Arie den Hartog a missionary of the Protestant Reformed Churches, is currently laboring in Singapore.
A life of self denial, this is the absolute requirement for those who would be the disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. In our last article we considered something of what is involved in true self denial. Self denial is something quite different from merely denying to ourselves certain legitimate pleasures and pursuits on this earth. It is not the monk who lives a life of asceticism, poverty, and deprivation and self-inflicted torture that practices true self denial. In doing all of these things he can utterly fail to deny himself. None of these things are in themselves required of the Lord. Many who do these things are still utterly self seeking and self glorying. Emphatically if we are to be true disciples of our Lord we need to deny OURSELVES. The old monster of self within us must be put down and destroyed. This could happen for the Christian only at the cross of Christ. Our old self-seeking, self-gratifying, and self-promoting nature had to be crucified with Christ. Jesus is for the Christian the supreme example of self denial. We deny ourselves only when we take up our cross and follow Him. If God is to be truly central in our lives, if our whole life is to be lived to the glory of God, we need to begin by denying ourselves. Our glorious Reformed doctrine teaches us this. Does our life as Reformed Christians manifest this? Self denial is the great and constant requirement of the Christian life in every area and department. Because of the sinful nature that remains with the Christian until the day of his death, he needs to be constantly on guard against the old monster of self again arising within him. Let us consider now a few of the most important areas of our Christian life where self denial is so absolutely essential.
Consider first of all the whole area of our life in the Christian home. From the beginning, no truly Christian home can ever be established without man and woman denying themselves. Those who are contemplating marriage ought to consider this very seriously. Let us not begin our marriages after the vain and evil philosophy of this world but according to the standards of the Word of God. Paul exhorts the Christian man in marriage to give himself for his wife even as Christ gave Himself for the church. (SeeEphesians 5:23.) What a tremendous requirement this is! How many even who call themselves Christians completely fail to do this! How many men are in the final analysis only self seeking and egotistical and vain! Let us check our lives, men, whether this is not true. Much of the trouble in marriages today actually comes from this. In years gone by, ungodly men sought to satisfy their own lust and desire for vain glory by taking several wives to themselves. This is not so common today anymore, though this is still the chief reason for divorce and remarriage, the great evil that destroys so many homes. Husbands often cruelly use and abuse their wives for the satisfaction of their own lusts and to exalt themselves. In doing this they seek to justify themselves in that God has given them the position of authority in the home, But how evil and self seeking all this is. Other husbands give themselves over almost totally to pursue their careers to the virtual neglect of their wives and children. They boast in the hard work they do and in the achievements they accomplish. They claim to be doing all of this to provide for their family. But in many cases they do all these things only to seek their own.advancement and glory in the world. Of course men must work hard to support their families. God requires this of us men. But this must all be done in true self denial or it will actually have evil rather than good consequences for the family. As men we must constantly give ourselves for the true welfare of our wives and family. We must seek greater things for our family than only meat and drink and clothing because life consists in much more than this. We must above all be concerned for the spiritual welfare of our family. We must be concerned about dwelling with our wives as the Lord commands us. We must spend much time and energy to nurture our children in the fear and admonition of the Lord. We may not even put our careers before this. There will be times when men have to forego job promotion and advancements because of the higher concerns of spending time with the family and seeking their spiritual welfare. The Christian husband may not leave to his wife alone the great burdens and responsibilities of raising the family and keeping the house. He has to deny himself to fulfill his God-ordained role and responsibility. He may not spend his time pursuing a career or, worse than that, entertaining himself with selfish sports and leisure while his family is neglected. To deny ourselves as husbands means that we realize that there are many things we cannot do which, though they are in themselves perfectly legitimate, take us away from our great’ responsibilities towards our wives and children. We need constantly to examine our lives and everything we do as men and judge whether it is truly being done out of a spirit of self denial and not one of self seeking and self glorying.
The woman’s God-ordained role in marriage is also one that demands self denial as one of the chief requirements. The whole world today teaches the woman to be self seeking and self exalting. She is urged to seek after self realization by seeking her own career and occupation outside of the home and independent from her husband. She is exhorted to liberate herself from the bondage of the home and raising of a family. The God-ordained role of keeping the home is portrayed as being the most shameful and humiliating role a woman can have. All this teaching appeals to the self-seeking, evil nature of the ungodly woman. For this reason the philosophy of woman’s liberation has caught on so quickly and has totally changed the thinking and life style of the modern-day woman. In contrast to all of this the truly godly and Christian woman must be prepared to live in self denial for the glory of her Lord and Savior and for the welfare of her family. Bringing forth the children of the covenant requires self denial. The godly woman must be ready to suffer pain and sorrow, great hardships and trials. She must be like Hannah who earnestly prayed to the Lord for a child and then vowed to give him to the Lord. There are few areas in life that require such great self denial as feeding, caring for, and raising children. Children make tremendous demands upon the mother. No one will deny that the common tasks which a woman has to perform every day in the home can totally drain one’s energy. They can often involve drudgery. It is true that a woman’s work in the home is never done. She has to work hard from early morning till late at night. She receives very little honor and praise, especially not from the world, for all the hard work she does. But the Bible pictures the life of the virtuous woman in Proverbs 31 in exactly this way. This virtuous woman gives her whole life to care for her husband and family. This is true self denial, far exceeding any performed by the nun in the convent or the monk in the monastery. God is glorified by such a life of self denial. A woman who so sacrifices herself brings great blessing to her family and has a very great role in the kingdom of the Lord.
