So, if “dying to self” is not taught in the Bible, why do so many people teach it? Well, as I said yesterday, they think it is taught because they mistake “old man” and “flesh” for self. But that may not be the only reason. Some teach it because it is useful.
Legalism, like any system, functions best when there are the fewest random factors. The unpredictable ideas that come from individuals get in the way of the uniformity legalism requires. One of the most effective ways to get rid of this individualism is to promote the idea that all people must die to self. In a legalist system, that means you must give up your own desires and ideas and distinctions for the sake of the group.
Here’s a common example: You go to a church with great music and you love to sing. It would be a blessing if you could join with the worship team or share a solo sometimes. You ask the leadership, but they say that the worship team doesn’t really have openings and only a select few are allowed to sing solos. However, there is an opening to teach the Children’s Church. Now, you have never felt comfortable working with kids and really don’t want to do that. But they begin to push you to volunteer. Finally, the message that comes to you is that you must “die to your self.” In other words, forget what you want to do or what you are comfortable with, you should do what we want.
This happens when a person questions the teaching of the group. “That just doesn’t seem right to me,” is met with the admonition to push aside what “seems right to you” for the sake of the superior wisdom of the teacher or the group. You are not wise, not good, outside of conformity to the group. Alone, you are a danger to the group.
This fits very well with the idea of depersonalization I have talked about before. Legalism doesn’t want people, it wants members. The individual is only valued in connection with the group. But God didn’t make us in molds so that we would fit certain parameters of certain groups. He made us as individuals, as persons. We are unique. (As my kids say: Be unique, just like everyone else!)
There is no one out there like you. The circumstances of your birth and the environment of your life combine to make an individual. You see things others don’t. You think things others don’t. Sure, sometimes you are wrong, but the answer is not to simply conform to the group. The answer is to seek the truth.
I think it is particularly sad that some teachers use this message to attract people and massage them into feeling accepted, and then push them into a culture that tries to force them into conformity. I remember learning about the uniqueness of each individual and the call to be “Berean” in seeking truth. But I also remember the sub-teaching of conformity to the group. Just try to be different, your self, and see what happens. In a short time, you learn that individuality isn’t really accepted. They didn’t want you, they wanted another member.