“Christianity is no fun.” “To be a Christian is to be a ‘stick in the mud.'” “All Christians are ‘goody two-shoes.'” Have you heard these accusations (or similar ones) before? Perhaps you have even thought them yourself. To follow Christ, seemingly, is to say no to friends, fun, and freedom. Jesus himself said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” So, are these statements true? Are Christians really supposed to say “no” to friends, fun, and freedom?
The answer is…well…maybe, perhaps, and definitely not. To get to the answer, we really need to know what Jesus means when he says to “deny” ourselves. I remember one time while speaking at a training for mentors, one person asked me what it meant to “deny yourself.” But when asked, it was with a scowl and a tone of anger. Her understanding of denying ourselves was for us to think less of ourselves, to put all of our wants and “rights” aside, and to let people walk all over us – in essence, to be a punching bag for others. This is not exactly what Jesus means.
This woman was correct in thinking that denying ourselves is to put our wants and “rights” aside, however the wants and rights we are to put aside are those that cause us to drift or separate ourselves from God. The wants and desires that stem from our sinful nature and pride are the “selves” that we are to deny. Does this make us Christians “sticks in the mud?” Well, perhaps it does…to the world. So, are we as believers supposed to say no to friends? Well, yes, we may have to say “no” to friends who are following their sinful hearts because we choose instead to follow Jesus. But if our friends are choosing activities that are morally neutral (bowling, rock climbing, etc.) or helping others, than we certainly can say “yes” to these things.
Does this mean we must say “no” to fun? If fun is defined by following our sinful nature, then we must, but not because we have to, but because we want to. To choose to “do the right thing” because we have to is be faithful to the law. To “do the right thing” because you want to love the Lord and follow Him is to be faithful to Him. Sin is fun. If sin was not fun, it would not be as tempting. But in saying this, we must also say that not all fun is sin. We can certainly enjoy ourselves and should enjoy ourselves in this life. Enjoyment in the pleasures of life are a gift from God so long as these enjoyments do not become more important than our relationship with Him.
Does denying myself mean I must give up my freedom? Definitely not. The world (or is it our hearts?) will say to give in to your wants and desires and to do so is to be free. It is the law and religion that makes you a slave to its desires. Freedom is to do what you want and when you want to do it. I would argue, however, that the act of denying ourselves is not to give up our freedoms, but to exercise them and experience the freedom from which Christ set us free. To give in to the sinful nature ultimately results in being a slave to whom we gave in. For example, giving in to excessive alcohol will eventually lead to becoming a slave to alcohol. Giving in to video games will eventually lead to becoming a slave to video games. Giving in to pornography will eventually lead to becoming a slave to pornography and other sexual sins. Giving in to our pride will result in broken relationships and the need to protect ourselves from hurt – resulting in pride as we protect ourselves by blaming others, etc.. Giving in to ice cream will result in making us fatter, which can lead to feeling down, which can lead to more ice cream. Romans 7 & 8 talk about this: how our sin nature desires and demands more and more and how flesh gives birth to flesh.
Denying ourselves leads to more freedom, not less. It is a spiritual act of self-control that is the fruit of the Holy Spirit in our lives (Galatians 6). Christ died to set us free. Freedom from sin, freedom from death, freedom from slavery, etc. are essential so that we might be free to love. Denying ourselves is a decision we make and it is made in our freedom to do so. It results in freedom for our lives. In our freedom we experience joy. And we may share our joy with friends.
Is Christianity a “stick in the mud” religion? Only to those who are stuck in the mud of their own making.