For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age. ~Titus 2:11-12
Self-control is a funny thing; we all want the rewards of self-control, but nobody wants the hard work that it actually requires. You would love to lose five pounds, but in the actual moment of decision, the chocolate cake looks better than the prize of a lower number on the scale. You’d like to get back into shape after the long winter, but that would require actually getting outside and exercising. You try to hold your tongue and be the bigger person when an irritating co-worker is mouthing off again, but you “just can’t help yourself,” and blow up again. You want to be more diligent and faithful in reading your Bible, but when the alarm clock goes off in the morning, the snooze button seems to be offering superior rest and pleasure.
This, in a nutshell, is the problem of self-control. We know the rewards of patience and hard work and perseverance, but the instant gratification– whether it be chocolate or sleep or anger– simply seems better. A guaranteed yet smaller payoff now looks more attractive than a hypothetical larger payoff later. And so time and time again, we make irrational choices, choosing what’s immediate over what’s better.
But the problem of self-control points us to the solution. If the problem is that immediate gratification seems better than perseverance and patience, the solution is to see and feel and believe that the reward waiting at the end of perseverance is worth the wait. If I believe that the reward really is worth the wait, self-control will feel like the obvious choice and will come much more easily. Now, that sounds simple, but actually getting there, believing that, and living that way is a different story.
That’s why self-control is more than just a self-help technique. These principles are certainly used to great effect by psychiatrists, life coaches, and physical trainers, because they’re based on truth. But real self-control, of a more substantial and significant quality than simply passing on a second helping of brownies, is a supernatural fruit of the Holy Spirit alongside love, patience, goodness, and the rest. Self-control is the result of the Holy Spirit’s work in the believer’s heart to see the promises of God as so sure and so valuable as to surpass the fleeting pleasures that worldliness offers. Self-control waits for its reward, believing the reward is worth it.
MUNDANE AND MIRACULOUS
Titus 2 lays out the key to self-control, connecting it clearly and profoundly to the cross in a way that, if we can start to live in that connection, will most assuredly transform our lives.
In Titus 2, Paul gives general instructions for believers, and self-control and its fruits are very close to the heart of his commands. “Older men are to be sober minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness,” he says in verse 2. Older women are to keep watch over their desires and by their words and examples to train the younger women “to be self-controlled and pure” (2:5) among other things. Younger men are urged “to be self-controlled [and] to show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works” (2:6-7). Even those who find themselves as slaves are instructed to rein in their tempers and worldly desires and showcase the gospel in how they respond to those in authority over them (2:9-10). This fruit of self-control is meant to permeate and define the lives of believers, no matter the season or circumstance in which they find themselves.
Finally, after giving these commands in the first ten verses, Paul connects these instructions to the cross in a breathtaking and glorious way in verses 11-14. This Cross Connection reaches back into the eternal purposes of God and forward into the eternal plans of God, and brings them to bear on the mundane and miraculous fruit of self-control.
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.
In these four verses, Paul shows us how self-control waits, with its faith founded in God’s past grace and looking forward to God’s future grace.
THE FOUNDATION OF FAITH: PAST GRACE
Note the word “for” at the beginning of verse 11. Once again, we’re seeing how the Bible’s arguments and reasoning are central to how the Christian life is lived out. After ten verses of commands and instructions, Paul is now giving the reason for living this way: “For (because!) the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people.” The past appearance of God’s grace, in the person and work of Jesus Christ, is the foundation upon which the motivation for self-control is built.
God’s grace, of course, appears everywhere every day, in sunshine and rain and blessings on the righteous and the unrighteous (Matthew 5:45). Every moment of every day God treats everyone better than they deserve. But the appearance of God’s grace that Paul has in mind here is the moment in history when the full display of divine mercy shone the brightest: at the cross. The appearance of grace that opened the floodgates of forgiveness and salvation to everyone who believes is the moment when the Son of God hung as a sacrifice in the place of sinners, absorbing in his broken body the punishment that our sin deserves. There is no brighter display of the mercy, grace, and love of God than when Jesus “gave himself to redeem us from all lawlessness.”
Self-control, as we will examine later, looks forward to its reward and to the second appearing of grace for which it waits, “the appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.” But it’s important to see, here at the beginning of our study, that this anticipation of the future appearance of grace is firmly rooted in the past appearance of grace. The forward-looking faith that sustains self-control is not wishful thinking, optimism, or positive reinforcement. No, self-control is fueled by the rock-solid assurance that every promise we eagerly wait for was purchased, secured, and guaranteed for us by the blood of Jesus.
We can see how the foundation of past grace secures the anticipation of future grace in a precious logical argument and promise in Romans 8:32:
He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?
