Why on earth would a person deny himself candy right before supper? Is it not for his own good? Is it not because if he fills up on candy, then steak and mashed potatoes suddenly lose their satisfying power, and supper is, in effect, ruined? Filling up on the lesser—candy—actually destroys the pleasure that could be found in the greater—steak.
Why on earth do people go on diets? Is it not for their own good? Is it not because the benefits and the joy found in a healthy weight are greater than the benefits and joy found in a Snickers bar? Going for the smaller, short-run joy found in chocolate actually works to destroy the greater, long-run joy found in health.
This is how the Bible talks about self-denial. Jesus says some jaw-dropping things like, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). And he says, “Any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33). That’s some serious self-denial. If you aren’t willing to deny yourself of a lot of things this world has to offer, even to the point of giving up your own life, you can’t be a Christian. So we see that self-denial is at the heart of what it means to be a Christian.
That being so, it begs the question, Why? For what purpose must a Christian deny himself so much that this world has to offer? Answer? Right after Jesus says that a person must deny himself and take up his cross and follow him (see Matthew 16:24 quoted above), he says, “For [because] whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:25). You don’t want to lose your life, right? You want to save it, right? Then to do that in the ultimate sense means you’ve got to give up your life now. It’s the same principle extrapolated to eternity that I gave of a person denying himself the short-run kicks of a Snickers bar for the longer-run benefits and joy of good health.
Christian, when our Good Shepherd asks us to deny ourselves, he’s telling us to not eat candy here on earth because steak and mashed potatoes await us in heaven. Stop dinking around with the half-baked pleasures that this earth has to offer like TV and sex and shallow popularity and padded retirement accounts. Instead, go for glory. Lay aside even those things that are good right now on this earth that you might have what is best for all time in eternity.
Grace and peace to you as you fight to set your sights on higher joys.