Maybe you are like me, having grown up in the church for many years and heard a lot of things taught with different emphasis on how we should treat ourselves. Over the years I have heard various ideas such as these:
- Crucify yourself
- Celebrate yourself
- Deny yourself
- Give yourself a break
- Overcome yourself
- Conquer yourself
- Forget about yourself
- Love yourself
- Forgive yourself
- Even rid yourself of self
It can feel a little confusing after a while hearing so many ideas on how to treat yourself.
What is a Christian to do? There is most likely a measure of truth in all of these ideas. As a parent, I might ask “How am I to respond to my child? Give hugs and kisses with words of affirmation or correction and discipline?”
As any good parent would know, it’s not one or the other. They’re both essential, but which one you use at a given moment depends on the context. Affection and correction are both necessary, but to give one at the time when the other is needed is a recipe for disaster.
I remember many years ago, when many pastors were worried about psychology slipping into the church as many began to teach that we should love ourselves. This was quite controversial at the time. At first, as a young man, I championed the cause that said as Christians we are not called to love ourselves, but strictly die to ourselves. I was young and zealous, but had little understanding. One day this thought occurred to me: one of the goals of the Christian life is to see everything and everyone through God’s eyes, including myself.
I simply thought, “Does God love me? Yes, He does. So, I want to agree with God.” As a follower of Christ, I know that God is holy, and He hates sin. Therefore, as a child of God I want to be like my Father. I, too want to be holy and hate sin. In the same way, God, who is perfect love, loves me. I simply want to come into agreement with God and love myself.
Jesus says in Luke 9:23 that we are to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Him. Obviously there is a place for self-denial in the life of a Christ follower, as Jesus commands it. But what does that mean? Does it mean I am to hate the color of my eyes? Hate my skin color? Despise my God-given personality or avoid any form of pleasure? Go on a 40-day fast every 41 days?
Certainly it can’t mean these things. After all, it is God Himself who gave me my eye color, my skin tone, and my personality. He also says in Psalm 16 that at His right hand are pleasures evermore. My ultimate good and God’s glory are not contradictory. God is jealous for His glory and, as a loving Father, He wants what’s best for us. Those two things go hand in hand: our good and His glory. Therefore when He calls us to deny ourselves, it’s for our ultimate good and His own glory.
Whatever your view of self-denial is, be sure of this, true Christian self-denial is rooted in God’s glory and His desire for us to thrive in the long run.