As you take up the subject of self with your group, you will find no better example of self denial than that of Jesus Christ. As your students ponder Jesus' relationship with His Father, you will see that He utterly ignored self He told His disciples, "I can of mine own self do nothing" (John 5:30). Though He was God's Son, He took the place of a servant, subjecting His will and actions entirely to His Father.
Your students know that believers are called to walk as Christ walked. They should understand that this life of complete self-renunciation-of laying down self and of choosing God's will and way over our own-is the way to a daily walk of victory.
The students will be able to list some of the snares of self, that Satan uses to entrap the Christian, and to explain ways that these snares can be avoided.
Proverbs 3:5,6; Matthew 12:1; 16:24; Luke 8:14; 9:23; 12:22; Romans 8:28; 12:1; Philippians 2:3,4; 4:8; 1 Peter 2:11; Revelation 3:17
Question 1 - When we surrender our lives to God and experience salvation, we restore our Creator to His rightful place—at the center of our existence—acknowledging His control and Lordship of our lives. When we fully consecrate our regenerated lives to God, we can expect God to witness to our hearts with the experience of sanctification. The saved and sanctified heart has been restored to the moral quality of holiness with which Adam was created. We are not, however, restored to the physical, emotional, and mental qualities that Adam enjoyed when he was created. That is why the self less life is not an instant attainment, but a lifelong attitude. Even after we have made that initial commitment, we will find that new occasions, fresh tests, and difficult circumstances regularly necessitate the submission of our will to God's. Jesus said, "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me" (Luke 9:23). If we want to continue with the Lord, we must daily avoid the danger of arranging our lives around personal interests. Using the following Scriptures, briefly outline some guidelines that will help us do this: Philippians 2:4; Luke 12:22; 1 Peter 2:11; Luke 8:14; Philippians 4:8.
Response 1 - Philippians 2:4 - Be aware of the concerns of others. Luke 12:22 - Don't be unduly concerned about material needs. 1 Peter 2:11 - Guard against succumbing to improper fleshly impulses or strong desires. Luke 8:14 - Don't become encumbered with the cares of life. Philippians 4:8 - Keep your mind focused on the things of God.
After your students discuss the principles brought out by these verses, you can broaden the discussion by showing how Satan places the snare of self-centeredness directly in the mainstream of our daily lives. Perhaps it slips into place as we become wrapped up in personal deadlines, demands, and duties. We might stumble into that snare in an agonizingly slow checkout line, a traffic jam on the way to work, or in a conversation with an employee who can't follow instructions. Impatience with the mistakes of others, distress when our rights are violated in some way, annoyance when things don't fall into place, and irritation with those whose opinions vary from ours, are signs that we are letting self become the pivot of our existence. Satan's approaches vary, but the point is to make sure your students are alert to the warning signals. Philippians 2:21 is a good supporting verse to work into your discussion.
Question 2 - One of the most potentially debilitating snares Satan uses is that of self-pity. He slips it into the path of the unappreciated office worker, the one suffering with pain, the tired housewife who struggles to get through a personal energy crisis, the unemployed, and the bereaved. In fact, Satan has probably tried to use the snare of self-pity, in some form, on all of us! He urges us to look inward instead of upward. "Poor you," he whispers. "You'll never make it. No one understands." Have you heard those destructive words? It is sometimes easy to give in to feelings of discouragement, of being misunderstood, or of isolation, rather than recognize them as ploys of the enemy and resist them as such. What principle, outlined in Romans 8:28, will help us when Satan attempts to slip those strands of self-pity around us? Find at least one other Scripture that bears out this same thought.
Response 2 - Romans 8:28 brings out that God will align every circumstance into a pattern of good for His children. Other Scriptures brought up by your group might include the words of the patriarch Job, who suffered incredible loss and yet could say, "He knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me, 'I shall come forth as gold" (Job 23:10). The Psalmist wrote, "The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD" (Psalm 37:23). We need to recognize that there is no reason to feel sorry for ourselves if we are assured that, whatever comes, God is in control and has our best interests in view.
Question 3 - We hear a lot about the necessity for a healthy self-esteem. Certainly, it is important to recognize ourselves as unique, significant persons who are valuable to God and to others. Satan, however, would attempt to edge that self-esteem into an attitude of self-assertion, making us prone to contend for our way and to disregard the thoughts and opinions of others. We must constantly be on guard against a preoccupation with self. This tendency can show itself through attempts to manipulate others, a desire to win every argument, a need to have the last word in any confrontation, or an attitude that everything should be arranged to fit around our plans. Paul recognized this potential danger and warned the Philippians, " ... in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves" (Philippians 2:3). Those words were not for first-century saints only. The advice they contain is pertinent for today. What are actions we can take to apply Paul's admonition in our lives?
