Galatians 2:20 – How best to understand myself



Mark 8v34; Galatians 2v20




There is no topic that interests us more than ourselves. In the last few decades there have been more books written, more courses run and more programmes presented about the ‘self’ than probably any other time in history. We are supposed to have a greater understanding of psychology and the ‘self’ than any previous generation yet we are more lonely, experience more broken relationships, have more emotional illnesses, etc.


With all this information about ‘self’ you would think that we would have a clear and balanced view of who we are. Yet there seem to be an increasing number of us who suffer from a low self-image or have an inflated self-image.


There are many that suffer from a low self-image – “I am a worm mentality!” “I don’t like myself!”

Sometimes there appears to be no reason other times the reason can be apparent – a deprived childhood, a recent tragedy of being unwanted or unloved. The pressures of a modern competitive society don’t help. Financial pressures, racial and sexual prejudice, job stresses, can undermine anyone’s confidence. Depersonalising people as numbers in a computer doesn’t help self worth very much either.


An over-reaction to this depersonalising of individuals is the movement in the opposite direction that elevates the ‘self’ to levels approaching deity.

“Be yourself! Express yourself! Fulfil yourself!”


The philosophy is that if we believe in ourselves enough, then we can be whatever we want to be. This belief in ‘self’ has risen to religious level where self is the object of worship.

Those who promote this view hold to the belief that human nature is intrinsically good – [Eric Fromm, Abraham Maslow, Rollo May, Carl Rogers] – self-potential, self-fulfilment, self-actualisation, self-awareness, self-assertiveness etc.


John Piper quotes a limerick about self-absorption that goes like this:

There once was a nymph named Narcissus,

Who thought himself very delicious;

So he stared like a fool

At his face in a pool,

And his folly today is still with us.



Many Christians have sort to substantiate this view by quote Jesus words the we are “to love your neighbour as yourself”

But such a view is a false impression of what Jesus meant, for three reasons:

  1. Grammatically – Jesus never spoke of three commands Mark 12:30-31  The First command30 “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (NIV) Jesus knew that we naturally do love ourselves and that we should at the very least “do to others as we would have them do to us” [Matt.7v12] “Self-love is a fact to be recognised and a rule to be used not a virtue to be commended”- John Stott.


  1. Linguistically – the word for love is agapê – this means self-sacrifice in the service of others. It can’t possible therefore be self-directed. We can never talk of self-love as agape love – it is a nonsense!


  1. Theologically – Self- love and a preoccupation with self is portrayed in the bible as sin. 2 Timothy 3:1-5  1 But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. 2 People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, 4 treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God — 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them. (NIV)


How then are we to think about ourselves so that we do not too low a view of ‘self’ [self-hate] or too high a view of ‘self’ [self-love]?


Paul gives us a clue in Romans 12:3 3 For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgement, … [have a right estimate of yourself in relation to God]


The cross of Christ – it teaches us about self-denial and self-worth!




Jesus’ invitation is very clear – Mark 8:34

34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. (NIV)

Jesus had just told his followers in v.31 that he must go to the cross and now he tells his followers that they must take up their cross – daily!

He goes on to explain that if a disciple is not willing to take up his cross daily then he is not worthy of the name.


For us the cross has become a religious symbol – in the first century it was a symbol of execution. Every criminal condemned to execution would carry on his back his own cross to the place of execution.

John’s gospel tells us that Jesus “carrying his own cross, went out to the Place of the Skull”.


What does Jesus mean when he says “Take up your cross and follow me”?


To take up your cross means to go to your death. Jesus clearly does NOT mean that we are to die to pay for our sins. That Jesus did and we can’t repeat that.

Bearing our cross is neither a difficult husband nor a cantankerous wife!!!


Does Jesus mean martyrdom? It seems unlikely as he says ‘anyone’ – it is too broad.


Self-denial is not simply denying myself life’s luxuries like chocolate, fancy cars and luxury holidays [it may include these]

It actually means denying or disowning myself – renouncing my right to having my own way if indeed I have such a right in the first place.