Children have to be taught self denial in the Christian home. Our children are conceived and born in sin. This becomes evident almost immediately at birth already, when you see how demanding and selfish little babies are. “Me first” is the mark of the sinful child. Most of the rivalry that exists in the home between children is due to the awful sin of self centeredness. How proud even little children can be of themselves. This must not be encouraged by parents as something good and cute. Children must be taught that selfishness is a great evil before the Lord. They need to be taught to give way to each other and to share with each other. They need to be taught to put themselves always last, and never to be proud or self seeking. Any parent knows that these are hard lessons for children to learn, as hard as they are for adults. It takes a lot of grace in our lives to overcome self centeredness. We must teach our children to be humble before the Lord, to obey their parents, and not to seek their own will but the will of the Lord in their life. Children must always have before them the godly example of self-sacrificing and self-denying parents who are prepared to sacrifice their all for the Lord’s sake and for the true spiritual welfare of their children.
Let us also consider what self denial is required of us in connection with our calling and place in the church of Jesus Christ. Of which church are we members; with which church do we stand together; and where do we serve the Lord together with our fellow saints? This will be determined by our willingness to deny ourselves. It is rather easy to belong to one of the large modernistic churches of our day. Little true holiness of life and obedience to the Lord is required in many churches today. In the large churches of our day there will be many that stand with us. In. many cases membership in such a church is even considered to be a mark of honor and prestige. But to belong to a small and faithful church of Jesus Christ which boldly and courageously defends and preaches the truth of the Word of God no matter what men say, such church membership will require self denial. Our age is one of great apostasy, not one of great revival movements. We are living in the last days which were prophesied of by our Lord. The true church today will be small. It will be despised and ridiculed by practically the whole world. Her members too will be despised, even more so by so-called Christians from other churches than by those who are openly heathen and ungodly. Belonging to such a church is hard, it requires self denial. The Christian in self-denying love for the Lord is convinced of his calling to stand for the truth and righteousness of God and joins himself to such a church and to people of like-minded faith and purpose.
The church is the place where the Christian serves the Lord. It is not only the place where he receives the blessings of the Lord. It surely is the latter too of course, but it is also the place where he serves together with his fellow saints and for the benefit of his fellow saints. This too requires self denial. The Christian has to be prepared to make large financial sacrifices to support the church. He therefore often has to be prepared to forego many of the luxuries which his neighbor has. The Christian has to give much time and energy to serve the Lord in His church. He therefore has to cut down on his leisure time, if not exclude it altogether, in order to have opportunity to serve in the church. This is especially required of those who have the calling and responsibility to be office bearers in the church. Elders and deacons have to spend many nights out attending to important meetings and visiting the people of God in their needs and afflictions. All this they have to do after a day of hard work on the farm, in the office, or factory. Often the temptation will be to stay at home and enjoy a relaxing evening with their family. But they may not yield to this temptation. For the good of the church and her members they need to deny themselves and be willing to spend and be spent and to exhaust all of their resources. But also the ordinary member of the church has to deny himself. He too has to be busy visiting the sick, helping the needy, and encouraging the lonely and downhearted. Every member of the church has to have the mind of the Lord Jesus Christ, not seeking only his own things but also the things of others. Every sincere member of the church of Jesus Christ has to be involved in society meetings and Bible study groups with his fellow saints. He has to be prepared to sacrifice his time and energy to prepare himself for these meetings. He has to study the Word of God. He has to read Christian books and be aware of the issues of the day that are facing his church. There will be times when he has to sit up late after work to study and prepare himself so that he can make his contribution for the welfare of his fellow saints according to the talents which the Lord has given. How many churches today are going apostate and the ordinary people are not aware of what is happening! They are too busy with selfish cares and pleasures of the world to spend time in the careful study of the Word of God. They are not concerned about their responsibility to help preserve and defend the truth and righteousness of God in the church. To be concerned about these things we need to know how to deny ourselves. We need to be prepared to receive opposition and even scorn sometimes from some members of our own church.
All of us as Christians have the calling to be living personal witnesses of the truth of God. We all have the calling to communicate the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ to this world of sin and darkness. We have to be concerned about our unbelieving neighbor and bring the gospel to him. Often we fail to do this. Often we remain silent when we should speak and testify, Opportunities to be a witness for our Lord pass us by. What is the chief reason for this? For most of us we are seldom threatened with physical persecution from our ungodly neighbors. Most of us are not yet in the situation where we really have to suffer and even die for the testimony of the Lord Jesus Christ. Many faithful saints who have gone before us have sacrificed their very life for the sake of the gospel. But for us so often the main reason why we remain silent is simply that we are ashamed to testify. We fear for our own honor and reputation among men. We refuse to deny ourselves. But we must for the Lord’s sake. We must follow the Lord Jesus Christ Himself and also the many great saints and martyrs that have gone before us. Our Lord Jesus exhorts us to confess His name courageously and boldly before men, not fearing the shame and persecution of men. Only then will He also confess our name before our heavenly Father. It is so easy to go along with the ungodly conversation and life style of this world. To be different in this world, to live in holiness and consecration to the Lord in this world, we need to deny ourselves. Are we prepared to do this?
We could of course go on to speak of many more things in connection with our calling to deny ourselves. Let us examine our own lives day by day. How much do we do every day for our own glory and advantage? How much of our life each day is truly lived in self-denying love and consecration to the Lord? May God give us all the grace to be more faithful disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ.