    Giving up the essence of who we are.

    We need to read posts like this over and over until there is a renewing of the mind by the watering of the Word; until our hearts GET what God REALLY meant, and not what we grew up misunderstanding!

  3. I love Jill’s reminder that God has created us with unique passions, gifts, and talents. He is glorified when we flourish.

  4. Oh My goodness, this makes perfect sense. I have lived most of my life with the belief that to be a good Christian I needed to life of self denial.
    Therefore I spent most of my years in hopelessness and despair. It was only after entering recovery from 38 years of an unfaithful marriage, that I started to learn about self care. But even with all I heard I still wondered about that verse. How does “self care” fit in with the “deny yourself” scripture.
    Once again Kim, your work has set me free. 🙂 Thank you for sharing Jill’s work.

  5. Wow, I knew what you said was true but was tripped up by the deny self scripture. Never seemed to fit so I’ve been wrestling with two different beliefs. Thank you I can rest in truth and let myself have Dreams choices desires. Yet denying my sin nature to let Jesus make and mold me not others. So freeing!!
    Loving Jesus more!

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