Paul – Galatians 2:20 20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (NIV)

Paul is saying “I no longer live for myself – I have die to myself – I now life for God”

Galatians 5:24 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. (NIV)

My natural appetite to satisfy my pride and myself are to be put to death on the cross in order that I may more fully follow Christ.


Confusion can be caused because when the NT refers to death and resurrection with respect to the experience of believers it does so in three different ways, viz. legal, physical and moral.

  1. LEGAL – when a person believes in Christ he/she is rescued from the power of sin and brought into new life in Christ. By union with Christ we share the benefits of his death [forgiveness of sin] and his resurrection [ the power of new life and freedom].

I have been crucified – died to my old life – I now live for God – raised to new life. This is a Christians legal standing before God – it is called justification by faith.


  1. PHYSICAL – in 2 Cor.4:9-10 Paul talks about “carrying about I our bodies the dying of Christ so that the life of Jesus may be revealed in our bodies” – What does he mean? In Paul’s case, and with many Christians today, there was the threat of physical death through persecution. BUT added to that there was the physical frailty and mortality of life itself that is common to all people.

We are all in varying stages of decay and dying – BUT for the Christian who has the resurrection power of Christ we are being daily renewed.


  1. MORAL – This is the death to self – taking up your cross, denying yourself, living a crucified life. To begin with we come to Christ in repentance and faith but then we continue to deliberately “put the old nature” to death. Our old life [old nature] is that which was controlled by sin and our fleshly desires. Our new life [new nature] is that which is spiritual and controlled by the Holy Spirit.

Our old nature wants us to be selfish and satisfy our natural desires while the Holy Spirit wants us to live totally for God and others.


Someone who is crucified had abandoned any personal future plans. A condemned criminal took up his cross under duress. The disciple of Christ takes up the cross, willingly and out of love for the master.

It is a continual attitude of saying to Jesus and my Lord “Not what I want but what you want


READ – Romans 6:1-14 {NLT}


What we have said about the ‘self’ so far is true. However, while our human nature is sinful, it is not worthless.

When we say that human nature is sinful in every area we are not saying that it is wholly as bad as it can be BUT that it is not wholly as good as it should be.   [J I Packer]




Denying ‘self’ must be balanced with affirming ‘self’ [not to be confused with self’ love]


There is no way that reading the NT we get the impression that Jesus had a negative attitude to people.


  1. His Teaching – it is true that Jesus condemned the evil and ugliness of the human heart BUT he placed a high value on human life. Matthew 6:26 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? (NIV)

People are the crowning glory of God’s creation and therefore of infinite value – we are made in God’s image!

ILLUS.: A young Black American who had endured discrimination and suffered from feeling of being inferior had these words on a poster in his room “I’m me and I’m good ‘cause God don’t make junk”.

It may not be good grammar but it is good theology!!


  1. His Attitude – When we see how Jesus dealt with people there is no way we can conclude that he considered anyone worthless. On the contrary he went out of his way to honour those the world dishonoured. He welcomed little children – he gave hope to Samaritans and Gentiles. He touch lepers – his friends were the despised of the day like tax collectors, prostitutes. Wherever he went he acknowledge the value of human beings and loved them – and in loving them further increased their sense of self-worth.


  1. His Mission – Why did Jesus come? “Not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many” Nothing more clearly shows how much value Jesus place on people than that he was will to die for them. When we look at the cross we see the true worth of a human being.

As Wm Temple said “My worth is what I am worth to God; and that is a great deal, for Christ died for me


In the Cross of Christ we have a picture of the incredible worth and value of the human self but also a picture of how to deny or crucify the ‘self’.

How are we to reconcile these two views of the self?


We are complex creatures – we are created in the image of God – but because of the Fall [sin] that image is damaged / defaced. It is that fallen self / sinful self that we are to deny, to crucify, to disown.


