The Value Of Self-Denial
By E. E. Shelhamer
Someone has said, "Self-denial is the law of life, but self-indulgence is the law of death." All men need to practice self-denial. Christ evidently had this in mind or He would not have made it a daily universal test of discipleship.
"And He said unto them all, If any man come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me" (Luke 9:23).
Most Christians ignore this plain command entirely. Among those who do aim at it, one class turns it into a legal, fruitless task. Comparatively few seem able to make it a means to greater spiritual, mental and physical attainments. This doubtlessly was God’s original design for self-denial.
"If ye live after the flesh ye shall die; but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live" (Rom. 8:13).
God sometimes leaves it conditional as to the kind and degree of self-denial to be borne. But remember, at the best there is enough "cross" to make it possible to say, "I die daily."
When one spurns his cross and fails to practice the self-denial necessary to keep him on fire, then of course, he suffers loss. And before he fully recovers what has been lost, he will more than likely find a heavier cross than the one laid aside, or it may be a multitude of petty ones.
Self-denial is the ability to forego a temporary pleasure for something more enduring.
Self-denial is the secret of dying in order to live. Just as a grain of wheat dies in order to reproduce itself a hundredfold, so the obedient child of God voluntarily gives up not only a harmful thing, but that which in itself is lawful, to the intent that Christ may possess him more fully. This is the surest way of perpetuating one’s existence and usefulness.
"Let him deny himself daily." It is not compulsory, yet much depends upon regarding or disregarding this saying of Jesus. Great battles have been won or lost by adhering to or despising this principle.
The practice of self-denial has brought many men from obscurity into prominence, and then strange to say, becoming careless and self-indulgent, they have fallen into disgrace.
There are scores of Christians who will never become forceful and efficient because they insist on pampering their appetites and passions. At the same time, there are others of less ability who far surpass them because they have taken themselves in hand and stirred themselves up.
Yes, Stirred Themselves!
God leaves some things for us to do. Then He steps aside as in Hezekiah’s case that He might "try" us and know all that is in our hearts. The prophet declared that there was none "that stirreth up himself to take hold of Thee" (Isa. 64:7). It is quite apparent then that God leaves it to us to decide whether we will go against ourselves in those things that in themselves are innocent but which weaken us morally, mentally and oftentimes physically.
It takes grace and grit to go against not only carnal, selfish desires, but also against many things that are purely innocent. This might mean to jump out of bed on a cold morning and find some place of solitude to pray. The result could be a new sermon, article or book.
A preacher, though urged to stop off and see Niagara Falls, denied himself in order to reach a camp meeting before dark. When he arrived, he was asked to preach and the result was that the altar was crowded with penitents. An ease-taking, self-indulgent man would have missed this opportunity.
Defeat or failure may date back for months or years where the gentle check of the Spirit was disregarded. If this be true (and it is) how needful for every one to live in eternity now! How awful and yet how glorious the thought that souls who are now in the balance may be turned heavenward for the asking. But this effectual asking often comes as a result of some simple act of self-denial. Perhaps it is the declining of some article of food, the laying aside of something superfluous in dress, the refusal to read some pleasing thing or refusing one of the many other enticements which come to us daily.
William Law in his A Serious Call To A Devout And Holy Life says, "If religion requires us sometimes to fast and deny our bodies to be fitter instruments of purity, and more obedient to the good motions of grace, it is to dry up the springs of our passions that war against the soul, to cool the flame of our blood, and to render the mind more capable of divine meditations. Although these abstinences give some pain to the body, yet they so lessen the power of bodily appetites and passions, and so increase our taste for spiritual joys, that even these severities of religion when practiced with discretion, add much to the comfort of our lives."
Yes, it is a "daily" exercise and like any other vigorous exercise, the more we practice the more proficient we become. When we vainly think we have mastered all and have no further need to be on our guard, then like the self-complacent athlete, the championship is lost. More than one man can date the beginning of his downfall to the time when he ceased to be scrupulously conscientious in "little things."
O, be careful! "As ye have received the Lord Jesus, so walk ye in Him" (Col. 2:6). Does this not mean that in order to keep saved or sanctified, we should maintain the same careful and conscientious attitude toward all things as when we were seeking?
"Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall" (1 Cor. 10:12).