In a sermon preached on Matthew 5:38–42 titled “Denying Self and Following Christ”, Martyn Lloyd-Jones challenged his audience to “realize the extent to which self controls your life.”1
I found his words a needed rebuke as well and poignant description of some emotional issues I’ve faced over the years. I hope it challenges you to take up your cross and follow Christ with greater faith and greater joy.
Examine yourself and your life, your ordinary work, the things you do, the contacts you have to make with people. Reflect for a moment upon the extent to which self comes into all that. It is an amazing and terrible discovery to note that extent to which self-interest and self-concern are involved, even in the preaching of the gospel. It is a horrible discovery.
…But let us go one step further. I wonder whether we have ever realize the extent to which the misery and the unhappiness and the failure and the trouble in our lives is due to only one thing, namely self. Go back across the last week, consider in your mind and recall to your conscience the moments or the periods of unhappiness and strain, your irritability, your bad temper, the things you have said and done of which you are now ashamed, the things that have really disturbed you and put you off balance… Most of the unhappiness in sorrow, and most of our troubles in life and inexperience, arise from this ultimate origin and source, this self.
…[S]elf always means defiance of God; it always means that I put myself on the throne instead of God, and therefore it is always something that separates me from him. All moments of unhappiness in life are ultimately due to the separation. A person who is in real communion with God and with the Lord Jesus Christ is happy. It does not matter whether he is in a dungeon, or whether he has his feet fast in the stocks, or whether he is burning at the stake; he is still happy if he is in communion with God. Is that not the experience of the saints down the centuries? So the ultimate cause of any misery or lack of joy is separation from God, and the one causes separation from him is self… man, according to the Scriptures, was meant to live entirely to the glory of God. He was meant to love the Lord God with all his heart, with all his soul, with all his mind and with all his strength. The whole of man was meant to glorify God. Therefore any desire to glorify self or safeguard the interests of self is of necessity a sin, because I am looking at myself instead of looking at God and seeking his honour and glory.
1 This excerpt comes from pages 260-261 of Studies on the Sermon on the Mount.