The Whole Cake
Discipline and denial are two words that rub us the wrong way as humans. No one really likes to be disciplined; it has a negative connotation. No one wants to be denied things they desire. As kids, most of us had external boundaries set for us by our parents. If we broke those set rules and parameters, we were disciplined. Our parents also denied us foolish things we desired or things that may not have been the best for us or most helpful to us.
After reaching adulthood, we lose those parental constraints. We begin to have free reign of our lives, meaning we can do what we want when want where we want. If we want to blow all of our money, we can. If we want to eat until we feel sick, we can. Our only real limitations are those imposed by our job, credit score, and health. Otherwise, we are our own master.
As Christians, we have a different Master, namely, Jesus Christ. He calls us to live and behave differently. Unfortunately, what we commonly see in our churches are people who still have a lack of discipline and self-denial. We see people who want to have their cake and eat it too. They want Jesus, but don’t want to limit their liberty.
Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27:
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.
Paul calls Christians, including himself, to be a disciplined people. He says our self-control is to obtain an imperishable prize, but so often we find ourselves living for the perishable.
We see a call to discipline and denial in the commands of God. You may eat, but don’t be a glutton. You may drink, but don’t be drunk. You may spend money, but give to God first. When we ignore the call to self-discipline in God’s commands, we make room for His gifts to become our idols.
The Puritan preacher, Richard Baxter, put it this way, "And in one word that is thus: Wherever the interest of carnal self is stronger and more predominant habitually than the interest of God, of Christ, of everlasting life, there is no true self-denial or saving grace; but where God’s interest is strongest, there self-denial is sincere."
Baxter tells us here that if we examine ourselves and our interests we will see what has greatest priority in our lives by what we are setting our affections on most often. What do you think about most? What do you spend most of your time pursuing? Are you chasing the Giver or His gifts?
We all need to examine our hearts and minds and see what has our chief affections. Self-denial was at the heart of Jesus’ message when He said in Luke 9:23, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”
Discipline and denial are a daily call by our Savior who gave us the ultimate example when He denied His rights as God and went to a cross to purchase a sinful people for Himself. In Christ’s example, we find our call to deny overindulging in earthly pleasures to obtain the greater joy of following our Savior.
Originally Published on January 9, 2018 on Doctrine and Devotion