Self-denial means denying our own natural wills and instead following God’s will in all matters. Does it mean we cannot express our preference to buy chocolate ice cream over vanilla? No. Does it mean we ignore our likes and dislikes? No. It means we pursue the spiritual choices and not our natural, human interests.
Galatians 5:17 (NIV), “For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.” Our natural self has many desires. These include behaviors like “sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like,” Galatians 5:19-21. Gross sins are obviously wrong. However, something like selfish ambition is a subtle temptation.
An example would be a desire to have greater status or more money. Then we would spend our time and talents in these directions. But self-denial teaches us to live within our means. Our natural needs (not desires) will be met. Jesus said, “seek first the kingdom of God…and all these things (needful) shall be added to you,” Matthew 6:33.
Self-denial teaches: “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires,” Galatians 5:24 (NIV).
“May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world,” Galatians 6:4 (NIV).
We learn to do this little by little. We should not live in poverty depending on others. We must support ourselves and our families. 2 Thessalonians 3:10, “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.” 1 Timothy 5:8, “If someone does not provide for his own, especially his own family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”
But our focus should be obeying God’s will to walk after the spirit, wherever possible. We need to study, pray, witness, help other Christians, and develop Christ-likeness. Your capacity to follow the spirit will grow, as will your love for God. However, it will be a constant battle to subdue the flesh.