Die to Self-Discipline, Awaken to Self-Denial
By the dominion of sin in us, we are bound under the power of Satan; but the Son is ready, by his Spirit, to make us free;
and then we shall be free indeed.[i]
elf-discipline seeks to control the flesh, but self-denial for Christ’s sake is liberation from all other rules but the Lord’s; we are freed from ourselves. Self-discipline constrains, but self-denial for Christ’s sake is freeing.
We are surrounded by the world’s values, and so it is difficult to hold to the goal of apprehending our freedom exclusively through Christ. This inward freedom that comes only through our Lord must precede efforts toward physical transformation. Our liberation in Christ is of such importance that the Lord may block our attempts to obey until we understand the difference between self-discipline for our own purposes and the self-denial that nurtures the life of Christ within us: “For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all” (Romans 11:32).
As Matthew Henry says of the new covenant under Christ: it is “of liberty and freedom; not liberty to sin, but in and unto duty.”[ii] By His sacrificial love, Jesus delivers us from the tyranny of the childish whims of our physical bodies so that we are freed to love and serve Him. In losing ourselves to His love, we find our freedom.
No one can serve two masters; as Christians we can't serve a strict schedule of discipline of our own making and yet remain flexible in obedience to God's guidance. Because we belong to Him, we can’t attain freedom. We must by faith receive it as a gift from the Lord, earned for us at the Cross; thus all the glory belongs to Him. We obey Him because we love Him and trust He knows best, not because we need to earn anything beyond what He has already given.
If the Lord allowed us permanent success through our own efforts, we would acquire the mistaken belief that our liberation arrived because we followed our own rule. With that belief would come judgment toward those who do not also follow our rules. This is the tyranny of legalism, which enslaves not only those who are guided by it but also threatens everyone who has the misfortune to come into contact with that person. Pity the one who is loved by a person who suffers the sin of legalism.
We are being strengthened toward the only way of living that will truly work for those who follow Christ, and that is moment-by-moment abiding and moment-by-moment obedience. Our challenge is not one of self-discipline but is nearly the opposite; it is a challenge of falling back into the Lord's arms. We do not have to tame self-will; we need to release it. May we practice releasing our rights to ourselves to the Lord in faith, and then watch and see what God will do.
Pray: Lord help me accept with peace the truth that I am not my own, I’ve been bought at great price. Help me to say, “I am thine, O Lord” and mean it, and to have an increasing understanding of what this kind of release looks like in my everyday life. Save me from the bitterness of self-sacrifice, and teach me the peace and joy of self-denial for Your sake. Keep me from blaming others for the lessons and pressures You bring to bear on my life as I learn to bring my frustrations to You rather than pouring them out on the those around me. Help me trust that You won’t forget me, that my needs and wants are important to You, and that Your love for me is perfect. In Jesus’ Name we pray.
Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.