Getting Rid Of Self
For the last few years, until we made some changes, we had been wrestling with our vacuum cleaner. It sucked, well not literally, it actually didn’t suck very well at all. One of the problems was that it had a filter on it which always got clogged with dirt and needed to be cleaned. The enemy of good suction in a vacuum cleaner is dust. Such a little thing on the inside prevents it from working the way it should.
If you have ever tried to take a walk with a stone in your shoe, you know that a little stone can begin as a minor irritant, become a major irritant that prevents you from enjoying your walk and eventually become such a huge problem that you can’t even walk at all.
In both of these cases, there is something inside which prevents things from working the way they should.
There is also something inside of each one of us that prevents us from living a Spirit filled, effective Christian life. That something is self. It prevents us from being effective for God and it prevents us from living a holy life.
How can we get rid of the dedication to self that prevents a free and effective walk with Christ?
Last week we thought about what it means to live a holy life. We realized that holy living is what God expects of us. We also were encouraged that we can’t do it in our own power and strength. God, by His Spirit empowers us to live holy lives. On Pentecost Sunday we were reminded that the Bible teaches that God calls us to be His servants. We were also reminded that being effective servants of God also happens by the power of the Holy Spirit. So it is clear that Spirit empowered Christian living happens when self is dethroned in our lives and the Holy Spirit is enthroned in us. The question is, “how do we dethrone self?”
I have been reading the book Absolute Surrender by Andrew Murray which talks about these things. One of the chapters is a sermon on the life of Peter, the disciple of Jesus, and how he moved from self centeredness to being a Spirit filled disciple. Of all the people in the Bible, Peter is one of the ones who gives us great comfort. He was so full of failures, but also so effective and so his life is one that we can both identify with and learn from. This morning, I would like to follow this sermon, and look at Peter the devoted disciple of Jesus, who was actually quite full of self and then at how God brought him to repentance and what he became by the power of the Holy Spirit. His life is a human example of what we talked about last week. If you want to read Murray’s sermon or even the book, it is available on the internet if you google “Absolute Surrender and Andrew Murray.”
1. Peter The Devoted Disciple Of Christ
Right from the beginning of his life, we discover that Peter was a devoted disciple of Christ.
A. Peter was a man of absolute surrender
He was a man of absolute surrender to Christ. In Matthew 19:27 we read the words of Peter who said, “We have left everything to follow you!” Peter had left his nets and his livelihood. He was not afraid to leave behind the things of his life in order to follow Jesus.
B. Peter was a man of ready obedience.
Peter was also a man of obedience. In Luke 5:4,5, we read about an encounter between Jesus and Peter. Jesus came to Peter and said to him, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.” Jesus was commanding Peter to go fishing. Jesus was a carpenter and Peter was the master fisherman. He knew when there were no fish around. As a professional fisherman he had tried to fish all night, but caught nothing. However, Peter answered “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” Even though he knew things about fishing, he was willing to obey Jesus when he commanded.
C. Peter was a man of great faith.
Peter was also a man of faith. Matthew 14 tells us the story of how the disciples were traveling across the lake in a storm when Jesus suddenly came to them and He was walking on the water. When Peter saw Him he said in verse 28, “Lord, if it’s you tell me to come to you on the water.” At the voice of Christ, he stepped out of the boat and walked on the water. He trusted the word of Christ.
D. Peter was a man of spiritual insight.
One day Jesus asked the disciples what people were saying about Him. When He then asked the disciples who they thought He was, it was Peter who replied in Matthew 16:16, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus affirmed this and recognized that it was not Peter’s own insight, but the Father in heaven who had revealed it to him. In other words, Peter was in tune enough with God to be able to discern and communicate a word from God. He was a man of spiritual insight.
Peter was identified by Jesus as a “rock” and also as the one who would have the “keys of the Kingdom.” He was a devoted disciple of Jesus, and if he were living now, everyone would say that he was a true believer indeed.
2. Peter Living The Life Of Self
And yet that wasn’t all there was to Peter.
