Self-denial is generally misunderstood by Christians. The common wisdom seems to be that self-denial is denying yourself something that you should not do in the first place. Such is simply not the case. We truly deny ourselves when we refuse to do something that we are free to do but then choose to surrender because of the Spirit’s leading us to give for the sake of Christ’s kingdom. The spiritual irony here is that nothing we ever give up will not be replaced, if not in this life, then clearly in the next. This does not mean that we are all called to make a vow of poverty. The church has never taught such an idea except in cultic contexts. A vow of poverty is a voluntary witness made by a few who are called to witness to the gospel in this unique way.
But all of us, rich and poor, can make free choices to forego legitimate pleasures and activities for the kingdom. This thinking comes to bear particularly on those of us who earn a pretty decent amount of money. The truth is that the vast majority of you who read this blog are in the top 5-7% of the world in average income. We all have discretionary money that we can use for something we enjoy or we can freely give up to invest in the kingdom. I was once amazed at how few Christians understood this simple truth but now I am amazed when I meet someone who does understand it. We are lulled into this lifestyle by several common mistakes:
1. What we earn we are free to spend anyway that we choose so long as we tithe, especially if we give away larger sums of money.
2. If we make more money then we are entitled to spend more on ourselves since the Lord has blessed us so abundantly. Living in opulence is good for others and a robust economy.
3. Wealth is inherently good (“the love of money is the root of all evil” NOT “money” in and of itself) so the more we have and spend on our own family the better we provide for those we love. We are all entitled to live the “American Dream” because we live in America so long as we honestly earn our money.
4. We all need to have enough money to provide for our long term future lest we presume on God to provide for us or become paupers someday.
I could list a few more common myths but these are enough to establish my central point.
With this in view I recently watched the testimony of a businessman named Alan Barnhart, a brother in Christ that I do not know. This is one of my all-time favorite stories of how much more blessed it is to give rather than to receive. This man is not preaching “health and wealth” nor is he telling anyone what they should do about their life, their business or their personal income. If you are inspired by this then act. I wonder what would happen if ordinary younger men and women would put this type of faith into practice and then see what happens over the course of the next 20-25 years. If you feel guilty when you watch and listen to Alan you should ask, “Why?” It could be that you do not understand the freedom Alan speaks of so eloquently in his simple, compelling testimony.