Self-denial is not restricted to the religious realms of living. Many people will deny themselves of opportunities and activities for the sake of natural and carnal interests.
The athlete will deny himself of foods which are considered a hindrance to the physical fitness he desires to have and maintain. He will forgo social activities that conflict with his scheduled fitness training program. Money will not be spent in some areas of life so as to have resources to meet the expenses of his athletic pursuit.
Some people will deny themselves of foods to lose weight. They will also spend much energy to burn off fat cells. The hours of sweating are repaid as weight is reduced.
Some people deny themselves of material comforts to achieve financial success. They will say “no” to purchasing many affordable items so they have the money for a greater pleasure or purchase.
The world is full of people who deny themselves of many practical comforts of life to fit into a social class. Uncomfortable shoes and clothing are worn. Ears, noses, lips and tongues are pierced to wear the uncomfortable ornaments of a social class. They also deny themselves comforts and personal desires for a ‘greater’ cause. Satan calls his followers to deny themselves to identify and fit into his program.
Christ also calls His followers to self-denial. As a perfect example for His followers, He expressed self-denial in many ways. Philippians 2:5- 8 illustrates the self-denial of Christ. He denied Himself the comforts of Heaven, the respectful position of deity without limitations, and His unlimited mobility and presence to come to earth in human form and limitations. To be born among the lowest places of His creation and in the most helpless form of humanity were only possible because He denied Himself of the best place of existence for the best plan of salvation. Since self-denial was part of the life of Christ and an integral part of our salvation, it is only reasonable that it is a requirement for His disciples.
The first step in becoming a disciple of Christ requires us to deny ourselves. “And when he had called the people unto him with his disciples also, he said unto them, Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Mark 8:34). There is no true Christianity without self-denial. We must accept the calling of Christ and its demands on our life as more important than our personal desires and ambitions.
Some religious people believe there is virtue in making the body suffer. The belief is that the more we make life hard for ourselves, the more spiritual we are and will become. There is no Scriptural basis for this faulty concept of asceticism. Suffering in itself has no spiritual merits. If it did, the most spiritual people would be those who are suffering the most. Some feel a restrictive life style will deny the body pleasures thereby giving the spiritual man opportunity to grow. This is not what Christ desires of His followers. We have no record of God commanding His children to suffer for the sake of suffering.
There are accounts of men not of God who suffered to please their gods. The worshippers of Baal suffered from the cutting of themselves as they cried aloud. The pain from the cuts and the loss of blood were all to no avail. The altar and its sacrifice could not be consumed by gods who never existed (1Ki 18:28). We can only imagine the self-denial that accompanied parents who offered their dear children to Molech (Jer 32:35). To love and care for innocent children only to offer them as a sacrifice was an expression of parents denying themselves of the fruit of their bodies.
As stated above, Christian self-denial finds its first applications in becoming a Christian. There are some things we must say “no” to before we can enter into the Christian life. Titus 2:11-12 commands us to deny ourselves of ungodliness and worldly lusts. This means that anything not after the character of God is to be denied. This would include attitudes, desires, music, pleasures and all activities that God would not accept. Worldly lusts would include things that carnal men enjoy and pursue to fill their carnal nature and appetite. Colossians 3:5 calls us to deny ourselves of sinful activities. “Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” These expressions of self-denial must be expressed to become a Christian and throughout life to remain a Christian.
The things a Christian must deny himself of are also things which will hinder him from being what God desires him to be. God is not a God who delights in making life hard for His people. He has a quality of life He wants man to enjoy, but this is only possible as conflicting carnal characteristics and activities are forsaken. We cannot have spiritual life as we feed the carnal man.
When we deny ourselves of the ungodly and carnal, we are to live soberly and righteously according to Titus 2:12 “Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world.” Soberly means to give careful thought. Righteously is that which is morally right. Godly includes all of that which is approved by God. We cannot obey this command without denying ourselves of ungodliness and worldly lusts.
Paul realized the need for self-denial. Even though he was used of God in a mighty way, he maintained the responsibility to deny himself those things which would ruin his Christian life. “But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway” (1Cor 9:27). Every preacher retains the need to deny himself of anything that would make him a castaway. All of us are still living with a carnal nature in a world that appeals to that nature.
The second reason for the Christian to deny self is to do the work of God. Jesus asked the rich young ruler in Matthew 19:21 to sell his possessions and follow Him. Evidently God had a work for him that did not require his accumulated wealth. God has a particular will for each of us. What we need or do not need to accomplish the work God has planned for us will vary. The abilities we have vary and what those abilities could produce will vary. To do His will, we will need to deny ourselves of any conflicting interests and goals.
There are times we must deny ourselves lawful things for the interest of others. “Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way.” “But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died.” “Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another.” “It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak” (Rom 14:13, 15, 19, 21). Relationships and spiritual life are more important than meats, drinks, and other temporal pleasures. True spirituality includes the ability to accept church standards that restrict us of things that may cause others to fall. There are many men of God who denied self for the cause of God and His people. Moses denied himself all that Egypt had to offer. Joseph gave up all his personal goals for life and submitted himself to the will of God and the good of his family. Paul said ‘no’ to a life of acceptance among men for a life of acceptance before God. One day a lad denied himself of his five loaves and two fishes so a multitude could be fed. The widow with only two mites denied the most for which they could be spent and placed them into the offering. What have we denied ourselves for the cause of God and His people?
The Scriptures also give examples of those who lived in self-indulgence. The prodical son in Luke 15:13 lived for self and the fleeting worldly pleasures. The rich man in Luke 16:19 said ‘yes’ to all he wanted in time, but it was only for a short time. The rich young ruler in Matthew 19:22 went away as a sorrowful, selfish soul. Solomon had all a carnal man would desire, except a life of satisfaction (eccl 2:1-11). The slothful man in Proverbs 6 did not find fulfillment in taking the easiest path of life.
Time does not tell the full story of those who live for self. Life for many will include wasted years and a wasted life. They may have destroyed their bodies and many of their relationships. They will leave this life with nothing, just as they came. Their selfish life will result in God’s condemnation. Such selfish creatures of the dust will be condemned to the Lake of Fire. Selfish people will have no place with the Godly. The path of selfishness has an eternal existence with all the selfish people of all times.
In contrast, the people of God who have denied self and lived for the cause of Christ and His church will experience the true values of life. The question as to why we are here will be seen as higher values than self-centered men would embrace. not only will these people be appreciated by the children of God, they will also hear God’s words of acceptance. The glories of Heaven will more than recompense them for what they forsook in time. Spending eternity with others who lived a life of denying self for the Highest Cause will add to the glories of the Heavenly joys.
“Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb 12:2). May we follow Jesus’ example of self-denial so we can be worthy to be with Him in our Father’s kingdom.