There is much that we are to value: the ability to reason, to love, our artistic and creative abilities, our family life, our sexuality both male and female, our awareness of God and the ability to worship, etc. All these things are part of our created humanness. Yes these have been polluted by sin BUT we can still positively affirm the good – and so we should. After all Christ came to redeem it!


On the other hand, what we are to deny / turn away from is our moral perversity,

our irrational thinking, our blurring of sexual roles, our lack of self-control, our lack of love in family life, our bad behaviour, our laziness, our pollution and damage of the environment, our proud individualism, our refusal to worship God his way. All this and much, much more is part of our human fallenness. It was this that Christ came to destroy all the bad / all the sin.


Every person is both created and fallen BUT for the Christian there is a further dimension. We are created and fallen and also redeemed!


Because of redemption there is more to affirm and deny.

Christians are not only created in God’s image but also re-created. ‘If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation’. Every aspect of our being and character is being renewed. Becoming a Christian is a transforming experience – it changes our self-image.

If you are a Christian and you suffer from a poor self-image if you are one who feels worthless or useless and unloved then be assure you are of infinite value and worth to God – Jesus Die for you!


The hymn we sang ‘Beneath the cross of Jesus’ is a lovely hymn but it has one line of bad theology:    And from my smitten heart, with tears,

Two wonders I confess, –

The wonder of his glorious love,

And my own worthlessness.

NOT worthlessness BUT unworthiness! Unworthy we are but not worthless – we are of great worth because we are created in God’s image and redeemed by God’s Son.

I am of Great value because I am love by God.


If through redemption there is more to affirm. There is also more to deny.

We certainly must deny ourselves in areas where things are sinful in themselves.

BUT there is a deeper level than that. Christians are called to follow Christ – indeed that is what the name Christian means.

Jesus, whose humanity was perfect and not fallen, denied himself.

Philippians 2:6     6 Who, being in very nature God,

did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, (NIV)

Jesus enjoyed all the glory of heaven but he did not selfishly cling to it. He gave up his privileged status, he gave up his glory – it was his by right BUT he could not retain it and at the same time fulfil his destiny as God’s Messiah.

Jesus denied himself and went to the cross – willingly.


That same principle is called for in his followers. Jesus calls all his disciples to follow him in costly service. Paul did – he gave up married life, financial support, comfort and security – he denied himself these things not because they are wrong in themselves BUT in order to fulfil Christ’s calling.

There are many Christians today who give up marriage, prosperous careers, and comfortable homes in order to serve Christ in the inner city, in foreign countries, in identifying with the poor, etc. Not because there is anything intrinsically wrong with marriage, a good career or a comfortable home but because there is a higher call / higher cause.



Sixteen years ago my Home Church in SA sent Nancy McElroy, a single school teacher who was then in her late thirties, to Kenya with Africa Inland Mission to work amongst the Masai. The Masai are a nomadic cattle people numbering about half a million. They live in the area south of Nairobi within sight of Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa, located in neighbouring Tanzania. For fifteen years Nancy has lived and worked amongst the Masai. She is the only foreign missionary who speaks Masai fluently and she has a love for the people that is powerful.

Nancy picked us up in Nairobi the day after the SIM conference and we made the torturous three hour journey over terrible roads to her little home in a Masai village in the heart of Masailand. Just before sunset we turned off one dirt road onto another dirt road onto another dirt track, and in a few minutes arrived at Nancy’s home — a tin rondavel, a store room, a classroom, an outside bathroom in which you stand and splash water over yourself from a bucket, and a longdrop toilet! Her Masai co-worker, Ngoto Tino, and her family live right next door in typical Masai huts. We were met by Ngoto Tino, half a dozen little Masai kids,
a skinny, mangy Masai dog and several hens with their chickens. It wasn’t long before the African sun painted the sky pink and purple, and by the time we had unloaded the 4×4 night had fallen.

Inside Nancy’s little home lit by a battery charged by a solar panel on the roof we prepared our evening meal of Kenyan vienna sausages and fresh salad and rolls, with canned peaches for desert — all purchased that morning in Nairobi. As we ate, Nancy informed us that it was caterpillar season and that caterpillars from the tree above her house dropped onto her roof and sometimes found their way through the holes in the roof. While we were eating supper several fell ontothe table and onto the floor around us. At one point I exclaimed, “There’s a
caterpillar in my salad!”

