Self-Denial in a Self-Indulgent Culture

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question slip

A few weeks ago I was part of a panel answering questions on the topic of romance and relationships for the boys in our youth group. One of the students (via an anonymous slip of paper) asked why God would give feelings of attraction at such a young age without providing an outlet for those feelings until marriage.

The question was sincere, but I fear it points to an underlying assumption to which we are susceptible. The assumption is this, to have feelings is to have the right to act on those feelings—feelings which flow from the heart.

The Siren Call of the Heart

The world tells us to follow our heart and our heart alone (listen to any Taylor Swift song or watch the latest rom-com if you don’t believe me). It’s as if the truth of the universe lies in the deepest recesses of our heart, and we have only to dig long enough to find it. Without Christ, it’s not surprising the world is pushing this self-centered agenda.

The world’s call to follow our hearts and act upon our every feeling is appealing, but what’s wrong with it?

Why Can’t I Follow My Heart?

Our hearts are the problem. Scripture tells us they will deceive us. “Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Matt. 15:19). When we dig deep into our heart, instead of “truth” or redemption, we’ll find the root of our sinful nature. So when we follow our heart, we’re relying on ourselves for truth and salvation. Put another way, when we follow our hearts, we aren’t following Jesus.

Instead, we need to listen to Christ when he makes it clear what a disciple is to do. Instead of following his own sinful heart, “let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24).

  1. Deny yourself

    Following our own sinful heart is like depending on a blind man to get you across the interstate at rush hour. It won’t turn out well. Therefore, the first step is to realize we need a new guide. We need to stop listening to a sinful heart and the wayward desires of our flesh and look to Christ.

  2. Take up your cross

    John Owen encourages believers to “be killing sin or it will be killing you.” In this way, the second step goes beyond a realization of fallen-ness and points to the crucifixion of our sinful nature. We must put our sinful nature to death. Taking up your cross is the ultimate self-denial, for it is the death of self.

  3. Follow him

    Now that sin has been put to death, we must live with Christ and follow him on a daily basis. “If we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him” (Rom 6:8). This is the joy of a believer, living in union with Christ.

So why does God allow for feelings of attraction without an outlet? In short, to bring glory to his name as we, by the power of the Spirit, deny ourselves and follow Christ.

My twitter friend and TGC editor Matt Smethurst summarized this train of thought in his tweet yesterday:


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