I’m glad for the opportunity to speak to you this evening because of the subject that the host society chose. I believe that Christian young people live in one of the most difficult ages that the church has ever lived in. And I pray that you might be able to be content with your lives in this age. I pray especially because when I look at the young people, I see so many young people that don’t really look content. They don’t very often look satisfied, don’t very often look like they are happy that things are the way they are. Sometimes the look in their eyes tells me that they wish things really were different.
Now, I don’t claim to be able to read your minds, or be a specialist on the behavior and feelings of young people. The simple fact is that it was not that many years ago that I was sitting there listening to the ministers speak. And I remember pretty well that, although it looked like I was enjoying myself (and most of the time I was), deep down I wasn’t really content with the way things were going.
I want you to be content in your lives —content in suffering; content under the authority of parents, teachers, employers and government; and, content in self-denial you are called to exercise.
There are some mistakes I don’t want to make this evening. It would be very easy for me to introduce this subject by saying that “You young people better get on the stick and start practicing self-denial,’’ or “You young people better take your parents for an example of self-denial.’’ That would be a mistake, because if there is ignorance of self-denial or a lack of practicing self-denial, it is not limited to young people. All of us are at fault. It would be just as easy, but probably just as mistaken a notion, to say that we are failing miserably to practice self-denial, to make this speech one continuous and sharp rebuke to you for failing to deny yourselves in any way. That would not be correct. You may not practice self-denial as you ought. There may be some present who don’t deny themselves in the least. But I believe very strongly that, because self-denial is a distinctively Christian virtue, and because I believe that most of you are Christians, I also believe that to one degree or another, you are practicing self-denial. I believe that the committee that chose this subject was thinking the same thing, since the theme for this speech is “Contentment in Self-denial” which assumes that you are practicing self-denial, but need to know how to be content in that.
Self-denial is a fundamental element of the Christian life because self- denial is a requirement of Jesus Christ. It’s not the case that self-denial is a nice option that I hold before you this evening —take it or leave it. It’s not true that there are two different kinds of young people that are going to heaven— Christians who practice self- denial and Christians who don’t practice self-denial. This is a mistaken notion that some are spreading today. And I don’t want any of you to have that notion either. I want you to know exactly what’s up. This is what’s up: If you are not practicing self-denial, the simple fact of the matter is that you are not a believer. I’m not saying that you are not an elect. I’m not saying that you will not live eternally in heaven. You may. But I’m simply saying that you are not a believer; and you have not been born again. And if you die like that, you will not go to heaven. This is not my conclusion that I pulled out of my sleeve before I came tonight. This is the very word of Him Whose name you carry (see Matthew 16:24.)
Self-denial is a denial of self. You may say, “Tell me something I didn’t know,” but sometimes I think that we suppose self-denial is simply a denying ourselves of certain things. If we think that self-denial consists of simply giving up certain things, and that if we are successful in giving up certain things we have practiced this Biblically demanded virtue, we are dead wrong!
As a young person, you may take the position that you will never drink in excess, smoke pot or sniff cocaine. In itself, that sounds good. A child of God should never drink too much; a child of God should never do drugs. But there are many young people, who are not Christians, who say the same thing: “I will never drink in excess, and I’m not going to take drugs.” It may be that the reason you will never drink in excess is not that Jesus Christ forbids it, but that you know that it will ruin your life —your chances for financial success, your reputation in the world. And this is just what non-Christian young people say as well. Then you are not denying yourself; you are affirming yourself. You deny yourself certain things so that you will be better off.
Maybe you say to yourself, “I’m going to deny myself the sexual pleasures that many young people are enjoying today. I’m not going to be promiscuous; I’m not going to sleep around; I’m going to be and remain a virgin.” But if you say that to yourself because you don’t want to ruin your reputation or become pregnant or become infected with some horrible disease, then you are not denying yourself, you are affirming yourself, the priority of yourself.
Self denial is a denial of self.