Response 3 - Answers might include: treating others with respect, making sure we give credit where it is due, trying to view all sides of an issue objectively, considering how our actions or words would appear through the eyes of others, giving others the benefit of the doubt. As a supplementary point of discussion, ask your group to outline Christ's example. Although He was God incarnate, He walked the earth as a humble, compassionate man. Certainly He had every right to claim honor and authority, yet He took a lowly place and did not draw attention to Himself. He has given us a pattern, and we must follow in His steps. See 1 Peter 2:21.
Question 4 - Self-reliance is another character trait we often hear lauded in today's world. Our achievement-oriented society is fond of phrases like "blazing your own trail" and "marching to your own beat." Yet, there is a very real danger in relying on our own accomplishments, wisely-made investments, or well-laid plans. Satan will pat us on the back and tell us we are eminently capable of handling life on our own. His advice might be, "Do it your way," but God's Word tells us to "Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths" (Proverbs 3:5,6). These are important words if we want to avoid self-sufficiency. Name some Biblical examples of people who fell into the trap of relying on their own way instead of on God's, and describe the outcome of their choices. Name some who succeeded because they relied on God.
Response 4 - Allow your students time to mention some Scriptural examples. Jonah, Saul, and David when he numbered Israel, are three possibilities of those who chose to follow their own way. Noah, Stephen, and Daniel are three who chose to follow God's way. The point to bring out is that God's ways are higher than man's ways, and what appears to be the logical way may not always be God's way. Ask your students to share examples from their own knowledge or experience, where God led in ways that seemed strange and unexplainable to man but where the outcome was obviously of Him.
Question 5 - Hand in hand with self-reliance comes the temptation to self-indulgence. The enemy would encourage us to pamper ourselves continually, both physically and materially. He emphasizes a systematic gratification of our whims, desires, and personal preferences. When the snare of self-indulgence settles around us, forgotten are Christ's words, "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me" (Matthew 16:24). The Apostle Paul emphasized the need to keep our natural appetites and desires under control, urging us to present our bodies "a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God" (Romans 12:1). Satan's words oppose this. "It's your right!" he will insist. "You owe it to yourself. What's wrong with yearning for more in life? Isn't that just healthy ambition, just good common sense?" Why do you think he uses this reasoning?
Response 5 - Class discussion should bring out that if Satan can get us absorbed in pleasures and possessions, we will lose the perspective of our goal and purpose as Christians. Refer again to the warning given in 1 Peter 2:11, which indicates that fleshly lusts (strong desires for the things of this world) "war against the soul." It might be interesting to point out to your students that the Greek word for flesh has an ethical sense, and denotes "human nature, the earthly nature of man apart from divine influence, and therefore prone to sin and opposed to God." Human nature will pull us toward a desire for whatever seems good and for whatever we personally desire, but we must see the danger that a self-pleasing and self-choosing attitude presents-it pulls us away from self-denial.
Question 6 - Satan does not wage all his battles outside the walls of the church. He also seeks to promote an attitude of complacency and satisfaction in spiritual endeavors. He even will encourage zealous performance in God's service, as long as the power of the Holy Spirit is absent. A grievous snare of self entangled the church of the Laodiceans, and God condemned them with the stern words, "Thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked" (Revelation 3:17). Identify the trap implied in this passage, and describe what effect it could have on Christians today if they are not watchful.
Response 6 - Your group should be able to identify the snare as self-righteousness. That snare led to the Laodiceans' lukewarmness, and their complacency led to backsliding. Self-righteousness blinds eyes, eclipses love for others, and arouses pride in hearts. It can fracture friendships and cause intolerance. It is helpful to remember that Jesus preached His longest noted sermon to churchgoers, warning against the dangers of practicing righteousness to be seen of men. Bring out that God does not see as man sees. The external observances and religious practices, however faithfully performed, win no merit on their own in His sight. He looks on the heart. See 1 Samuel 16:7.
Question 7 - Satan constantly attempts to insert self into every area of our lives: in our service to God; in our social life; in the business world; in the smallest to the greatest trials that we encounter. If we recognize that we are becoming entrapped by self, how should we respond? What are some steps we can take to break free and gain victory in this area?
Response 7 - Your students should conclude that first of all, dealing with any aspect of self will require honesty. Whatever the nature of the problem, it must first be recognized and then confessed before God. We must ask His forgiveness and rely on Him for help in dealing with it. Close daily communion with God and absolute dependence on Him is vital. Victory over self will require heartfelt determination, for the self-nature is powerful. We will have to purpose to be alert and on guard against subsequent attempts of Satan, and to be continually aware of the need to focus our lives on Jesus Christ.