A few days ago, Tim Challies wrote a blog post titled “The Christian Introvert”. I was quite interested what he had to say, since I myself am also an introvert. You should take a couple moments to read it. This post will still be here. Anyhow, I didn’t expect to see what I saw in the post. These words in particular stood out to me as a thought I need to internalize and apply for myself:
[W]e inhabit a world of sin where any trait or quality can be used for God-glorifying ends or for self-glorifying ends. Not only that, but God calls us to be always willing to deny our desires in order to serve others. Both introverts and extroverts will face particular temptations to sin. My temptation as an introvert is to run away from people instead of serve people. It is to be selfish instead of giving.
The Christian life is a life of self-denial. It is a life of saying, “Even though this may be what I want, duty compels me to do something different.” There are many times when I am to deny my own desires in order to serve others. Even the desire to be alone.
“The Christian life is a life of self-denial.” This post struck me anew with how radical that concept is. Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24, Mark 8:34, Luke 9:23). To follow Jesus, and to please the Father, we must deny ourselves. This is all-encompassing. When I think about the phrase “deny yourself,” I think about how I need to deny the sinful desires of my flesh. But the wording goes deeper than that. The wording demands we go further than that.
Jesus does not say “deny your sinful desires,” or even “deny your flesh.” He says, “Deny yourself.” He insists on the denial of the totality of ourselves. We must deny our very selves. “Deny yourself” might better be rendered “deny your self.” Things that are integral to our very identity must be denied if they stand in the way of the cause and glory of Christ. Introversion, extroversion, same-sex attraction, a particular enthusiasm or passion–Christ demands that we lay down some of the very things that we use to define ourselves. That’s how deep self-denial must go. It must be a denial of our very selves.
I’m not saying that I need to stop being an introvert. Far from it! You would not be reading this post if I wasn’t an introvert. The time I get to myself–and demand for myself–is necessary for my study of the Word and for prayer and reflection. What I am saying is that when my tendency toward introversion stands in the way of fellowship with my brothers and sisters, I must deny that part of my self. Sometimes, weary of socializing, I begin to quiet down, offering little in the way of responses and allowing the conversation to wind down. I do this particularly with people I’m not very close to. That’s the sin that stems from this part of my self, and I need to deny it so that I can pursue the glory of God with abandon.
The good news is that as Christians, our identity is no longer found in such things. Christ’s death provides us with liberation from the dominion of sin, and that includes the sinful identities we had before. For a believer, who is “in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17). We are made new in Christ! The apostle Paul means to emphasize this, which is why he says it twice: we are “a new creation”; “the new has come.” He also says in Colossians, “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (3:3). Christ is our new identity. He is the one we should pursue with our whole being, and He provides the power to do so. Through the continuing grace of God, He allows us prayer and strength to fight those things with were formerly part of our identity.
There are other aspects of dying to self, certainly. It does indeed involve denying our sinful desires: “[T]hose who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24). But I think it’s helpful to know that sometimes our sinful desires are intertwined with something as deep and personal as our identities. Knowing so will help us look for such hidden tendencies and desires so that we may glorify God all the more fully.