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Sanctification Through Self-Denial

“And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” Matthew 6: 16-18


When I was asked to write a post connected to the Sermon on the Mount series, I immediately said I’d be happy to contribute. However, when I found the text was Matthew 6:16-18, and the topic was the value of self-denial, I found myself at a loss.

Full disclosure, this is the fifth version of this post.

The truth is, I am not a happy giver (or happy self-denier!). For example, when tithing comes up, I bristle when I hear others say things like, “I give cheerfully, because It’s all God’s anyway.” Wait, what? I worked hard to accumulate those resources — and aren’t we supposed to be good stewards of what we have? The truth is that I have a list of about twenty things that I’d rather spend money on, and I’m pretty good at justifying how I choose to invest my money and my time.

But after a healthy struggle with this topic, I found that one thing kept drawing my attention.  In this passage, Christ talks about two types of people — those who fast and make a show of how difficult it is, and those who keep their self-denying choices to themselves.  I always thought this had to do with keeping up appearances, but I now wonder if it is more about turning what we feel we must do, into something we choose to do — owning the choice, essentially. There’s a huge shift in perspective when we make self-denying choices.

For example, when I was a young man, I was sexually active and had any number of reasons to justify my choices: I was “in love.” She might be the one! But as I matured, I realized that I had just been playing games with myself and with God, so I asked God to help me stay pure until I married.

Then I met Kim. During the two years that we dated before our marriage, I worked to resist the temptation to be physically pushy or manipulative, or whine inwardly about my “fasting.” Kim had no need to know about the battle I was fighting inside.  My promise to God was worth that commitment, and certainly Kim was worth that commitment!

God and I had many conversations during that time, and I grew a great deal. That period of self-denial gave Kim and me the opportunity to build a strong foundation of trust, and it gave me the opportunity to reflect on the value of my future wife and my role as her future husband.

I still struggle with impatience, selfishness, and self-indulgence, but I also know that learning to obediently deny myself often produces tremendous spiritual growth. So maybe there is value in working to own those parts of our spiritual walk that feel like obligations, rather than resisting them, turning the “must do” into the “want to.”

Christ’s words reassure us that when we choose to deny ourselves, we look more like Christ. Our Father is pleased, we are blessed, and we become a blessing to others.


Written by Casey Hart