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Piper to Boyce College grads: Embrace life of self-denial


John Piper gave the commencement address at Boyce College graduation on May 11, 2017.

LOUISVILLE—College graduates must reject a life of ease, comfort, and material possessions, and embrace the cross-bearing challenges of the Christian life, said John Piper at the May 11 commencement of Boyce College, the undergraduate school of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Piper, whose daughter Talitha was among the 147 graduates, is the first person from outside the Southern Seminary community to give the commencement address at a Boyce College graduation.

In Piper’s address, the well-known preacher and founder of Desiring God Ministries said Christians face a lifelong battle between two competing foundational philosophies, or two opposing selves. This “sacred schizophrenia,” according to Piper, forces believers to fight their “false self” that grapples for personal fame, glory, possessions, power, and comfort. The true self, however, exhibits self-denial and a Godward focus.

“The denying self loves real life that lasts forever, loves Jesus as all-satisfying, loves meaning more than money, loves the praise of holy heaven more than the praise of sinful earth,” Piper said, drawing on Jesus’ lessons about true discipleship in Mark 8:34-38. “The denying self is the true you.”

There will never be a day in which Christians do not hear from the world that having material possessions is equivalent to having an abundant life. In opposition to this, Jesus teaches that the purpose of life is not accumulating resources, but experiencing him intimately. This will require a lifelong battle to the death against believers’ false, materialistic selves, said Piper.

“You are going to have to make war on your [false] self until you are no longer two, but one glorious self,” he said.

Christians must not seek the approval of a sinful world, but instead the approval of the Son of Man, surrounded by the glory of his Father and holy angels, Piper said. There are two directly opposite audiences watching human lives: the audience of the heavenly realm and the audience of an unbelieving world, and the Christian’s two selves will covet the approval of opposite audiences. They must deny the worldly self, and live in their true self.

“Don’t begrudge a few decades of sacred schizophrenia. It will be over soon enough and there will be one self someday—one unified, true self and all self-denying will be over.”

Piper appealed to the life of James Petigru Boyce, founder and first president of Southern Seminary and after whom Boyce College is named. As a student at Charlestown College, before he was a Christian, Boyce was spotted by the college president, who said, “There is Boyce, who will become a great man if he does not become the devil.” All people face the same two options, Piper said.

“That’s true for everyone in this room. Those are the only two options in front of you,” he said. “You are all destined to be unspeakably great in eternity, or a devil in eternity. Whether you become a devil or great depends on whether you are in the state of sacred schizophrenia.”

The 2017 Boyce College commencement also marked the first to feature graduates of the Augustine Honors Collegium, a selective honors academic program launched in August 2016 under the guidance of Jonathan Arnold, assistant professor of Christian theology and church history. RuthAnne Irvin, Janae Leeke, and Mackenzie Miller were the first graduates to be members of the honors program. Boyce also honored the first graduate in the Bachelor of Science in Business Administration, Jonathan Newlin. (SBTS)

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