Self-Denial, You've Got to Try It

Take a moment and ask yourself, “have I ever denied myself of anything so that I can become a fully devoted follower of Christ?” After all, that is our goal, right? Well, that may explain the problem.  If we don’t have a goal to grow and become mature in our faith, why would we ever deny ourselves of anything?  Would an immature Christian likely deny themselves of anything to advance God’s kingdom on earth? In my experience, that is extremely rare. It typically boils down to a self-centered response to God. What is that response? I want to be blessed and I want to go to heaven but I don’t want my faith to cost me anything or interfere with anything I want to do. In other words, I want the benefits that Jesus can bring into my life, but I don’t want to pay the cost of following Jesus.

You’ve heard the phrase, “you can’t have your cake and eat it too.” It’s another way of saying that you can’t have it all. But, so many want it all. We even want what we can’t afford and certainly many things we don’t need . In fact, many Christians I talk to tell me in so many words and by their actions that they want a convenient, free, easy, pie in the sky religious experience. Just listen and watch. If it costs or hurts or confronts sin or demands sacrifice or touches on self-denial they take their shopping to the next church-mart down the street.

In contrast, we are commanded by Jesus in Matthew 22:36-40 to love God with our entire being and to love others as ourselves.  In case you don’t know, love requires self-denial.  You can’t love God and others unless you deny yourself. Why? The very definition of this love is . . . a sacrificial, unconditional act of your will as to meet the need of another. In God’s case, it includes proving your love for Him through obedience to His commands (ref. John 14:15). Obedience also requires self-denial because we have to submit to the authority of another, namely God, even if it goes against our will. This may give us insight into the strain in relationships in our culture. Why is that you ask? It stands to reason, without love and obedience you can’t have a healthy relationship with God or others.

How can I know if I’m denying myself?  It is simple actually. It comes down to whether or not your submitting to God’s authority and will. In other words, are you saying “yes” to Jesus or “no” to Jesus? Does your worship say “yes” to Jesus? Does the use of your spiritual gift in building up the body of Christ (church) say “yes” to Jesus? Do your priorities say “yes” to Jesus? Do your choices say “yes” to Jesus? Does your financial stewardship say “yes” to Jesus? Does your lifestyle say “yes” to Jesus? Does your attitude say “yes” to Jesus? Does your speech say “yes” to Jesus? Do my habits say “yes” to Jesus? If not, you have places in your life that need work including confession and repentance.

How do I know If I’m truly following Jesus? Let’s allow Jesus to answer that question in His own words.  LK 9:23 And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Yes, that’s right, Jesus says you have to deny yourself as the first order of discipleship.  That means not my will but the will of God be done first and foremost. So, in what ways are you denying yourself to say “yes” to Jesus? As well, in the areas you are still saying “no” to Jesus, how is your disobedience impacting your relationship with Jesus and His church?

So what’s at stake if I’m not denying myself? Again, it is simple. You’re not following Christ. In fact, you can’t truly follow Christ until you do.  And by the way, we’re not talking about denying yourself chocolate during lent. That is so lame that it is disgraceful. In comparison, we are really talking about saying “no” to ourselves in every way possible so that we are always positioned to say “yes” to Jesus. Yes, I admit, this sounds radical. Nevertheless, it is the narrow road of devotion for the Christian. Many churches and denominations have tried to make it easier and more convenient even to the point of dismissing self-denial. We’ve even gone so far as to sensualize worship as to placate the sinful nature.  And yet, the demands of discipleship require that we lose our life (ref. Matthew 10:39). It comes down to this if you want to follow Christ. Self-denial, you’ve got to try it.

A Work in Progress,

Pastor Gene

Gene StocktonComment