“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves. Just as in denying Christ, Peter said, “I do not know the man” so also should each disciple say this to himself or herself. Self-denial can never be defined as some profusion–be it ever so great– of individual acts of self-torment or asceticism…Self-denial means knowing only Christ, who goes ahead of us and no longer the path that is too difficult for us. Again, self-denial is saying only: ‘He goes ahead of us, hold fast to Him.’” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Why did Peter deny Christ? This is something he vowed he would never do. “But Peter declared, ‘Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you!’” (Mt. 26.35); yet come evening he found himself doing that very thing.
“Then he began to call down curses, and he swore to them, ‘I don’t know the man!’ Immediately a rooster crowed. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken: ‘Before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.’ And he went outside and wept bitterly” (Mt. 26.74 -75).
Peter was so quick to deny Christ because he was operating out of faith in his own ability to stay true to the Lord. He thought he would do what was right when the time came, by his own power, but instead he acted out of self-dependency and self-preservation. He was unable to deny himself, so he denied Christ instead. In fear and self-deception, he took his eyes off Christ and let go.
We are to know only Christ who goes ahead of us. We need to deny our selves and look to Christ to find our true identity, the self that He created. As His followers we are to count ourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus; our life is a new life in Him and this truth allows us to put off our old selves… and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. The reality is that our old selves have been crucified with Christ, He has gone ahead of us, we only need to hold fast and follow.