John Calvin wrote the Institutes of the Christian Religion to defend why some of his fellow believers were willing to be burned for the faith. The final edition is some 1400+ pages of theology, but it was life and death. It wasn’t a relaxing reflection, Calvin himself was in exile from his home country as he wrote.
He described the “sum of the Christian life” as one of self-denial. It takes a little getting used to, but with qualification, it has some helpful parts. And yet, we need to grow up in our self-denial. We need to realize that self-denial is the way for the self to be most full.
Take communion as a testing Table. Properly received, the bread and the wine are a complete rejection of ourselves. Here we admit that we need external help. We have a body, we have blood, and all that we do in the body deserves judgment. On our own, we could give our bodies to be burned for another, and it would still gain nothing outside of Christ.
To receive the Lord’s Supper is to receive a Savior and to deny our self. We deny our righteousness, our good works. We deny that we have any merit, any reason that God should accept us on our own.
And it is that self-denial that lifts our heads. It is that rejection of self that opens into rejoicing. God calls us to deny ourselves and gives us a feast.
As we learn to follow Christ as His disciples, it is appropriate at times to fast. We do not indulge the flesh, which would be love of self. And yet here is food and drink. Come with your empty hands by faith and do not deny the feast.