This is a logical argument from the greater to the lesser. This type of argument says, in essence, “If this comparatively harder thing has been done, then this comparatively easier thing will surely be done as well.” For example, if I’m willing to stay up all night with my sick son (which is definitely a difficult thing to do!), then of course I’ll be willing to give him breakfast in the morning. The fact that I did the more difficult thing proves that I’ll do the easier thing as well.
That’s how the argument in Romans 8:32 works (oh, for the Bible’s logic to more fully shape how we think!). The hardest, most astoundingly difficult thing that the Father could possibly do would be to surrender that which is most precious to him, most valuable– namely, his own Son. And that’s exactly what He has done for us. He has not held back the treasure of his heart, but freely gave him to be our sacrifice, to be our Savior. And if God has done this excruciatingly costly thing, we can be sure that he will never hold back anything else good from us. That’s how this argument works: from the foundation of the infinite cost God paid for our redemption, we know that the riches of his love will surely extend to give us everything else we need. We never need to worry or fret about the future, or selfishly stockpile resources for ourselves, because the cross proves God’s commitment to provide for us.
This is the first and most important thing we need to see about how past grace functions in Titus 2:11-14. The past grace of God that appeared when the Father gave us his Son is the foundation and guarantee that as we wait for future grace, will will surely get what we hope for. Faith looks back to past grace, and based on that certainty, looks forward to the as-yet-unfulfilled promises of God. “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).
THE EXERCISE OF FAITH: FUTURE GRACE
In order for our faith to produce the fruit of self-control, the gaze of faith cannot remain simply backwards-looking. We’ve seen the assurance and guarantee of grace in the sacrifice of the Savior, but this particular fruit requires seeing how the cross is connected to our future; namely, to all the promises of God that haven’t come true for us yet.
Verses 12-13 tells us that after the grace of God has brought salvation to us, it starts training us in godliness by teaching us to wait for what God has in store for us.
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting…
God’s grace trains us to let go of ungodliness and worldly passions in one hand while grasping self-control, uprightness, and godliness in the other hand, and it does this in a particular way: by teaching us to wait. The grammatical structure of the sentence itself proves this; the participle “waiting” in verse 13 describes the way that we “renounce ungodliness and worldly passions” and the way we “live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives.” In fact, “waiting” applies to and describes each one of those commands individually. We renounce ungodliness, waiting. We renounce worldly passions, waiting. We live self-controlled, waiting. We live uprightly, waiting. We live godly lives, waiting. The act of waiting is the center of this passage.
So what is it about waiting that is so vital to self-control in this passage? Remember what we said about self-control earlier: self-control is the result of the Holy Spirit’s work in the believer’s heart to see the promises of God as so sure and so valuable as to surpass the fleeting pleasures that worldliness offers. Self-control waits for its reward, believing the reward is worth it. As we keep looking at Titus 2:11-14, that’s exactly what we’ll see next:
For the grace of God has appeared…training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ…
Standing on the foundation of the past grace of the cross, Paul now seeks to motivate our self-control by helping us to see two things: how fleeting and temporary the tempting pleasures of worldliness are, and how joy-producing and unending the prize at the end of the wait really is. Really seeing and believing these two things will change the emotional calculus of how we weigh self-control and make decisions, and will fuel our ability to say “no” to temporary pleasures in hopes of a greater payoff later.
THE PRESENT AGE
Notice the little word “present” in verse 12, where we’re told to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the “present age.” Why do you think Paul stuck in that little word? What does that add to his argument?
The point of that word is this: this world and this age are temporary. Self-control is temporary. Even if the wait feels interminable, even if saying “no” to temptation over and over again feels like it lasts forever, we must have God’s timeline governing the way we think. And God’s timeline says that this entire world is temporary, fleeting, and quickly coming to a close. That’s why Paul calls it the “present age;” he’s highlighting that this age is coming to an end and will soon be eclipsed by an age that will not end, that cannot be shaken, in which joy and life and glory will dawn and only get brighter and brighter, forever.
This is the same hope that Paul holds out in 2 Corinthians 4 to those who are suffering. “This light, momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18). Paul is certainly not being glib or casual when he describes affliction as “light and momentary;” he knows better than most what suffering feels like. Earlier in the same letter, he tells the Corinthians, “We do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself.” Paul knew that affliction doesn’t usually feel light or momentary. But even when our afflictions feel crushing and never-ending, the truth of Corinthians 4 holds firm. In comparison to the eternal weight of glory for which those afflictions are preparing us, the most horrific suffering in this present age is like a pebble compared to a mountain, a drop compared to an ocean. Getting a true perspective on eternity will put all of this life’s difficulties and pains and temptations into their proper place.
