What does it mean to die to yourself?
In our self-indulgent culture, the call of Christ to deny oneself by living a selfless life sounds extreme and unnecessary. Most Christians live their lives completely focused on themselves; their own dreams, their own heartaches, and their own insecurities. Messages of self are everywhere. Christian stores are filled with books that exalt the self and no one really seems to be aware of it. There are countless speakers across the country who hold large conferences just to make mediocre Christians even more self-absorbed. The age we live in is a tragic one because the Church no longer lives the Gospel life. Living for self is no small matter when it comes to being a Christian. It’s missing the whole point of Christ’s message. It’s following after a Gospel that has no power to alter your life. A life can only be truly transformed through its burial. A burial follows death- the death of self, or the flesh. Oh, how many Christians are fighting against this very death! So many of us are unaware that we don’t just need to die once but are called to die constantly. The death of self is painful because we are wounded in the process but it’s a wound that leads to life. Christ’s death testifies to this and He calls us to die a similar death by denying ourselves, picking up our cross, and following Him (Mark 8:34). The Gospel life cannot become a reality to us if our flesh is alive and well. Notice that following Christ is the last step in this 3-step call and it can only be done by first denying ourselves and then picking up our cross, which culminates in a death to self, but how many Christians are staying true to this sacred calling? Being a follower of Christ today simply means wearing cool Christian t-shirts, going to church once or twice a week, and attending Christian concerts. Following Christ today is a far cry from what it meant to Christians of the past, whose lives changed the world. You might be thinking that I’m wrong to refer to them because they lived in different times but the price of following Christ is not less today just because we live in a modern era. Christ is still calling us to deny ourselves, pick up our cross, and follow Him. The call to deny self is as relevant today as it was when Christ first said it. It hasn’t changed- even if our world changes with every second. This call is not easy- it’s actually impossible in our own strength, but it’s so worth being willing to pay this high price. Though we are the ones choosing to die, it is Christ who makes our death possible. What does this death look like in a practical way? At first glance, you might dismiss this death as unnecessary pain but so much of our pain is divinely aimed at accomplishing this very purpose. Elisabeth Elliot said it so well: “…the deepest spiritual lessons are not learned by His letting us have our way in the end, but by His making us wait, bearing with us in love and patience until we are able to honestly pray what He taught His disciples to pray: Thy will be done.” When things are not going according to your plans, choose God’s will above your own. When the fire burns brightly and it feels like there’s no way out, remember that it’s in the fire that the self dies so that Christ can live in us. Why does deliverance sometimes seem to delay? A. W. Tozer explained it in such a true way: “Deliverance can come to us only by the defeat of our old life (self on the throne). Safety and peace come only after we have been forced to our knees. God rescues us by breaking us, by shattering our strength and wiping out our resistance. Then He invades our natures with that ancient and eternal life which is from the beginning. So He conquers us and by that benign conquest, saves us for Himself.” Our natural reaction is to fight the death of self but by doing so, we are completely missing out on the Gospel life. It’s on our knees, in complete humility and submission to God where the flesh can die and we can be freed from the chains of self. May we always pray the prayer that Christ prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, no matter how much it hurts to let go of our ego- Your will, Father, and not mine be done. There are Christians who will never experience the unspeakable beauty and freedom of no longer living for self because they are too busy living for themselves and doing their will instead of the Father’s. Those same Christians are missing out on the most amazing existence possible. Only the ones who deny self by surrendering their will to God can escape the curse of the flesh and taste heaven here on earth.