Style or Denial?
We, as Christians, are called to deny ourselves and pick up our cross (Matthew 16:24), but increasingly find society encouraging us to do the opposite. For example, the “Health and Wealth” Gospel teaches that good deeds will earn physical rewards from God, and worse, we see pastors supporting this doctrine by spending offering money on private jets. Additionally, media tells us to believe in ourselves and to follow our dreams. American culture is inherently focused on individualism, on independence.
How does focusing on ourselves affect our Christian faith?
In Michael Horton’s paper, “Are Churches Secularizing America?”, he proposes that most Americans resemble moralistic, therapeutic Deism more than they resemble Christianity. According to studies, Horton cites that the average American thinks of God as a being who exists solely for the happiness of humanity. America’s focus on the self has transformed God from a being who is to be worshiped into a genie who grants wishes.
Self-denial is more than just refraining from pleasure, there is a spiritual aspect as well. There are sinful acts that we enjoy doing despite the pain that inevitably follows. For us to enter into Heaven and God’s presence, we must give up these behaviors by dying to our old ways.
Because Individualism is being preached by American culture, we have forgotten that self-denial is about both overcoming sinful impulses as well as putting on a new version of ourselves before God and His children. Focusing on one’s self is not inherently sinful, but it becomes a sin when we begin to trust in our own knowledge rather than God’s. So how do Christians overcome an internal battle?
Daniel 1:8 helps us to unpack this question.
“But Daniel made up his mind that he would not defile himself with the king’s choice food or with the wine which he drank; so he sought permission from the commander of the officials that he might not defile himself”
Daniel was in the heart of Babylon. He was likely educated on mysticism and the power of Babylonian deities, and Paganism was on display for him every day. So why did Daniel choose to take a stance on the food in particular? He could have called out the magicians using the powers of false gods, but that act would have most likely gotten him killed. Daniel acted on his own self-interest, but he still drew a line.
The point in this passage is that we, as Christians, have to draw a line between spiritual and worldly desires; we are to be in the world but not of it. How we live our lives shows the world our priorities.
How do you show the world that God is in control of your life? Maybe you choose not to abuse alcohol, wait until marriage to have sex or maybe it’s a simple act of giving up soda for lent. Every act communicates to the world who our master is. Hopefully, our lives communicate that Christianity is more than a life tips book.
Where will you draw the line?