Discussion Questions on Self-Denial
Here’s the latest set of Life Group discussion questions. Their goal is to guide you into level-three conversation by using the latest sermon, “Sometimes We Turn Down Good Things” — which is about self-denial in the Christian life.
This sermon is meant to serve as a starting place for honest dialogue about our faith in the gospel amid the complexities of life. In case you missed the sermon, I’ve tried to provide enough content to get everyone on the same page (you can also read the entire sermon online). As you’ll see, the questions are set up in clusters and subdivided by letters, each as a follow up to the one before it, moving from theoretical to practical.
Feel free to throw in any extra questions that come to mind, or skip what seems out of place. The plan for these questions is that they help guide your time together, not consume the entire thing. So I encourage you to use the questions as they are helpful, and then fill in the rest.
In his book, The Things of Earth, Pastor Joe defines self-denial like this: “Biblical self-denial is always the giving up of a lesser, legitimate joy for the sake of a greater one.” And I mentioned in the sermon that this whole concept is basically incomprehensible in our society. In our society, at large, it is incomprehensible that we would forfeit the experience of good, enjoyable things for the sake of a spiritual, invisible joy that we claim is greater.
- A: Why do you think this is so? Why do you think biblical self-denial is so incomprehensible (and uncommon) in 21st-century America?
- B: And yet, though biblical self-denial is largely incomprehensible and uncommon, there is an aspect of self-denial (or personal sacrifice) that is respected in our society. There is something about it we find captivating. Consider some popular stories for a moment, whether in literature or movies. Can you think of some examples that include an element of self-denial or personal sacrifice? (It seems like the best stories include it). [Ask if someone in your group can think of some examples. For some ideas, Pixar movies often include these themes.]
Jesus is a real person and faith in him means following him — pursuing him, walking with him, loving him. It is fundamentally about relationship. And since that is the case, it means that we can know Jesus more. There is a dynamism and depth to the Christian life — which is one thing that makes Christianity unlike any other religion. We can know Jesus more. We can walk closer to him. We can experience more of his nearness in our lives.
- A: When you think about your relationship with Jesus, what comes to mind? What do you often associate with it?
- B: Has there been a time in your life when you felt especially close to Jesus? Were you more passionate about following Jesus in the past than you are right now? What was that like? What has changed in your life, positive or negative, since that time?
- C: What might it look like for you to walk more closely with Jesus tomorrow?
More of Jesus means less of yourself. That was one of the points in the sermon — The more of Jesus you know, the more of you it will cost. We talked about how this includes breaking free from a pattern of life that says, “Oh no! My fry!” Our default posture is to white-knuckle what is ours — the things we enjoy and prefer — whether it’s our time or our curliest fry.
Recall the story in the sermon of how hard it was for me to let go of my curliest fry [if someone in your group didn’t hear the sermon, take a minute and bring them up to speed].
- A: Now, can you think of a personal example where self-denial was especially difficult, and perhaps didn’t go so well? [If no one in your group can think of a personal story, ask for some hypothetical examples].
- B: Most of us could grow (and would like to grow!) in becoming more self-giving. What kind of change would need to happen in your life to make you deny yourself more? What might compel you to give more of yourself?
From the sermon:
One day, when we look back, whatever it cost us to know Jesus more won’t look like a cost, not when we see Jesus. You have to use your imagination here. You have to go here in your mind. If you trust in Jesus, if you’re united to him by faith, one day you are going to see him. With your eyes you will look at the face of Jesus, and in that moment, standing before him, you are in the ocean of endless joy. He is the ocean of joy from which every other joy flows. And I don’t know for sure what you’re going to think, but I know you will not think: Man, I wish I had not given so much of myself. You’re not going to think that. Nobody is going to look at the face of Jesus and wish they had kept back more of themselves. Nobody.
This is really what heaven is all about. It is to behold the glory of God — to see Jesus — with no restraints or distractions. But that can feel terribly abstract for us now, which makes it tough for this hope to have the compelling force it deserves in our lives.
- A: What do you think it means to see Jesus on that day?
- B: Take a few minutes and share about how the future hope of seeing Jesus could impact more of our everyday lives.