A. Peter Trusted His Own Wisdom
When Peter had this amazing insight into who Jesus was, Jesus affirmed it and indicated that it was spiritual insight that had revealed it to him. After that, Jesus began to speak of what was to come in Jerusalem. He indicated to the disciples that he would suffer and die. When Peter heard that, he dared to say to Jesus in Matthew 16:22, “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” At this point, Peter was no longer speaking with spiritual insight. He began to rely on and speak out of his own wisdom. The words of Peter at this point were not inspired by God but by Satan because Jesus said to him in verse 23, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.”
This was Peter in his self-will, trusting his own wisdom about divine things and actually forbidding Christ to go and die.
B. Peter Sought Position
When the disciples were looking for positions of honour and asked Jesus who would sit at his right side, Peter was among them. He was just like the others seeking a place of honour for himself. Once again self seeking was in his heart.
C. Peter Was Filled With Self
The life of self was strong in Peter. He had left his boats and his nets, but not his old self. After Jesus had spoken to him about His sufferings, He said in Matthew 16:24, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” No one can follow Him unless he does that. Jesus told Peter that he must deny self. That is the root of true discipleship. But Peter did not understand it and could not obey it. And what happened? When the last night came, Jesus said to him in Mark 14:30, “I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “today—yes, tonight—before the rooster crows twice you yourself will disown me three times.”
With self-confidence Peter had said: “Even if all fall away, I will not.” In Luke 22:33 it is recorded that he even said, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.”
The thing is that Peter meant it honestly, and he really intended to do it; but Peter did not know himself. He did not believe he was as bad as Jesus said he was.
When the time of pressure came, self preservation, self will, fear for self came on him and three times he denied that he even knew Jesus. In fact, in Matthew 26:74 it says, “he began to call down curses on himself and he swore to them, ‘I don’t know the man!’” In other words he said, "I have nothing to do with Him; He and I are not friends. I deny having any connection with Him."
Andrew Murray says, “We perhaps think of individual sins that come between us and God. But what are we to do with that self life which is all unclean-our very nature? What are we to do with that flesh that is entirely under the power of sin? Deliverance from that is what we need. Peter knew it not, and therefore it was in self confidence that he denied his Lord.”
Jesus uses the word deny twice. In Matthew 16:24 he says to Peter and the other disciples that a person must “deny himself.” Then, on the night he was to be betrayed he said to Peter, “you will deny me three times.” It is either of the two. There is no other choice for us; we must either deny self or somewhere along the line we will deny Christ. There are two great powers fighting each other the self-nature in the power of sin, and Christ in the power of God. Either of these must rule within us.
It was self that made the devil. He was an angel of God, but he wanted to exalt self. He became a devil in hell. Self was the cause of the fall of man. Eve wanted something for herself, and so our first parents fell into all the wretchedness of sin. We, their children, have inherited an awful nature of sin.
3. Peter's Repentance
So the self life was strong in Peter. When the final crunch came, Peter denied his Lord three times. Then, we read in Luke 22:61, “The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him.” The look of Jesus and the reminder of the words of Jesus broke Peter’s heart. The terrible sin that he had committed, the terrible failure that had come, and the depth into which he had fallen suddenly opened up before him. Then it says, "Peter went out and wept bitterly."
What a terrible time the next few days must have been for Peter. He had denied Jesus and now he watched as Jesus was beaten and crucified and buried. What hopeless despair must have entered his heart. He probably felt, “my hope is gone.” He might have thought about the last three years and all he had experienced with Jesus – the love, the peace, the help, the hope. Now he had denied him and must have been devastated.
But that was the turning point and the change. On the first day of the week, Christ was seen by Peter, and in the evening He met him with the others. Later on at the Sea of Galilee, He asked him: " Do you love me?" (John 21:17). Peter was made sad by the thought that the Lord reminded him of having denied Him three times, and said in sorrow, but in uprightness in John 21:17 “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.” Jesus restored him once again after the devastation of his repentance. If we are to overcome the self life, we must come to the place where, like Peter, we understand that we are filled with self. It is in the place of helplessness that we give up pride and recognize our true nature and truly repent. Romans 7:18 is Paul’s cry of despair when he says, “no good thing lives in me.”
4. Peter Transformed
When he came to the end of himself and realized that there was no good thing in himself and that he needed God, that was the point at which he was ready for God to begin to work in him.
