What Does It Mean To Die To Self

It’s Monday Grace!

For years I said that the church was very good at forcing square pegs into round holes. People were asked to do jobs that they neither wanted to do nor were good at. However, church program leaders believed these jobs were important, so important that it didn’t matter who did them. Warm bodies were enough.

Now, to be honest, I do believe God calls unlikely people to certain jobs. The Scriptures are full of stories where untrained and relatively incompetent people were called to lead or serve in important positions. But that was because the One who called would enable them. His strength, wisdom, and authority would be the resources they needed for the work.

But the woman who sat in the nursery even though she was uncomfortable with children probably did little to bless the kids. Same with the man chosen to be the treasurer who couldn’t even keep his personal accounts straight. These people were expected to set aside what they knew about themselves just to make sure the church was served.

Frankly, I suspect that desire for church leadership to manipulate people is partly behind this idea of “dying to self.” I have actually heard people say that they knew they should not desire the things that make them happy, but they should seek the things that make them suffer. The more they suffered, they said, the more they knew they were in the will of God. So, doing a service they found uncomfortable or giving up an activity they enjoyed were marks of this “dying to self.”

Of course, the Bible never uses those words. There is no call in Scripture for us to “die to self.” By almost any definition of “self,” my existence would end when my self died. There would be no definition of “I” if my self were to die. While the Eastern mystical religions/philosophies might teach the absorption and loss of self into some greater consciousness, that is not the teaching of the Christian faith.

So, where did this come from? Why did people begin talking about dying to self? Well, my best guess is that it is connected to a re-definition of the “self-life” early New Covenant or grace teachers proclaimed. They contrasted the self-life with the God-life. What they meant, in words we use now, is the contrast between living by the flesh versus by the Spirit. Dying to the self-life meant to turn your back on the old way of responding to the pressures of daily life in favor of seeking the guidance and enabling of the Spirit.

But that is not dying to self as understood today by so many. The loss of the person God created as me is never expected in the Christian gospel. Instead, I am called to regain the whole person God created, to become who I truly am, in Christ. The flesh never defined me, it only became my default mode. Sin corrupted me, as it did everything else, but it never killed what God made.

Let’s be clear. We are called to die to sin. We are called to die to the Law. We are called to die to this world. And all of those happened when we came to Jesus in faith and joined Him in His death on the cross. In other words, you and I have already died. The old person we thought we were is dead. The flesh is dying. It’s influence is lessening every day. Our place in this world will die. We are new creations in Jesus. But we are still our selves.

Paul said, “I die daily,” in 1 Corinthians 15:31. That does not mean that he went through some mystical process of dying to himself. It means, if you read the context, that he faced death every day. People wanted to kill him. But he could face that because he had already died to this world, and he was ready to be with Jesus. His “dying” was not something he worked on in his life, it was a fact of his identity with Jesus.

Did you catch that? You can’t die to self. In fact, you can’t die to anything now. You have already died to sin and the law and this world. The old is gone (2 Cor 5:17) and the new has already come. You were crucified with Christ—past tense—and the life in you is His. You don’t need to go to the cross repeatedly to accomplish what He has already accomplished for you. Pick up your cross, yes, but do it to proclaim to the world that you are already dead and have new life in Jesus.

Those who are in Christ will never die again. We are alive forever because of Him. We are fully identified with Him. We can never be separated from Him.

So, be who you are! Be that person God created in Jesus. Be the way God created you to be. If God calls you to move past what you think you can do, relax and trust Him. But don’t let others manipulate you by telling you that you should die to your self and do what they want. Jesus gives the definition, the identification, to your life now.

God loves you as you are because He has made you as you are. Let sin and compromise fall away. Those things are no longer connected to you, they lie about you. The cross of Jesus took away all that was attached to sin and this world, and now you are a new person in Jesus.

Somehow, in the amazing grace of God, you and I are who we have always been, yet we are brand new creations in Jesus. I don’t fully understand how that can be, but I claim it as the gospel of Jesus Christ. More and more, we are becoming who we are.

3 Comments

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3 responses to “What Does It Mean To Die To Self

  1. Batya Ahul

    Thank you Pastor Dave and Happy Easter to all who read this.
    Christ died for us, in place of us and that is and will always be truly amazing.
    He is risen! 🌈😊🌈

  2. Mark

    I think it’s a bad interpretation of passages like the one you mentioned and also a couple more: John 3:30 – “He must increase, but I must decrease”, and the surmised progression of Paul from being a sinner to being chief sinner. There’s also the concept that all our righteousnesses are filthy rags.

    I think people who are already predisposed to thinking that god is a cosmic Narcissist are going to think that our ultimate role is to be drained of everything that makes us “us” and be seeking ways of suffering as a demonstration of loyalty and value to the Narcissistic god. In the same way, they become like him through loyalty demands and dehumanizing behaviors.

    I am thankful that I now have an understanding that the one on the throne is nothing like that. I HATE that false god – the god that pervades western Christianity. I am growing to love the true God, but it is hard because of how much of that false religion is still playing like a broken record.

  3. KayJay

    I sure needed to read this today! It’s a heavy burden to bear, all that self-denial! Praise God, He loves us so much and made us in His image.

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