That’s how the phrase “present age” is supposed to motivate our self-control. Self-control means saying “no” to a temptation or pleasure now, in order to hold out for something better. One way to strengthen self-control’s resolve is to see that every temptation and pleasure, no matter how good it looks, no matter how much it promises, belongs to this present age, and will quickly fade away just like everything else in this world. How foolish we would be, then, to trade that which is eternal for that which is momentary! Whatever momentary rush of pleasure that sin is offering to you is not worth the cost; the pleasure will be gone in a moment, replaced by guilt and regret, and it will rob you of closer fellowship with the One who is your blessed hope. Self-control sees this reality and says, “No, getting this pleasure now is not worth it; I’m willing to wait for something better.”
I’m eager now to launch into practical applications and examples of this, but I’m intentionally holding off until later in this chapter (hey, there’s an example of self-control!), because later we’ll look at the characters in Hebrews 11 to see how they exemplify this forward-looking faith and the fruit of self-control.
OUR HAPPY HOPE
The fleeting transience of worldly pleasures is now contrasted against the prize waiting at the end of self-control: “our blessed hope, the appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.” This is the reward that makes all self-control on the road of godliness worth it, and takes every act of faithful self-denial and transforms it into delayed self-gratification. This is the happiness our hearts were designed to feel, the appearance that we were made to long for, the Savior we were created to see and savor and celebrate. And in stark contrast to the fleeting pleasures of sin in this present age, the appearance of our great God and Savior will not be a one-and-done event; rather, it will usher us into the everlasting joy of Revelation 22:3– “His servants will worship him. They will see his face… and they will reign forever and ever.” This is the joy of 1 Thessalonians 4:17– “we will be forever with the Lord,” and the fulfillment of Psalm 16:11– “in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” This is the hope and motivation of Psalm 73:25– “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth I desire besides you.”
No joy, no temptation, no pleasure in this present world, can compare with this happy hope (remember, the word “blessed” means “happy”), because every joy and pleasure in this world exists as an echo of this ultimate Joy and as an arrow to point to this ultimate Hope.
Jonathan Edwards, the Puritan pastor and theologian who was one of the primary lightning rods that conducted God’s power into the First Great Awakening in the mid 1700s, knew this truth well. He knew that the joy of Christ’s appearing would eclipse every other joy that could possibly tempt us off the road of faith and self-control. He wrote:
“To go to heaven, fully to enjoy God, is infinitely better than the most pleasant accommodations here. Fathers and mothers, husbands, wives, children, or the company of earthly friends, are but shadows. But God is the substance. These are but scattered beams, but God is the sun. These are but streams, but God is the fountain. These are but drops, but God is the ocean… Why should we labor for, or set our hearts on anything else, but that which is our proper end, and true happiness?”
The way that self-control functions in the Christian life is to set this hope– God himself as the substance, sun, fountain, and ocean of all true delight and endless satisfying joy– before the gaze of our hearts, and to continually say to our souls, “Nothing but this! Let nothing distract you from this prize! Let nothing detract from this joy!” Self-control looks at this future of all-surpassing happiness long enough until that future happiness starts spilling into the present, until the taste of joy in Jesus and the anticipation of more fuels its obedience as it says “no” to temporary, lesser pleasures.
THE EXAMPLE OF FAITH: HEBREWS 11
Hebrews 11, often called “The Hall of Faith,” is a case study in what forward-looking, persevering faith looks like, and how it manifests itself in self-control and self-denial as it forsakes temporary pleasure for everlasting gain. We’ll look at a couple of these characters to draw specific application to our lives.
Enoch, one of the first heroes of the faith in the Bible, was commended as having pleased God, and was thereby one of only two people in history to never die (the other being Elijah). When we meet him briefly in Genesis 5, we’re not told how his faith pleased God, but we are given a fuller explanation in Hebrews 11, an explanation that provides a powerful foundation and motivation for the forward-looking fruit of self-control.
By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. (11:5-6)
Enoch’s faith is singled out as what pleased God. That shouldn’t be surprising, since we’re told that “without faith it is impossible to please God.” What is more surprising, however, is the content of that God-pleasing faith. Look again at the last sentence more carefully. “Whoever would draw near to God must believe” two things: one, that he exist (obviously), and two, that he rewards those who seek him.