You remember when Christ was being taken captive by the bands of soldiers when Judas betrayed Him that the disciples ran away in a panic. John Mark ran so quickly that he left his clothes in the hands of his pursuers. But Peter followed at a distance to see where Jesus was taken, and went around the fire to warm himself and watch what was going on. But soon Peter was recognized for who he was, a disciple of Jesus. And when faced with more than one accusation that he actually was one of His, Peter said, “I know not the man; I am not one of His disciples; I refuse association with Him; I disown Him forever; He never was, nor do I wish Him to be today, a part of my life and my desires; I will do nothing for His good.” What did Peter do? He denied Christ.
This illustrates the way we are to deny ourselves. For the sake of Jesus, we refuse intimate association with ourselves. For the sake of Christ, when pleasures call, when material possessions beckon, I will not consider my wants, my desires, my pleasures. I disown myself. That is self-denial.
Maybe you say, “Come on, be reasonable, Deny intimate association with myself? Tell me another joke.” Or, “Why should I deny myself? I’m a Christian; shouldn’t I rather affirm myself? Shouldn’t I, in order to feel good about myself, let my self be in control, in the driver’s seat?” Or, “How is it possible that I deny myself, that I deny me? If I am denying myself, who’s in control here?”
This is possible and necessary because there is more than one “self” in me. And if this sounds paradoxical, just read Romans 7 to find a good paradox. And now your Reformed theology that you’ve learned in catechism is important and comes into play. When you were born, your parents gave you only one thing: a completely sinful, depraved nature. There was not an ounce of spiritual good that was handed down to you when you were born. This is the truth of total depravity; in you, that is, in your flesh, there is no good thing. But that’s not all there is to you. If you are a believer, a regenerated Christian, there is also in you a new man. That man in you is Christ! Christ lives in you. Christ has given you His resurrection life. And that means that in you there is a battle going on, the hottest battle that ever raged on the face of the earth, battle of the old man against the new man.
Did you ever have a guilty conscience? That’s a little skirmish in the war. Did you ever change your mind “half a dozen” times about whether you were going to go to the party with the friends? That’s the battle going on with your old and new man.
Self-denial is your new man saying “no” to you, to your old man, when the old man wants the upper hand. Sometimes I tell the catechism students that inside of me something is going on like goes on at homes where there are brothers. Brothers, don’t always get along winningly. Although we are best of friends now, my brother and I would fight once in awhile. And, because I was older, in our fights I would often pin him down and tell him that I would let him go if he would promise that he wouldn’t hit me. The promise usually came pretty easily, but when I let him up, he would come up swinging (probably with good reason). Well, the same is true with our old man. He’s always there. You will not rid yourself of him until you die and go to heaven. And you can never believe Him if he promises he’s going to be good. If you’re ever off your guard, you’ll “take it in the chin.”
You must deny your self, that is, deny that old man that would always have the upper hand and paste you one on the chin.
Now, let’s make this practical and apply it.
Perhaps there’s a nice looking young man from school who asks you out. And he’s not only nice looking, he’s got a personality that won’t quit, and maybe rich besides. There’s only one problem: he’s not a Christian. Or, he’s a Christian, but only in name. Or, he’s not a Reformed Christian and has shown antagonism to the Reformed faith. What do you do? Your old man is saying “Yes, I’d like to date him. I haven’t had anyone ask me out for months and even years. And if it takes much longer, I might just end up single for the rest of my life. I’m going to date him anyway.” But you say “NO” to that old man. For the sake of Jesus Christ Who commands me to date and marry in the Lord, I say “NO.” What have you done? You’ve not only denied yourself something pleasurable; you’ve denied your self.
Maybe you have a date. Maybe your date is a Christian. But maybe your date says, “Let’s take this dirt road down into the woods, and I have a nice blanket in the trunk.” Or, “There’s a movie just out that’s supposed to be really good. We’re going there tonight.” Or, “How about if we go to that party at so and so’s house. They’re supposed to have a keg of beer there; everybody’s coming.” Your old man says, “Yes.” He says, “We won’t get caught.” Your old man says, “Well, that sounds good.” But your new man (Christ in you) says, “No; for the sake of Christ, Who forbids this kind of behavior, I will not.”
