Self-denial

I am not very good at self-denial.

Like many people, I tend to do what I want, sometimes at the expense of what I ought to do.

Self-denial seems harsh – opposite to the gospel of God’s grace and mercy.

But I can’t deny that Jesus said in Matthew 16: 24: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

Experience teaches me that telling myself not to do something immediately makes it more attractive.   So, is self-denial worth attempting?

I realize the answer is “Yes” because Jesus says so.  Still, I find myself wrestling with this question.

The apostle Paul dealt with this issue in Romans 6: 1-14.

In chapter 5, he had just finished talking about God’s gift of grace which was sufficient to cover any misdeed.  He then poses the question: “Shall we go on sinning that grace may increase?”

His answer is “No.”  He goes on to offer a positive reason for denying ourselves: We are new people and have the freedom to give ourselves to God.

I must admit that, when I am tempted, I don’t feel free.  But Paul is saying: “You are free!  Your old self has died with Christ on the cross and your new self is Christ within.  Seize hold of this truth no matter what you feel.”

What Paul seems to be telling me is that I need to soak in this truth.  And, then, I need to offer myself – continually – to God.

But, like many modern-day believers, I need a big carrot, a reward.

I think the answer is that I will find joy in a closer relationship with Jesus.

When I sin, I am wilfully turning away from God – like the prodigal son who left home to spend his inheritance in wild living.  But that leads to unhappiness if I indulge it for long.  I feel far from God.

Of course, it is not true that God is far from me when I sin.  He is yearning for a close relationship with me as the father did with his prodigal son in Jesus’ story.  But I feel there is a barrier.

When I cultivate my relationship with God, I often feel freer, lighter and happier.  Feelings are not a true measure of my relationship with God – but they help.

More important than feelings is the truth.

The writer of Hebrews says that Jesus endured the shame of the cross because of the “joy set before him” (Hebrews 12: 2).  He denied his own fleshly desires in the Garden of Gethsemane because he knew overwhelming joy awaited him.  Many would enter heaven because of his sacrifice and the Father would honour him.

So my reward for denying myself is greater joy now and in the future in my relationship with my Father.  I need to hang on to that.

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