Saving faith, the kind of faith that pleases God and enables sinners to draw near to him, believes two central things about God: that he exists, and that he is a rewarder. Does that second thing surprise you? Did you realize that the belief that God rewards those who seek him isn’t something extra or separate from faith, but is literally the definition of what God-pleasing faith is? If you don’t believe that God rewards those who seek him, then your faith isn’t pleasing to him and doesn’t give you access to him. In other words, if you don’t believe that God rewards those who seek him, you’re not saved. Belief in a rewarding God is that important, that central.
This probably strikes you as odd, or even as wrong and dangerous, because most of us have been conditioned to think that acting for the sake of reward is selfish or immoral. We have to have a higher motive than gain, we think, otherwise we’re acting selfishly.
Simply put, this idea is foreign to the Bible. Over and over again, Jesus offers reward to those who follow him. Promise after promise in the Bible says, “Trusting me and obeying me will be worth it in the end.” The reward offered is not icing on the cake of some nobler motivation; it is the motivation. Hebrews 11 goes even further: if you’re not motivated by the reward God holds out to you, you’re dishonoring him.
The reason God insists on being the Rewarder in all our obedience and faith is that this preserves and upholds his glory like no other motivation could. We aren’t coming to him offering our services to a needy god because of noble, selfless intentions in our hearts. We come to him as beggars, needing what he gives and thankful when he gives it. In all our service, in all our self-control, in all the fruits of the Spirit, in every promise, God is the Giver– and this means that we get the grace, and he gets the glory.
C.S. Lewis wrote extensively on this truth in his essay, “The Weight of Glory.” Below is an extended quote from him that’s worth reading in its entirety, because it gives us a powerful weapon in the fight of faith, and in particular, the fight of self-control.
“The New Testament has lots to say about self-denial, but not about self-denial as an end in itself. We are told to deny ourselves and to take up our crosses in order that we may follow Christ; and nearly every description of what we shall ultimately find if we do so contains an appeal to desire. If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by an offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
The secret that enabled Enoch to please God, and the secret that will empower our own self-denial and self-control, is this seeming contradiction: all the self-denial that God calls us to is ultimately a form of delayed self-gratification. Jesus’ command to deny yourself, and Paul’s command to train yourself in godliness and self-control, is a command to stop “fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered” to you. Self-control says “no” to the temporary temptations and pleasures of this passing age, believing that the reward of fuller fellowship with Jesus now, fuller enjoyment of his appearing soon, and fuller capacities for joy now and forever, is a prize that is worth any short-term sacrifice.
So here’s the practical question to consider: what acts of self-control is God calling you to? Is he commanding you to restrain your pride and outbursts of anger in order to be a more loving and faithful witness? If he calling you to make painfully self-denying cuts to your budget in order to fund his work of missions to the nations? Is he calling you to say “no” to the snooze button in order to faithfully and diligently pursue him in your devotions each morning? What are the promises he holds out to you in each of these areas, that he intends to motivate your obedience? For example, if you’re struggling with self-control in regards to your anger, ponder his promise, “The meek shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5). He promises that those who, by grace, restrain their tongue and put their strength under control, will rule with him in the new heavens and the new earth… and those who don’t, won’t. Do you believe this promise? Are you willing to bank on its truth and meditate on it until the promise he holds out to you becomes more valuable than whatever gain you get by lashing out in anger? God rewards those who seek him– believing this is the secret of self-control.
Abraham is the second character in the Hebrews 11 “Hall of Faith” from whom we can glean practical instruction in how self-control waits for its reward and believes the reward is worth it.
By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God… People who speak thus desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. (11:8-10,16)
God’s call on Abraham was a call to a lifetime of self-denial. God called him to leave his home and family, the comforts, privileges, and protection of his comfort zone, and follow God to the land of promise, which he would never actually receive in his lifetime. Every day of Abraham’s life, every day when he “had an opportunity to return” (Hebrews 11:15), was an exercise of self-denial and self-control.
It’s crucially important to see here that, just as we saw in Titus 2, and we saw in the life of Enoch, and in the writings of C.S. Lewis, self-denial is not an end in itself, but a means to delayed self-gratification. Hebrews 11 doesn’t say that Abraham left his homeland because he was looking forward to sacrifice and hardship (although he certainly had to endure that). He began traveling the road of self-denial, and endured on the road of self-denial, because “he was looking forward” to a future city, a future home, and desiring “a better country, that is, a heavenly one.” For Abraham, leaving his family was a journey to that better, heavenly country; the road of self-denial was the path of pursuing the greatest possible future joy.
There is a wealth of potential application here, but I will focus on one in particular: missions. Our entire American culture, it seems, is designed to keep us on the comfortable, easy road of indulgence and instant gratification that leads toward wasted lives and, ultimately, destruction. Every step of the way, we are told to pursue comfort, ease, success, popularity, position, possessions, money. Indulge yourself and live your best life now! Buy the newest smartphone, and you’ll be happy! Get this job, and you’ll have it all! Buy this house, and you’ll be comfortable and successful! Save for retirement, and you can play for the last twenty years of your life!
