Do you know what the most important day of celebration is in Satanism? Nope, it's not "Halloween." Besides, technically, "Halloween" is a Christian holiday-- but that's another post. The highest day of a Satanist is his own birthday.
The Satanist feels: "Why not really be honest and if you are going to create a god in your image, why not create that god as yourself." Every man is a god if he chooses to recognize himself as one. So, the Satanist celebrates his own birthday as the most important holiday of the year.
- Anton Szandor LaVey, The Satanic Bible
I must have read The Satanic Bible a dozen times as a teen. It resonated with me on a very deep level, appealing to my flesh and selfish interests. The more I read it the more it felt like what I had always believed. It exalts self, puts others second, and removes God from the picture altogether. In some ways it reflects the culture I find here in my own city. You see it in yours as well. It is expressed in a more positive way, but you know it when you hear it. Perhaps most succinctly and commonly we confess this false religion when we say "I'm looking out for number one!" And we all immediately know who "number one" is, don't we? You see, this is not just a sin of the Satanists. They are just honest about it. It's not just a problem in the world. We are guilty of this as well.
And then, there's Jesus. Hear his words in Luke 9,
And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? (Luke 9:23-25 ESV)
In telling us to deny ourselves Jesus cuts against everything we are raised to believe. Self-denial is not, as LaVey argues, a masochistic rejection of good things meant to enjoy. Self-denial is fundamentally the rejection of self as god. Positively, self-denial is the submission of the soul to God.
In denying self as god, we confess that we are creatures, not Creator, and as such we belong to Another. This allows us to find both our purpose and greater pleasure in the world we live. This is not to say that those who do not know Jesus and learn self-denial are without pleasure or purpose. It does mean that their purposes are subjectively determined and their pleasure in this life is limited.
If a man is selfish and self-love prevails in his heart, he will be glad of those things that suit with his own ends, but a godly man who has denied himself will suit with and be glad of all things that shall suit with God's ends. A gracious heart says, God's ends are my ends and I have denied my own ends; so he comes to find contentment in all God's ends and ways, and his comforts are multiplied, whereas the comforts of other men are single. It is very rare that God's way shall suit with a man's particular end, but always God's ways suit with his own ends. If you will only have contentment when God's ways suit with your own ends, you can have it only now and then, but a self-denying man denies his own ends, and only looks at the ends of God and therein he is contented.
When a man is selfish he cannot but have a great deal of trouble and vexation, for if I regard myself, my ends are so narrow that a hundred things will come and jostle me, and I cannot have room in those narrows ends of my own. ...The lesson of self-denial is the first lesson that Jesus Christ teaches men who are seeking contentment.
- Jeremiah Burroughs, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment
Self-denial is not a habit practiced in private. It is not a principle that makes any sense apart from a Savior. In denying ourselves we are humbly sticking our knees in the dirt, submitting to our Lord and God who not only leads but saves. What dangerous arrogance to believe we could do otherwise! We reject the self-directed life, to find a life purposed and empowered by the God who created us and saves us from our sins.
Looking out for "number one" should mean looking up and away from a narrow focus on ourselves, and toward the interests, the glory, of God. In doing this we also find our good. However, self-denial will only make sense to the person who comes to understand we are creatures made by a good God, and sinners in need of rescue and redemption. Only then can we look upon Christ and see one worthy of denying ourselves for, and following.
A great "relevant read" is Precious Remedies Against Satan's Devices by Thomas Brooks.