Christian Perspectives on Self-Denial

We got into some discussion on what it meant to deny oneself (Luke 9:23). We talked about how those who follow Christ have "died to sin" (Romans 6) and how it is now Christ who lives in us (Galatians 2:20). Because of this, one will eventually find their joy in obeying Jesus in their walk with him (John 15:9-11). Still, while we are in our sinful bodies we are tempted by sin in our Christian walk. And so we are called to deny our flesh while we wait until Jesus comes to redeem us from this disobedient world (Titus 2:11-14).

It is always good to learn from previous Christian thinkers who have written about topics like these, so here are some excerpts from their writings concerning self-denial and joy in following Jesus.


Dietrich Bonhoeffer in The Cost of Discipleship


“If any man would come after me, let him deny himself." The disciple must say to himself the same words Peter said of Christ when he denied him: "I know not this man." Self-denial is never just a series of isolated acts of mortification or asceticism. It is not suicide, for there is an element of self-will even in that. To deny oneself is to be aware only of Christ and no more of self, to see only him who goes before and no more the road which is too hard for us. Once more, all that self denial can say is: "He leads the way, keep close to him."


C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity

The principle runs through all life from top to bottom. Give up yourself, and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favorite wishes every day and the death of your whole body in the end: submit with every fiber of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find him, and with him everything else thrown in.


John Piper in Desiring God

The pursuit of joy in God is not optional. It is not an “extra” that a person might grow into after he comes to faith. It is not simply a way to “enhance” your walk with the Lord. Until your heart has hit upon this pursuit, your “faith” cannot please God. It is not saving faith. Saving faith is the confidence that if you sell all you have and forsake all sinful pleasures, the hidden treasure of holy joy will satisfy your deepest desires. Saving faith is the heartfelt conviction not only that Christ is reliable, but also that He is desirable. It is the confidence that He will come through with His promises and that what He promises is more to be desired than all the world.


John Wesley in Self-Denial


On the whole, then, to deny ourselves, is, to deny our own will, where it does not fall in with the will of God; and that however pleasing it may be. It is, to deny ourselves any pleasure which does not spring from, and lead to, God; that is, in effect, to refuse going out of our way, though into a pleasant, flowery path; to refuse what we know to be deadly poison, though agreeable to the taste.

Read Wesley's sermon here:


C.S. Lewis in The Weight of Glory

The New Testament has lots to say about self-denial, but not about self-denial as an end in itself.  We are told to deny ourselves and to take up our crosses in order that we may follow Christ; and nearly every description of what we shall ultimately find if we do so contains an appeal to desire.  If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith.  Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak.  We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by an offer of a holiday at the sea.  We are far too easily pleased.

Read Lewis' sermon here: