From the Baptismal Rite from The Book of Common Prayer:
Do you renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God?

I renounce them. 

Do you renounce the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God? 

I renounce them. 

Do you renounce all sinful desires that draw you from the love of God?

I renounce them.
We don't talk a lot about renunciation in Christianity. Conservative Christians talk a lot about being forgiven but they don't talk a lot about renunciation. Progressive Christians talk a lot about justice but they don't talk a lot about renunciation.

The Latin root of the word renunciation means "to protest against." The contemporary definition of renunciation means "the formal rejection of something." Synonyms of renunciation are: abstention from, refraining from, going without, giving up, eschewal of, repudiation, rejection, and abandonment.

As The Book of Common Prayer indicates, renunciation rests at the heart of the Christian identity. To be clear, renunciation isn't the whole of the Christian identity, but renunciation is a critical part of the foundation. To say Yes to "Jesus is Lord" involves an associated No.

For Jesus, this renunciation was inherently a denial of the self, a denial that creates the shape of the cruciform life.
Luke 9.23
Then Jesus said to them all: "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me."
Renunciation sits at the heart of Christian discipleship. Whoever wants to be a disciple of mine, Jesus says, must deny themselves.

This denial is also described as self-mortification--dying to the self.

Now I have to admit, I have an ascetic streak. It's joyful and grace-filled, but I'm a big believer that spiritual maturity and sanctification involves daily acts of renunciation and self-denial. I'm hard on myself and I think that's important.

But many people don't have the tolerance for this conversation as it raises the grim and grey ghosts of monastic severity or conservative legalism. To say nothing about how people think self-denial implies having low self-esteem.

But as I point out in my book The Slavery of Death, the cross is a multivalent symbol. As Luke 9.23 clearly points out, yes, the cross is a symbol of self-mortification. To "take up the cross" means to "deny yourself."

But at the same time the cross is also a symbol of self-giving, self-donation and self-offering. The cross is also a symbol of love.

Which is to say, the sacrifice of the cross is a dying to the self that allows you to give yourself to others.

You aren't denying yourself in order to earn your way into heaven. Self-denial isn't about collecting spiritual merit badges. Nor are you denying yourself because God is a Puritanical Judge waiting to zap you with lighting bolts if you eat chocolate, dance or have an orgasm.

No, the reason you deny yourself is so that you can make yourself increasingly available to others.

Love requires self-mastery. Love requires a denial of the self.

Love requires discipline.

Love is discipline.

Love involves the renunciation of sin in our lives. A renunciation of wickedness and the Devil.

Ponder the fruits of the Spirit. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

How much self-denial is involved in, say, being patient? How much restraint and self-discipline? 

What about gentleness? How much restraint, self-discipline, and self-denial is involved in being tender and gentle when you are frustrated, upset, angry, rushed, tired or irritable? Or when someone is being difficult, aggressive or hostile?

What about faithfulness? How much restraint, self-discipline, and self-denial are involved in fidelity, staying true to commitments, promises, and covenants?

My point here is that when we speak of "renouncing sin" we aren't thinking of Puritanism. We are thinking of self-discipline as a foundational capacity that allows the fruits of the Spirit to grow and flourish.

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21 thoughts on “Renunciation”

  1. I appreciate so much your last paragraph. As I look back at my early years, while growing up in legalistic Christianity, I see how self-discipline was confused with PURITANISM. So, what we had permeating the church was the necessity of portraying the sinless life. Which, by its logical conclusion, kept the need for mercy very low; except for when our secret lives were uncovered and left us in a state of terror. Then the mercy of God, through the response to the invitation, which I am sure you and some of your readers are familiar, was claimed and embraced. Our consciences were cleared, our days became light and easy once more, until the next hard public fall. Strange, is it not, how "perfection" creates the roller coaster of judging when the ride is fun, self-loathing in the terrifying dips, then the claim of mercy to level it off?

  2. Of course I'm reading your post with the baptism scene of The Godfather playing in my head.

  3. Popular conversation with respect to "denouncing sin" usually winds up deteriorating into some kind of argument over denouncing "fun", and then trying to work out who is being the most prudish and/or puritanical. All very petty.

    If, however, (ala Griard) we take evil/sin to mean something like *complicity in the systems that require injustice and violence in all its forms* then the renunciation of sin becomes much more serious than simply a practice of avoiding beer.. or certain types of passionate thinking. Renunciation of sin becomes a protest against injustice - which appeals to the progressive AND the conservative. The Christian has theological reasons to be self-critical (without being self-loathing) because human society (and therefore the actors within that society) is inevitably complicit in so many injustices. Take for instance how consumptive economies might do violence to the environment and the poor . .

