The Deep Joy of Self-Denial

Jesus gives us commands — “demands,” we might call them. They are words issued to us from his comprehensive authority in all of heaven and earth, all linked together in some way, forming a beautiful tapestry of what it means to live under his lordship.

But the question remains for us in how they are connected. How do we understand them in relation to one another? Take, for example, the commands to rejoice and renounce.

Jesus tells us in Luke 6:22–23,

Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.

This command is to rejoice. Paradoxically, we are blessed when we’re reviled on account of Jesus. And when that happens, “in that day” Jesus tells us, we should rejoice and leap for joy. Why? Because our reward is great in heaven.

The experience of affliction is light and momentary and is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison (2 Corinthians 4:17). So, Christian, rejoice!

Then Jesus says in Luke 14:33,

Any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.

This command is to renounce. In fact, if you want to be a disciple of Jesus you must renounce all that you have. This is good old-fashioned self-denial — the stopping, quitting, halting of anything and everything that might impede our fellowship with God.

So Jesus demands that we rejoice in our heavenly hope, and renounce all that we have. Rejoice and renounce. Is there a connection?

The Joy of Embracing Jesus

It has to do with the true meaning of self-denial. In What Jesus Demands from the World, John Piper explains that the command to renounce all means to abandon our pursuit of everlasting joy in earthly things. It is, as Jesus says in Matthew 13:44, our selling all we have in order to buy that field which possesses a treasure of infinite value.

“Renounce everything on earth,” Piper writes, “in order that you might have Jesus. . . . Jesus’s demand for self-denial is another way of calling us to radically pursue our deepest and most lasting joy” (85–86).

So rejoicing and renouncing are two sides of the same coin. If we are to rejoice in our heavenly hope — the fact that our reward is great in heaven — it must be because we ultimately have renounced our vain hopes in the things of this world. They are just toys, as C.S. Lewis reminds us, toys that were never intended to possess our hearts (The Problem of Pain, 107).

And therefore, we silence those false claims that the old person inside us would otherwise promote. We renounce them, and we set our eyes on heaven, even through the things of this earth, for behold, “[our] reward is great in heaven.”