When you get married, self-denial is the kind of behavior you will have to become familiar with, because your marriage will not be a happy marriage if you don’t know anything about self-denial. When you get married, your old man will say, “Well, she doesn’t need me around the house. It sounds much better to join a couple of ball leagues and play a couple of nights a week; and then on the other free nights I can be fishing or hunting. As long as I’m home a night a week, and always on Sunday, it’ll be all right.” And your new man needs to say, “You’re a fool, man. I must deny you. I must put you down. I must keep you down because my wife and children need me at home.”
When you marry, you take the vows that promise you will deny yourself. You are going to be with your husband or wife for better and for worse, for richer and for poorer, in sickness and in health. That means when the spouse is in an automobile accident, and lives, but cannot perform the duties of a wife and mother, you remain married to her the rest of your life, denying yourself the “privilege” of divorcing her and marrying another who will be able to satisfy your needs. That means that when your spouse deserts you, you deny yourself the opportunity to marry another, and you remain single for the rest of your life, for Christ’s sake.
My old man says, “Yes, I want to be entertained at the movies; yes, I want to have fun dancing with worldly music in worldly company, enticing myself sexually with the dances of the world.” My new man (Christ in me) says, “I will not be entertained with sin at the movies; I will be entertained in Christian company with Christian entertainment and Christian friends. I will not amuse myself with the worldly dance, violating the seventh commandment.”
Regarding your faith.
My old man says, “The doctrine of total depravity is nonsense. The doctrine of total depravity goes against my grain. I want to think better of myself than that there is nothing in me that is good, and everything in me is evil, except what God gives.” The doctrines of limited atonement and unconditional election can be offensive. Christ died for only some, and those for whom He died are those whom God chose before they were born, without reference to what they were or would become? God is sovereign over the sin of men, so that, without being responsible for it. He is still in perfect control over it? Nonsense! Nothing I want to accept.” And my new man (Christ in me) says, “Away with you, I don’t know you.”
Regarding unbelieving friends or relatives.
Then it happens that relatives are excommunicated, or walk in open unbelief and rebelling against God. The word of God says, “Have no fellowship with them; no, don’t even eat with them.” Maybe that’s your brother or sister. Maybe that’s your mother or father. Someday that could be your son or daughter. And your old man says, “There’s no way in the world that I’m not going to visit with my parents, with my brother and sister. There’s no way in the world that God could require that of me.” And your new man (Christ in you) says, “1 must deny you, old man. I must put you down. I must obey the word of God.”
And then we’re tempted to say, sometimes, “It’s not worth it.” When the dates aren’t there; when the drinking is tempting, “everyone else” is calling me to go along; when I’m lonely of my parents and friends; then we are tempted to say, “It isn’t worth all the suffering, all the misery, all the giving up, all the sacrificing, all the losing.”
Well, I have an incentive for you, (a carrot, if you will) that is God’s incentive. And knowing this is the power to give you contentment in your suffering.
Look with me at Mark 10:28-31.
The incentive for you to deny yourself is the future blessing that God promises (“in the world to come, eternal life”). This isn’t the only world; there’s a world coming. And we will receive this reward of eternal life in the world to come. Now is the time of work; now is the time of losing, of forsaking, of giving up, of denying self. The time of reward is… the future. And the people of God must look ahead to the future when they think of their self-denial. God promises this to those who deny themselves.
What a precious incentive is this that God gives to all of His people. It is life. It is life for the soul and for the body. The resurrection from the dead of our body belongs to this reward. It is life for the soul that will be everlasting life of the highest quality, the best life, the fullest life, the richest life that is possible; that life which God has worked out and prepared for us in the death and resurrection of His own Son, Jesus Christ.
And that is so much more precious than all those things we’ve given up, there is really no comparison. That’s what Paul says in Romans 8:18: “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time (and the context is clear that these sufferings are the good works of suffering with and for Jesus Christ) are not worthy to be compared with the glory.”
Knowing this, we can be content!