    Renunciation of this kind provides the impetus for us to be critical of how our complicity in the mechanics of the society we live might contribute towards evil. This also encourages us to be better scientists too, motivated to understand cause and effect so we can better the world by unpicking how the tangle tangles.

  4. This: "the reason you deny yourself is so that you can make yourself increasingly available to others" and allow "the fruits of the Spirit to grow and flourish." It seems obvious now that you've stated it so clearly, but wasn't a correlation I'd previously drawn. Thank you so much for sharing this insight.

  5. I enjoyed your post, however I just seem to be having a hard time finding any Biblical support for your stating that love "requires self-mastery". "Love requires a denial of the self." "Love requires discipline." "Love is Discipline.". We would not even know the word or be able to describe to any satisfaction what true love is if it had not been for God loving us first. By your definition, if I am understanding it clearly… is something we can attain my our own merits….such as self control. It does not require self control to receive the love of Christ. And the only thing we require to be able to give that love to others is to know that love Christ has given. It is innate within the "new creature" that is us after being "born again".

    I thought this post was leading to the last fruit of the Spirit…..“Self-control”. Self-control is the actual mastery over
    oneself. The Greek word is egkrateia, and the root word is kratos, which means power in action; strength exerted. As used by the Greeks, egkrateia is the virtue of one who has power over himself and thus masters his desires
    and passions, especially his sensual appetites. God designed us so that we are not slaves to our flesh or mind, but instead can use our will to decide what we think and do.

    When we really look at the whole concept of self-control….it implies that there is a standard to conform to. The Word of God is the standard according to which God expects people to practice self-control, and the disregard for the Word of God in our society today is a major reason why people are so out of control in their thoughts, emotions, and actions. People have no standard, and thus no reason to control themselves. Knowing this should give us pause to self examine….just how big a part of our life is the Word of God? And we really really need to be honest in that examination.

    Godly self-control is not trying to reform the flesh by ascetic practices, as if our sin nature could be reformed
    so that we never have sinful desires. Self-control is controlling, situation-by-situation, our fleshly desires. Similarly, self-control is not overcoming sinful tendencies by outward religious practices, although having godly practices in one’s life can contribute to one’s ability to control his mind and desires. True self-control comes from a combination of free-will
    decisions, a heart that is right before God, and our new, spiritual nature within us that is trying to reproduce itself in our outward man. We must bear in mind that “self-control” is a “fruit of the spirit,” not a “fruit of the

    A person with great self-control can accomplish much for himself. Which is why, self-control, more than the other fruit of the spirit, can feed prideful ambition and self-glorification if it is not combined with love, all the other fruit of the spirit, and a desire to serve God and others. Therefore, it seems fitting indeed that self-control is the last fruit in the list, because it shows that we Christians need all of them to live a productive and godly Christian life.

  6. If we take love as being the telos of all Christian spiritual formation, what it means to be Christ-like, then I take texts like these to be speaking to the discpline and renunciations I'm trying to describe and how they relate to love:

    1 Cor. 9.24-27
    Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

    Matthew 5.27-30
    “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.

    Romans 12.9
    Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.

    The larger question I think you're getting at is if discipline is an act of the will or can be a partnership and even gift of the Spirit. I think you can lay atop this post any pneumological account of discipline and self-mortifcation you'd like.

  7. I agree with your exhortation for renunciations being a needed and necessary part in our "race" towards the goal. I think I just lean a little more towards the work of the Holy Spirit that produces the fruits of the Spirit in transforming our hearts so that we all be conformed to the image of Christ. I agree that in some sense it can be "either or both". I think, for myself it gravitates more towards the "both" most predominately….by my correct use of free will and diligently striving to know Him more and more through prayer and the reading of His Word.

    I can say this much….I thoroughly enjoy the challenge you provide within myself to carefully and more fully examine this topic. You are a good chunk of "iron". Thanks brother…..peace.

  8. Same on my side, I appreciate the pushback. My tendency will always be to try to describe things in concrete psychological terms which drifts toward Pelagianism.

    Three notes about that. My faith tradition tends toward the Pelagian. My discipline of psychology biases me toward the Pelagian. And my liberal theological biases tend toward the Pelagian. So I appreciate that impulse being checked as it's pretty strong in me.

  9. I think I see several fruits of the Spitit being manifested in this discussion and it is quite encouraging not to say instructional.

