Lent or no Lent, not doing some things you feel like doing is the daily pattern for the disciples of Jesus. Yes, daily. “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23).
In the resurrection there will be no self-denial because none of our desires will be sinful or foolish. Till then we have sinful and foolish desires daily. Hence, “Let him deny himself and take up his cross daily.”
What Paul Says
This is so essential in Christian living that Paul made it part of his one-time sermon to Felix (“he reasoned about righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment,” Acts 24:25); he made it part of the fruit of the Spirit (“faithfulness, gentleness, self-control,” Galatians 5:23); he made it part of the qualifications for overseers (“self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined,” Titus 1:8).
And he gave us a taste of the sort of thing he meant: “But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry” (1 Corinthians 7:9). So he means there are times for denying some of the desires we have for sex.
It’s the sort of thing that athletes do. “Every athlete exercises self-control in all things” (1 Corinthians 9:25). Paul had very little trust in the desires his body threw at him daily: “I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:27). That’s an innocuous translation. Literally: “I give my body a black eye (hupopiazō) and make it a slave (doulagōgō).”
The Christian Experience
This is normal, daily, Christian warfare. Only saints delight in the law of God at their depths. Here is how they talk: “I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind” (Romans 7:21–23).
A war indeed. Daily. “The desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do” (Galatians 5:17).
And make no mistake, sexual desires are not our most deadly desires that need daily denial. Anger, resentment, fear of man, discouragement (yes), self-pity, self-promotion, hardness, envy, moodiness, sulking, indifference to suffering, laziness, boredom, passiveness, lack of praise, lack of joy in Jesus, disinterest in others, etc. These need daily killing (Romans 8:13).
Is this Christian Hedonism? Yes. Why does Paul live like a self-disciplined athlete? Simple: Greater joy. “Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable” (1 Corinthians 9:25).
Recent posts from John Piper —
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Wolfhart Pannenberg on Schism
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