There's no doubt in my mind that Jesus Christ calls all his followers today to a life of self-denial, however its important to realize that this is not self-denial for the sake of self-denial.
Just as an athlete denies himself many enjoyable things over a period of time in order to be the best and hopefully win a gold medal and enjoy the rewards that will follow, so we are called to self-denial with a view to ETERNAL REWARDS that will most certainly follow.
I'd like to prove that to you God wants us to think this way. He wants us to think about the rewards. Some people like to say, "I don't care about the rewards, I just love Jesus". But Jesus does not WANT us to think that way.
Here's a classic passage on the call to self-denial, but take a look at verse 27, which follows it and is connected by the word "For". There is an important insight in this.
Mat 16:24 Then Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.
Mat 16:25 For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.
Mat 16:26 For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?
Mat 16:27 For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works.
Jesus is saying: "Don't try to save your life down here in this present evil age. Instead, lose it for my sake, and the gospel's. Because the Son of Man is coming and THEN he will reward each according to his works.
At the return of the Son of Man – Jesus – the scales of justices are going to be set right. Those who had faith in Jesus, who REALLY believed the things He said – these are the people who DENIED THEMSELVES many things in this present age in order to do good, to please God and act as sons of their Father in Heaven. To the extent that you and I have lived this way, to that extend we will be rewarded when Jesus returns.
That is why there is also a special reward for those who are eagerly awaiting the coming of Jesus. If you love your life down here, if you are working primarily for rewards down here, then you won't be particularly looking forward to Jesus' return because you won't get to enjoy any of those anticipated rewards after Jesus returns.
If on the other hand you are disciplining yourself and living for God with an Eternal Perspective, you may not be so comfortable right now, but you will comfort yourself with the thought of the Lord's return, and the rewards He is bringing with Him for you then!
Which way are you living your life today?
So much of the writings of the New Testament assume this perspective. Take for example Hebrews 12:28
Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.
See the thought? We are getting something eternally valuable. So don't mess up here. Serve God. Get the power (grace to do so). Do it with reverence and godly fear.
Paul uses the analogy of an athlete:
1Co 9:24 Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it.
1Co 9:25 And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown.
1Co 9:26 Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air.
1Co 9:27 But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.
Paul is commanding us to take this stuff seriously. Are you doing that? Are you being tough on your flesh for the purpose of receiving eternal rewards, just as an athlete goes into training in order to win a gold medal?
Moses was able to give up the world and all the greatest empire of the day could offer him, because he somehow had an eternal perpective AND LOOKED TO THE REWARD.
Heb 11:24 By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter,
Heb 11:25 choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin,
Heb 11:26 esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he looked to the reward.
Even Jesus when suffering on the cross for us looked to the reward!
Heb 12:2 looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
God does not call us to endure suffering because He likes us to suffer. There is a higher purpose and the ultimate intention of the Lord is to bestow rewards on those who chose the path of love and self-sacrifice.
There are so many "crowns" spoken of in the New Testament – which represent rewards for the believer.
James 1:12 Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.
To pastors at any level Peter writes:
1Pe 5:2 Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly;
1Pe 5:3 nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock;
1Pe 5:4 and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away.
Other crowns are mentioned in the Word of God.
We have very little conception of the true value of the rewards God has got for us when we obey. If we did have a greater conception, our willingness to go further with God day by day would be in greater evidence.
Rom 8:18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.
If you are busy pleasing yourself you can't be busy pleasing Jesus. You and I cannot accumulate eternal rewards by pleasing ourselves down here.
I present this message in the hope to stir you up to really consider whether you believe in God's promises and whether you are willing to truly risk for something of eternal value to yourself and others.
In future messages I want to explore this theme further.
God bless you.