  10. No, but it's the heresy that runs through most of what I write.

    Regarding my faith tradition, the Churches of Christ does not teach Original Sin. We reject Augustine. Humans are born innocent. Moreover, salvation is obtained by making a decision--accepting Jesus--that is more an act of human agency than a gift of the Spirit. God is waiting upon a human response. The responsibility and initiative sits on our side. Grace is also resistible. You can fall from grace by failing to use your agency properly. Thus constant effort has to be maintained throughout the lifespan.

    Some of this could be described as Arminian, but in many sectors of the Churches of Christ these theological implues--especually the role of human agency God in order to be saved and stay saved--are just outright Pelagian.

    Basically, the Churches of Christ have very a high view of human agency. Salvation and sanctification are a matter of effort.

    Which tends toward legalism and guilt in my tradition. Today, most of us in the CoC have discovered grace. Still, my default tendency is to say that if you want to be a Christian you better be working your ass off.

  11. Well, as fate (or preferably God ;-) ) would have it, I received The Slavery of Death in the mail yesterday. I started reading it this evening and am very interested to read more about the Eastern Orthodox view of original vs ancestral sin. I am intrigued by what I am just beginning to understand as I get into your book. I am interested in the practical implications. More and more I am seeing things from an Orthodox perspective and feel like so many things are clicking into place. Thanks for your reply and for sharing your insights in Slavery of Death! On a side note, I wonder if you are ever tempted to switch to an Orthodox Church. But then, I am sure you'd miss a lot from the CoC tradition.

  12. I have been tempted. But then again, I've been tempted to switch to Catholicism, Episcopalianism, and Anabaptistism as well. Depending upon my mood.

  13. Our conversation yesterday lead me to read Titus last night. Titus 2:11-14 is where I got planted. What an exhaustive list of righteous living. "Renouncing ungodliness and worldly passions", "living self-controlled, upright and godly lives", "waiting" eagerly for Jesus to return….But here is what really captured my attention….how does Paul say we develop these things? What is it that trains us to do them?….Bible memorization?….Accountability partners?….Being baptized in the Spirit?….Radical devotion?……Working our ass off?

    Not that these may not have their place …..but Paul points to none of those. It is "the grace of God"…Paul says, that trains us to "renounce ungodliness….etc." So basically Paul doesn't tell Titus to preach a sermon about trying harder or learning more with a strong conclusion about behaving. Its not on behaving….but on believing. Working our asses off might change things externally….but getting caught up into the story of Jesus changes our hearts.

    Thanks for the conversation last night….it lead to a great devotional. ….peace.

  14. The 12-step literature uses the word "surrender" in helpful ways. It avoids the possible Pelagian overtones of words like self-mastery or even self-discipline, while acknowledging the hard work involved in turning specific areas of oneself over to God. The surrender process still feels (to me) less like gritting-teeth-and-working-harder and more like unclenching-hands-and-letting-go.

    The 12-step literature is also explicit in emphasizing that we renounce not simply the actions that make us unavailable/ selfish/ unloving, but the inner frames of mind (affections) that make us unavailable/ selfish/ unloving. Ironically, many of us find that trying to be "disciplined" rather than "surrendered" puts our affections in a worse place (self-righteous, resentful, and isolated). There is a fruitful tension when one surrenders: "I work harder than all of them--yet not I, but the grace of God working within me." (Paul)

  15. Richard, thank you for this post. I've been away in the wilderness straying from my faith, but tonight reached the realization that it had to end. So after a very long absence, I came to your blog, and like the prodigal son I feel welcome in the community you've created. Thank you for your thoughts, and with this post you've given me much to pray upon

  16. So where does this leave those of us who grew up in cheap grace "once saved, always saved" ? Does it matter if we choose to allow the windows to get dirty and stay that way, or continually strive to make them shine? I've never believed that getting emotional and standing up in front of a crowd counted for much in the heat of the moment. I've seen this procedure abused by those who would lean upon it because " I confessed hope in Christ with my mouth, was sorry for my sins, and am sealed eternally - no matter what I do henceforth.

  17. At its best, "once saved always saved" has always meant that once we renounce one life and take up another, that new life has its own hold on us, its own power to make our renunciation stick and keep incrementally working to make us more loving people. At its best, it has always meant that even when I let those windows get dirty, somebody else is making sure that they don't rot out and will persistently call me back to an eventual, long-overdue cleaning. At its best it has never been about "do whatever you want and you go to heaven."

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