This is a translation of a scriptural meditation from the Russian book, “Day by Day”. Lewis connection follows:

Scripture: “Deny yourself” (Matt: 16, 24)


"How often the soul, desiring to achieve this complete renunciation, asks itself: how to satisfy the thirst, how to overcome all the difficulties and obstacles? The biggest stumbling block is within ourselves, in our selfishness. Denying oneself is the first condition for humble spiritual victory which can free us from all shackles and bring with it complete peace in our lives.

"What does this self-denial consist of? We often don’t understand the full meaning of this word. Neither self-control, nor reasonable prudence, nor even the subordination of the lower properties of our soul to higher goals is complete self-denial. In the spirit of Christianity, self-denial must be understood in the full sense of the word. To deny oneself means not to know oneself, to renounce oneself, to actually not exist in one’s own eyes. For this one must get out of oneself and, having completely surrendered to the Lord and constantly being filled with His spirit, to forget ourselves completely and to let our lives be absorbed by the lives of others.

“In previous years, perhaps even yesterday, we considered many things to be relevant for ourselves, we were not indifferent to human praise and criticism, we permitted ourselves a certain amount of delight in satisfying our personal needs. Now, however, having given ourselves to the Lord, we have firmly resolved to relate everything, without exception, to Jesus Christ, our Lord. To live and to act only for His glory, constantly witnessing about Him with our lives – only then will we also be able to say with St. Paul: “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal: 2, 20).”

I think that perhaps the following sentence from the above meditation is too extreme:

“To deny oneself means not to know oneself, to renounce oneself, to actually not exist in one’s own eyes.”

I don’t think it’s either possible or even good to “not to know oneself…not to exist in one’s own eyes”. It is necessary at least to know one’s sins. But the meditation above does bring to mind for me Lewis’s thought in "Mere Christianity, Book III, chapter 8, on Pride (The Great Sin):

“The real test of being in the presence of God is that you either forget about yourself altogether or see yourself as a small, dirty object. It is better to forget about yourself altogether.”


“Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. Love does not demand its own way. Love is not irritable, and it keeps no record of when it has been wronged. It is never glad about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. Love will last forever.” (1 Corinthians 13: 4-8)

I believe that to “deny oneself” has to do with saying “no” to the demands “self” presses in order to say “yes” to those God presents us by His Word and His Spirit.

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I like the Lewis quote a lot.

Lewis says it well, of course, and I think Isaiah shows it well in Isaiah 6–he sees the Lord, immediately (and rightly) recognizes his sin, is forgiven, and that’s pretty much the end of it. But I’m not entirely sure that either of those is quite parallel to Matt. 16:24.

But like you, I disagree with this:

“To deny oneself means not to know oneself, to renounce oneself, to actually not exist in one’s own eyes.”

to the extent that it’s taken as a definition of Christ’s command. But let’s look at some context. This verse immediately follows Peter’s proclamation that “you are the Christ, the son of the living God” (16:16), Christ’s once again telling the disciples that he will be killed and raised on the third day (16:21), and his rebuke of Peter for contradicting him (16:23). We then read:

24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life[1] will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.

So, one who would be a follower of Christ must:

  • deny himself,
  • take up his cross, and
  • follow Him

There would have been only one possible meaning of “take up his cross” to a hearer in first-Century Palestine, and that would be to join the death march to his own crucifixion. And the parallel offered in the very next sentence is instructive, in that he who loses his life (i.e., is willing to lose his life; this isn’t a matter of some sort of suicide) for Christ’s sake will save it. So be willing to give all for Christ? Yes. Hate your closest relations, in comparison to your love for Him (Luke 14:26)? Yes. Do all to the glory of God (1 Cor 10:31)? Yes. But “actually not exist in one’s own eyes”? I agree with you that it goes too far.

Relatedly, Lewis writes in Screwtape (letter 14, ¶¶ 5-6) of humility[2]:

… thousands of humans have been brought to think that humility means pretty women trying to believe they are ugly and clever men trying to believe they are fools. . . . The Enemy wants to bring the man to a state of mind in which he could design the best cathedral in the world, and know it to be the best, and rejoice in the fact, without being any more (or less) or otherwise glad at having done it than he would be if it had been done by another.
His whole effort, therefore, will be to get the man’s mind off the subject of his own value altogether. He would rather the man thought himself a great architect or a great poet and then forgot about it, than that he should spend much time and pains trying to think himself a bad one.

  1. Translators’ note: The same Greek word can mean either soul or life, depending on the context; twice in this verse and twice in verse 26 ↩︎

  2. Thanks once again to Janine Coburn (née Goffar)'s invaluable C.S. Lewis Index for helping me find this ↩︎