The terrible thing, the almost impossible thing, is to hand over your whole self – all your wishes and precautions – to Christ.” – C. S. Lewis
As a Christian, I have always struggled with the necessity of dying to myself. Like most people, I want what I want when I want it. We seldom admit to this intrinsic self-absorption woven intricately within the fabric of our human DNA. To die to self requires setting aside our individual unholy trinity (I, Me and Mine) in order to refocus our love on the God who made us and to learn how to value others as highly as we value ourselves. The Liberator Jesus was once asked by a religious expert of his day,
36 “Sir, which is the most important command in the laws of Moses?” (Mathew 25:36b)
Here is how he responded,
37-39 ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind.’ 38-39This is the first and greatest commandment. The second most important is similar: ‘Love your neighbor as much as you love yourself.'” (Matthew 22:37-39).
Christian theology teaches that Jesus has freed us from the bondage of sin by fulfilling all of the “legal” requirements of “religious law” for us. We are now free to flourish within the undeserved favor (GRACE) of our Creator (Romans 6:14). But living in the age of God’s grace does not exempt us from submission to the commandments as taught in the scriptures. We are still to love God above everything else in life and we must learn to recognize the value in every fellow traveler on spaceship earth!
Death to self (exact biblical term: deny self) results in a liberation from our own self-absorption. Consequently, we are empowered to care more genuinely for others. It’s much easier to pay attention to the well-being of someone else when our own egocentricities no longer devour us. The Newer Testament writer Paul put it this way,
3 “Don’t be selfish; don’t live to make a good impression on others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourself. 4 Don’t just think about your own affairs, but be interested in others, too, and in what they are doing.” (Philippians 2:3-4 TLB)
Just how important is self-denial (death to self)? According to Jesus, the process is an integral part of what is required to following Him:
23“ 23Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23 NLT)
Admittedly, my human nature really does not like this at all. Besides being a wee selfish on occasion, I can also be a bit of a control freak. The very thought of total surrender sends shivers up my spine. I’d never make it as the twenty-fourth oarsman in a chain gang on a Roman Galley. If I understand Jesus correctly, we must be willing to give up our personal desires and essentially yield to his control. That can make the Christian life seem uninviting and dreadful. Maybe we should finish reading what Jesus said before we jump to any conclusions:
24 “If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. 25 And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but are yourself lost or destroyed?” (Luke 9:24-25 NLT).
Get it? Our loss is also our gain. Die to self and rise again to a new and better life with the Spirit of God in control.
Among the plastic saints of our times, Jesus has to do all the dying, and all we want to hear is another sermon about his dying.” – A.W. Tozer
It took me years to realize that God isn’t interested in a few hours of my time, a small percentage of my money and some part-time volunteer work here and there. He wants me. Everything – my time, money, possessions – now belongs to him. Christianity is best understood as a life surrendered to the will, plan and purpose of the Almighty. If the Divine Spirit is really in control, why would I not trust him to guide me in the use of time, money, resources, etc., etc.?
You won’t hear this message from too many contemporary Christian preachers. It’s hard to fill up the seats on Sunday morning and build bigger buildings if you start telling people they have to surrender EVERYTHING to God. Nevertheless, this is what God wants from us. Many are called, few are chosen.
The Newer Testament writer Paul shared a few thoughts on this subject as well,
19 “Do you not know that your body is a house of God where the Holy Spirit lives? God gave you His Holy Spirit. Now you belong to God. You do not belong to yourselves. 20 God bought you at a great price. So honor God with your body. You belong to Him.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20 NLV)
1 “And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice””the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.” (Romans 12:1 NLV)
Interesting. To really worship God necessitates the submission of myself to him as a “living sacrifice”. Remember, Christianity teaches that God sent the Liberator Jesus to earth with a specific mission: to “seek and save” his lost creation. It’s called the plan of redemption which included the prearranged death of Jesus by crucifixion and His subsequent bodily resurrection. His death was the great price paid to get us back. Why are we to die to self and surrender to God? Simple, he purchased us and we belong to him. This is how Jesus described his mission,
45 “For even I, the Messiah, am not here to be served, but to help others, and to give my life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45 TLB)
The intentional death of the Redeemer was part of a great strategy. His earthly demise satisfied the claims of Divine justice. With the ransom now paid, an entry point into an eternal existence in the spiritual dimension (which the Bible refers to as Heaven) is available through the Liberator Jesus. Sounds like a movie plot. But this is no fantasy. Turning once again to the Scriptures, Paul wrote to the Christians living in ancient Galatia,
20“My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20 – NLT)
According to Paul, when Jesus died, we all died with him. His death was substitutionary. The Liberator Jesus suffered and died for mankind. His death was for our benefit. The Righteous One died for the many unrighteous. We are dead in Jesus but he is now alive in us and our lives belong to him! That is the reason why we give-up the right to self. Death to SELF!
We have not to die; we are dead. What we have to do is to accept our death…” – T. Austin-Sparks
There is a paradox here; while my life is no longer my own, I still make choices every day that affect how I live it. This is where we all need to proceed with great caution; living daily with a sense of amazement and accountability. Think about it, God gave us a supernatural “do-over” through redemption. We now have an opportunity to respect, honor and worship Him by obedience to His will. Look at what the Newer Testament writer Paul said to the Christians living in ancient Philippi,
12 “Dear friends, you always followed my instructions when I was with you. And now that I am away, it is even more important. Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. 13 For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.” (Philippians 2:12-13 – NLT)
Showing the results of your salvation, as Paul put it, can be observed in our behavior. God saved me from the damnation I deserve, set aside the penalty for all of my failures and covered me in His own blamelessness. In return, out of an attitude of gratitude, I happily surrender my own egocentric and self-serving motivations to Him. Easy right? NOT.
Look, we will always struggle with wanting to exercise our own will. Selfishness doesn’t magically disappear. The self doesn’t like to stay dead. But God is at work within us; teaching us how to obey Him by giving us both the will and the power to do what pleases him.
Real Christianity is often filled with struggle. That is why we are encouraged to work out our own unique recovery (salvation) one day at a time. We will face many difficult choices. And yes, there will also be some losses. But God is within us. He is working out all of the details for our good! Never forget this promise that the Liberator Jesus made to all of his followers:
29-31 “I promise you, nobody leaves a home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or property for my sake and the Gospel’s without getting back a hundred times over, now in this present life, homes and brothers and sisters, mothers and children and land””though not without persecution””and in the next world eternal life. But many who are first now will then be last, and the last now will then be first.” (Mark 10:29-31 – J.B. Phillips Translation)
As we die to self, we no longer try to get our own way or try to get people to look up to us (the praise of man). We stop trying to impress others. As the self passes away, we are freed from our obsession with I, ME and MINE. Over time we begin to experience true contentment.
Pop quiz: Are you secure in God’s love? Is just knowing that you have God’s approval enough for you? Can you be overlooked for recognition or promotion and still be genuinely happy? When others rain on your parade can you smile and walk away? The dead to self can answer YES to every one of those questions. How did you score? Hey, it’s just a quiz. Let’s study to show ourselves “improved”, Okay?
Help me please my Redeemer. I really do not want to put aside my self-centered life. I want to be the ruler. I want control. But now I know that real life can only flow from within me when I let you lead. I surrender. I am yours. You are my leader. Teach me to follow you God. In the name of the Liberator Jesus, AMEN.
Joseph A. Cerreta, PhD., is a noted author, broadcaster, a popular Bible teacher and a rabbid Coastal Junkie ®
For additional information write to: Coastal Life Ministries, P.O. Box 1283, New Port Richey, Florida 34656