Sometimes when we want some earthly pleasure very badly, we say that all the misery we go through in order to attain it is worth it. Maybe you want a new car very badly. So you take on another job, and work in all your spare time in order to get that car. And when you get it, you say, “It was all worth it.” Some of you are here from Loveland. When we visited Loveland 4 or 5 times in the past 10 years, we wanted to see the view of the Colorado mountains from the 14,000 foot height of Long’s Peak. You have to hike and hike and hike, in weariness and pain…until you finally come to the top and say, “It was worth every minute of the hiking….”
And yet Paul says, the reward that we await is not worthy to be compared with the suffering that we experience now. And that’s why Mark says, ‘‘It’s a hundred times better than what you give.” So with self-denial. It’s drudgery and pain; it’s giving up and losing; it’s hurt and misery. But in the end there awaits us a reward that will overshadow all the pain and misery, so great that all this in the present time will not even be remembered for the glory that we have then.
But what about now?
There is also a reward for God’s people today.
Mark 10 says, ‘‘he shall receive an hundred-fold now in this time houses and brethren and sisters and mothers and children and lands.” There’s eternal life in the coming world, but there is also a reward in this time.
This does not mean abundant earthly possessions. It might seem on the surface that the Lord is teaching here that the reward in this life for His people’s good works, is abundant, earthly, material possessions, and relatives, and friends. Sooner or later we will get back what we gave up and then get it back a hundred fold? For many reasons, it’s obvious that that is not what the Lord intends to teach.
The Lord promises here that God will give us in this life a great good; He will give us a good that we will also experience to be a great good, and that we experience to be a hundred times better than that which we gave up for the sake of Jesus Christ.
But that good in this life is just the beginning of eternal life, and the enjoyment of eternal life by the child of God. When the Lord says a hundredfold lands and mothers and others, He is saying, ‘‘the joy of the experience of eternal life will be a hundred times better to you than what you gave up for my sake.”
Contentment in self-denial is the incentive God gives to deny ourselves. And the incentive in this life is Christ and the experiences of the fellowship with Christ for the sake of Whom we abandoned those things. We gave them up for the sake of Christ. We gave them up to have Him and to walk with Him and to know His friendship; and now that friendship with Christ is to us in our own experience a hundred times better than what we gave up for Christ.
We forget that sometimes.
Isn’t Christ better than everything that we might give up for him? Don’t feel sorry for yourself, because you’ve lost something for Christ’s sake. You mustn’t feel sorry for yourself when you lose everything earthly for Christ’s sake. You must feel sorry for those who refuse to give up for the sake of Christ; they also have their reward. But you have a hundred fold reward for that which you have given up.
Isn’t that incentive for you? the knowledge you need to be content in your self-denial?
You say, “I’m much happier when I affirm myself, when I give in to my old man”? You say, “I don’t believe you when you way that the reward is a hundred-fold joy even in this life”? Well, you’re wrong.
And I call to witness a dozen old friends before you tonight. And I wish to God that I could parade them before you, one by one, and have each tell his tale of woe to you. I call to witness the ones whose lives are completely ruined by drugs and drink, because they said “Yes” when they should have said “No.” I call to witness the ones whose marriages are nothing but a living “hell” because they said “Yes” when they should have said “No” and “No” when they could have said “yes.” I call to witness the ones whose souls are ruined by despair that God sends as His judgment upon them because in the troubled times of their marriage they denied their marriage vows of “till death do us part” and they made new marriages.
And I call myself to witness tonight. By the grace of God I was able to say “No” to the riches that I wanted, not because there is anything wrong with riches, but because there was a call to the ministry to which I had to say “Yes,” and to which my old man said, “Not for the world!” By the grace of God I said “No” to the unbelievers I could have (and anyone could have) married, and said “yes” to my wife of ten years. By the grace of God there was a renunciation of self, and an affirmation of Christ. This is not to say I’m perfect. Far from it. I’m a sinner no less than you. My flesh is just as corrupt as yours; I have nothing to brag about. And I hope that you understand that I’m dead serious about that.
And I’ve never been happier in my life. God gave me a hundred fold joy for those things I’ve given up. Oh, that’s not to say that it wasn’t misery, and it isn’t misery today. It is. It’s a denial of me. And I don’t like that. But I have Christ. And having Christ, I have everything!