Around the table that evening Nancy poured out her heart to us. This term has taken its toll on her health. Living with the people and eating their food has resulted in her suffering over the years with typhus, typhoid, malaria, brucellosis, ulcers, T.B., parasitic amoeba, and chronic bronchitis. She is currently unwell, suffering from recurring fever with aches and twitches at
night which rob her of a good nights sleep, and looks much older than her fifty three years. She is on medication at the moment (in fact she has been on antibiotics most of this term) and is coming home to SA for home assignment in June. She hopes to complete two more terms amongst theMasai before she retires.

Her greatest concern, however, is not for her health but for the health of the little Masai churches, consisting mostly of women, that she has been instrumental in establishing throughout the region. In recent days some of those churches have been invaded by young men teaching a brand of wild charismatic doctrine. Women are not readily listened to in Masai culture, and the few men in the churches are too weak to stand up to these young
heretics. Confusion is reigning, and what Nancy has taken years to build is in some cases being torn apart by error and extreme.

The following morning Nancy took us to a school where she taught a Scripture class. (By the way, the children from her village walk 10 kms each way to school each day, and they have to walk up to 5 kms each way to get water because they haven’t had rain in the area since last June.) Nancy teaches Scripture at three schools each week and leads six Bible studies a week.

Later that morning as we were on our way through the bush to visit a lady who Nancy has considered to be a pillar in one of the churches, we were met by a young evangelist pushing his bicycle. He informed Nancy and Ngoto Tino that that same lady had called the witch doctor to her home to help them. Nancy was shattered. We sat in the 4×4 under a thorn tree
and discussed what to do. It was amazing to listen to the godly Biblical wisdom of the illiterate Ngoto Tino. After praying we set off, and not far down the road we met the witch doctor and the woman’s husband, confirming what had been said. Upon arrival at the woman’s village Nancy and Ngoto Tino confronted her but she denied it. They could tell that she was lying.
Another disappointment. Another reminder of the reality of the powers of darkness. Another reminder that missionaries are engaged in spiritual warfare. Another reminder of our need to pray.
We don’t need to go to Africa to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Christ – there are more than enough opportunities in the UK. [But don’t rule out Africa, or anywhere else!]

Maybe for some it is pursuing a prosperous career in order to serve the cause of the gospel better NOT to feather your own nest.

We need to spend a whole sermon on self-sacrificing service and love.


How best to understand myself?

I have both dignity and depravity! Dignity because I was created and have been re-created in the image of God. Depravity because I am fallen and sinful and rebellious.                  The self I must affirm is my created redeemed self.

The self I must deny is my fallen / sinful self.


Where do I learn to evaluate and understand myself correctly?

Only as I stand before the cross of Christ.

The cross tell me how much God values me, for Jesus loved me and died for me.

The cross tells me how sinful and ugly I am, for it cost Jesus his life.


Standing before the cross we see simultaneously our worth and our unworthiness, since we perceive both the greatness of his love in dying and the greatness of our sin in causing him to die” [John Stott]



  1. Christianised self-absorption.

False love of self.

Jesus does not tell us to “love ourselves” – Mark12v30

              For three reasons:    * Grammar

                                                * Linguistics

* Theology


  1. Denying Self.

“deny self, take up [your] cross & follow me” Mark 8v34

“I have been crucified with Christ …” – Phil.2v6

“Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the 

  sinful nature” – Gal.5v24


      Death & resurrection has three applications

to the Christian’s experience.

  • Legal
  • Physical
  • Moral


  1. Affirming Self.

Jesus affirmed the value of people in

  • His teaching
  • His attitude
  • His mission

“My worth is what I am worth to God, and that is a great deal, for Christ died for me”Wm Temple


I must deny my fallen/ sinful self …

…  but affirm my created redeemed self


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