Matthew 16: 24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.
Serious athletes understand the concept of denying yourself of things you desire, particularly food. The Krispy Kreme doughnut sign may be screaming out your name, but you battle your mind with willpower and drive on by. The concept of athletes denying their food cravings, surprisingly even exists in the Bible where Paul says: 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. (1 Cor 9:25). To the church in Corinth, to whom Paul’s letter was sent, this statement would have been fully understood because of the Isthmian Games which were held every second year (the year before and after the Olympic Games) in Isthmia, near Corinth[i]. They understood that these select male athletes would not only go into strict physical training, but they would also deny themselves of certain “delightful foods” and instead fill themselves with food that would nourish them.
The concept of denying oneself of something may seem somewhat counterintuitive. If you feel like a doughnut, why not just eat it. If you feel like having something, why not fulfill that craving? Those cravings can run the whole gamut from: sexual cravings, to food cravings, to alcohol or drug cravings, or just the simple craving of leading your own life the way you choose.
As I have counseled numerous Christians (both young and older), I have noticed that the concept of denying oneself of desires has become a somewhat foreign concept. What was once preached from the pulpit as sin, is now often defended by Christians saying that they are natural cravings and surely God wouldn’t want them to deny themselves of pleasure. I am continually surprised when I hear such things because they are spiritually immature statements and there is no scriptural truth in them.
Being a disciple of Christ is all about denying yourself. Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. (Matthew 16:24). Denying yourself means dying to yourself. It means dying to your desires and wishes, and replacing them with Christ’s wishes. I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20) There was nothing pleasant about the cross for Christ and there is nothing pleasant about picking up our cross and following Him. Preachers do a great disservice if they preach that the process is in any way pleasant. But what is of unfathomable value is the peace that God promises when we obey (Philippians 4:7), the joy we experience (1 Peter 1:8), and the rewards which await the faithful servant (2 Cor. 5:10).
As an athlete, you understand the concept of denying yourself of cravings for future gain. As a Christian Athlete, pray that God might show you the areas of your life where you have lacked discipline and ask Him to give you the strength to pick up your cross to follow Him. There is no greater reward, so why would you not pay a great sacrifice?