Self-denial is huge in Christianity, or at least should be.
You would never guess this from the appearance of Christianity, but if you spend any time reading the Bible you’ll pick up on it.
Unfortunately, since most ignore self-denial and the other half goes to odd extremes with it, self-denial has a bad reputation.
One group is so busy in licentiousness and having a good time with Jesus, who just wants you to be rich and healthy don’t ya know, can’t even understand what self-denial has to do with anything! “I thought Jesus wanted me to be myself, isn’t that why He made me this way?”
Another group thinks that being miserable equals being spiritual. They pound themselves into the ground and assume God is pleased by their misery. This is done either out of penance, or to create some sort of feeling of spiritual awesomeness.
Both views of self-denial are destructive and not correct with the Bible’s teaching on the subject.
Lets define our term. To deny means to “disown, deny utterly, abstain, reject, abnegate, refuse.” Self-denial then is disowning yourself, refusing to give you what you want.
The other day I was at Wendy’s with my wife and they had the Baconator, a huge burger with bacon. Mmmmm. However, I used restraint, I denied myself and instead of ordering The Baconator, I instead got the slightly smaller Son of Baconator. Boom, I denied self!
Not really. I ate half my wife’s burger too.
The idea of merely refusing to get what you want still might not be the Bible’s idea of self-denial. Self-denial in the Bible has to do with putting off anything that is not helping you spiritually. It’s putting off what is bad (self) so that you might put on something better (Christ).
In other words, being miserable by denying yourself a pleasure is not spiritual, that might just be a diet. The point of biblical self-denial is to get rid of things that are not helping you grow into Christ. Observe the following list of biblical terms for self-denial:
Deny self–Matthew 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23
Deny worldly lusts–Titus 2:12
Mortify—Romans 8:13; Colossians 3:5
Put off—Ephesians 4:22; Colossians 3:8,9
Lay aside—Hebrews 12:1,2
Not entangling—2 Timothy 2:4
Temperate—self-disciplined—1 Corinthians 9:25-27
Let not sin reign—Romans 6:12
Abstain—1 Peter 2:11
Not seeking own—1 Corinthians 10:24, 33; Philippians 2:4
Forsaking all—Luke 14:33
Taking up cross—Matthew 10:38;
Being crucified—Galatians 5:24; 6:14
Strangers and Pilgrims—Hebrews 11:13-15; 1 Peter 2:11
Lose life—Matthew 16:25-26
I die daily—1 Corinthians 15:31
sheep for slaughter—Romans 8:36
The point of these passages is to show you that in order to grow spiritually, to grow into Christ, you have to stop doing your junk that is hindering progress. Many of these have to do with putting off sin, but some of them are more generic, such as the affairs of this life or laying aside every weight.
Self-denial does not mean eating bread and drinking water in a hole in the ground for Jesus. Being miserable wins you no points.
Self-denial means nothing without love. Love for God, love for others, based on the love of Christ in the love of the Gospel. Love surrounds the whole thing.
To be one of those who doesn’t think self-denial has anything to do with faith, merely means you don’t love God, nor do you understand the love of the Gospel. To be one of those who bash themselves to bits to feel good spiritually is to entirely miss the point of everything.
Self-denial is a logical outcome of seeing your sin and having a desire to be like Christ. It is entirely necessary for going through narrow gates and finishing races.