On the day of Pentecost God did work in him. On that day, the Holy Spirit came and Peter was a changed man. It was not only a change in Peter which gave him boldness and power and insight into the Scriptures, and the blessing with which he preached that day. That was great, but there was something deeper and better which happened to Peter. His whole nature was changed. The work that Christ began in Peter when He looked upon him was perfected when he was filled with the Holy Spirit.
One way to see the inner change that had taken place in Peter is to compare his earlier statements with the completely different attitude we see in his epistle.
When he said to Jesus, in effect: "You can never suffer” when he denied Jesus at the time of His arrest, we see Peter in his self understanding and his self centeredness. But when we read his epistle and hear him say as he does in I Peter 4:14, “If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you,” that it is not the old Peter, but that it is the very Spirit of Christ breathing and speaking within him.
In I Peter 2:21 he also says, “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.” Now we see that instead of denying Christ, he found joy and pleasure in having self denied, crucified, and given up to the death.
Now instead of shrinking in fear when confronted with his identification with Christ he was able to say boldly, as he did in Acts 5:29, “We must obey God rather than men!”
Earlier he had been ready, with all the other disciples, to take a position of honour and to exalt himself. In I Peter 3:4, we read the words of the new Peter, “Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight” and the words of I Peter 5:5, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
So I invite you to look at Peter - utterly changed - the self-pleasing, the self-trusting, the self-seeking Peter, full of sin, continually getting into trouble, foolish and impetuous, now filled with the Spirit and the life of Jesus. Christ had done it for him by the Holy Spirit.
What are the lessons which we can learn from the life of Peter? This story must be the history of every believer who is really to be made a blessing by God.
What do these lessons teach us?
The first lesson is this: You may be a very sincere, godly, devoted believer, in whom the power of the flesh and of self is still very strong.
That is a serious truth. Peter, before he denied Christ, had cast out devils and had healed the sick. Yet, the self had power in him. It is because there is so much of that self life in us that the power of God cannot work in us as mightily as He desires that it should work. God is longing to multiply His blessing through us? But there is something hindering Him, and that something is the self-life. We talk about the pride of Peter, and the impetuosity of Peter, and the self confidence of Peter. It is all rooted in that one word, “self.” Jesus had said, "Deny self," and Peter had never understood, and never obeyed. Every failing came out of that.
What an urgent plea for us to cry: “Oh God, show this to us so that none of us may be living the self-life!” It has happened to people who have been Christians for years; it has happened to people who have been in prominent positions - God found them out and taught them to find out about themselves. They became utterly ashamed and fell broken before God. That is a painful place to be, but is also the path to deliverance.
Have you ever tried to play on a teeter-totter with a child? Because, as an adult, you are much heavier, you sit on your side and the child is sitting up in the sky on the other side and can’t come down. If, you move towards the pivot point, you shift the center of gravity and, if you move far enough, the weight of the child will be enough to actually come down again. One writer says, “Jesus stipulated that those who wish to follow him must be prepared to shift the center of gravity in their lives from a concern for self to a reckless abandon to the will of God.”
The second lesson is that it is the work of Jesus to disclose the power of self.
How was it that Peter, the carnal Peter, self willed Peter, Peter with the strong self-love, ever became a man of Pentecost and the writer of his epistles? It was because Jesus brought him to that place. He warned him, he allowed him to deny him, he looked at him in pain, but he did not abandon him. He came to him and restored him and then on the day of Pentecost, filled him with His Spirit.
Is that not also the problem with us? We are filled with the self-life, self comfort, self-consciousness, self pleasing, and self will. How are we to get rid of it?"
The answer of the lesson of the life of Peter is that Jesus will get rid of it in us. No one else but Jesus can give deliverance from the power of self. There are many ways in which God does this. He does it when we fall repeatedly into the same sin and we come to realize that there is truly no good thing within ourselves and we rest in His forgiving and changing grace. He does it when we fall in a relationship and realize that we don’t have the power to fix it and we lack the ability to relate well and we bow before Him and ask Him to change our hearts and our relationships. He does it when we come face to face with our mortality when someone close to us dies or when we face a serious illness and we know that we do not have the power of life within us and we go to Him in hope of life.
What does God ask us to do in all this? He asks that we should humble ourselves before Him. He asks that we should give up on pride and self and place our lives into His powerful and loving hands.
May our prayer be, “God, bring me to the end of myself and fill me with your Spirit.”