UPDATED Today’s AMI QT Devotional, first posted on June 16, 2014, is provided by Pastor Charles Choe who leads Tapestry Church in Los Angeles. He is a graduate of University of California, Riverside (BA) and Fuller Theological Seminary (M.Div.).
Devotional Thought for This Morning
“A Recommended Lifestyle for the Post COVID-19 World”
1 Timothy 4:1-5 (ESV)
…who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.”
It’s no coincidence that some of the most infamous cults in history have forbidden marriages or in the case of David Koresh, that all women belong to him. Most cults have dietary restrictions, not out of common sense or health reasons, but out of desire to be favored by the Lord.
Paul pulls no punches in calling the commands to abstain from marriage or certain foods “the teachings of demons” (v. 1). Why such harsh language? Because the root of avoiding sex in marriage and certain foods for holiness puts the Gospel message in reverse. It is no longer the grace of God that saves and sanctifies us, but it is now my ascetic practices, my self-denial that pleases God. These practices, which in themselves are not wrong, nevertheless become wrong because their motive (that of gaining God’s favor by self-denial) is wrong.
This is a good example of the subtlety by which error begins. When a deviation enters a stream of truth, at the first point of deviation, error looks like truth; it is very hard to see it as error. This is what has misled so many people. They never recognize error until they become engrossed in it.
Here’s the point. There is a distinction between self-denial and denying self. Jesus said, If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me (Luke 9:23). That is denying self. But that is easily confused with self-denial, which says, “I will give up this and that, so I can gain a special favor from God, so I can get something in return.” When our motivation ultimately is to achieve something for ourselves by our actions, we are no longer denying self but practicing self-denial. How subtle the differences are! This is dangerous. This is what Paul cautions us on. Live a life of self-denial! If you deny yourself of anything, do not do it to gain God’s favor, but because it’s a response to God’s favor in your life.
As we all navigate through the aftermath of COVID-19 in which many will live with far less than before, may I offer words of recommendation to those who are left unscathed economically by the pandemic: practice self-denial, that is, avoid ostentatious display of affluence; instead, live the life of modesty and generosity.
Prayer: Lord, thank You that I can enjoy the things You have created. Teach me the difference between self-denial and denying self. Amen.
Bible Reading for Today: Isaiah 3
Lunch Break Study
Read Matthew16:24-28: Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.  For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?  For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.  Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”
Questions to Consider
- Could you say in light of this passage that you are following Christ?
- What is the one thing you have tangibly denied to follow Christ today?
- What is the one thing you have to deny yourself in for the rest of this day? How are you doing with this? Convicted, ambivalent or different?
- Following Christ is the death of the self, and the rise of the new self. You can truly say you have come to follow Christ until you have come to the end of yourself.
- Perhaps you resisted the urge to be right in a petty argument or you gave into your roommate’s preference. Whatever may be the case, dying to self is not a matter of theory, but practice.
- It’s so easy to read through this famous passage dismissively, but the call to follow Christ is startling and radical. We need to sense its impact anew today.
Before we turn in for the night, ask these questions considering what we examined this morning. What is the difference between self-denial and denying self? Are we careful not to let subtle religious error lead us into a duplicitous faith apart from Christ’s righteousness? Were you able to deny yourself today?
Reflect on how you can mark your life with self-denial.