While all these voices of self-indulgence are calling out to us, however, there is another still, small voice beckoning us to walk on a different road: the road of temporary self-denial, sacrifice, and self-control. And like Abraham, I believe God is calling many of us to uproot our lives, families, and futures, in order to be a blessing to the nations. God has not blessed you with prosperity so that you can be comfortable. He has blessed you so that, out of the overflow of your abundance, missionaries can be funded, churches can be planted, wells be dug, medicines be purchased, Scriptures be translated, and lost people from every tribe and tongue brought into the everlasting joy of knowing the Savior.
To really believe this and live this way means a lifestyle of self-denial, a wartime mentality that says, “My resources are not mine, and I have been called to sacrifice and self-control for the sake of the kingdom and the nations and the lost.” For more practical ideas and vision for this purpose, read the “Generosity” and “Missions” chapters later in this book. A commitment to this missions-driven self-control might mean that your life looks like Abraham, as you leave your home and family to live in a foreign land. It might look as simple (and yet profoundly difficult!) as saying “no” to cable TV, so that your $80 a month can support evangelism among unreached people groups.
Where does this kind of self-denying, home-leaving, nations-blessing motivation come from? Hebrews 11 is clear: “looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.” Don’t build your life on the shifting sand of American priorities. America is a city without foundations, and a life built on American priorities will crumble when the storm of eternity breaks upon it. The unwasted life lays up its treasure in heaven by investing in the purposes of that eternal city. This will take much self-control in how we spend our money and time, but the promise makes it worth it: “Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.”
One more example of forward-looking, promise-seeking self-control in Hebrews 11 is the story of Moses.
By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking forward to the reward. By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible. (11:24-26)
I love this passage. It’s practically a restatement of our original Cross Connection verse in Titus 2, applied to the specific case of Moses. “Renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.” Moses considered, in one hand, a life of ease and prosperity as a member of the royal family; and, in the other hand, a life of hardship and reproach. But he saw the former for what it really was: the fleeting pleasures of sin, a temporary buzz in the present age; and saw the latter for what it really was: greater wealth than all of Egypt’s treasures and the all-surpassing reward of knowing and seeing the invisible God. In doing so, Moses is a prime example of what self-control looks like for us: considering hardship, sacrifice, and reproach as greater wealth than the treasures of possessions, prosperity, and popularity, because we are looking forward to the reward.
This is how self-control works, both on a grand scale and in the day-to-day mundane decisions of life. It means saying “no” to the snooze button because you believe that if “one day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere” (Psalm 84:10), then twenty minutes in his presence is certainly better than twenty extra minutes of sleep. It means the painful self-denial of standing unashamed for Christ in your classroom or workplace, because you believe that “the reproach of Christ is greater wealth” than any popularity, any grade, any promotion. It means, perhaps, saying “no” to another slice of pizza (shocking, I know!), not simply because healthy living is good, but because self-denial in small things is good training for self-control in much more important things.
I can’t tell you all the ways that God is calling you to exercise self-control and self-denial in your life. But I’m pretty sure, based on the cushy standards of our American lifestyle, that he’s probably calling you and me to more self-control than we’re comfortable with. But I’m also confident, on the authority of God’s promises, that his command to self-control is absolutely worth it. As God’s grace trains you to look back to the cross and the price paid for you, and then forward to all the promises that the cross secures for you, let one final exhortation and example from Hebrews encourage you to fix your eyes on the One who is not only our highest Treasure and greatest Reward, but also is himself the perfect example of self-control.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (12:1-2)
Jesus endured on the ultimate road of self-denial the same way that we will: by looking to the joy set before him. For Christ, the joy that motivated him was the anticipation of purchasing the everlasting worship of a redeemed people. For us, the joy that should motivate us is being part of that multitude, freed forever to enjoy his beauty and make much of him. While we still live in this present age, let’s press on with endurance and self-control, waiting for our “happy hope,” the appearance of the One our souls long for, and let us continue on the road of self-denial, casting aside anything that hinders us from seeing and savoring and celebrating him, now and forever.
High King of Heaven, help me to say with honesty from the heart, “Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise; Thou my inheritance now and always; Thou and thou only, first in my heart; High King of heaven, my Treasure thou art.” Be my highest Treasure, Lord Jesus, so that all the temptations of this present world will loose their allurement and you, you alone, will be first in my heart.