The Danger of Dying to Self

You’ve probably heard teachings on how we, as Christians, are called to ‘die to self’, but have you ever considered that ‘dying to self’ could actually be selfish?  My niece, Jaki, encouraged me to read C.S. Lewis’ The Eternal Weight of Glory, and in it he says, “The negative ideal of unselfishness carries with it the suggestion not primarily of securing good things for others, but of going without them ourselves, as if our abstinence and not their happiness was the important point.  I do not think this is the Christian virtue of love.”

People often quote Paul from 1 Cor. 15:31 when he says, “I protest by your rejoicing which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily,” but they fail to keep it in context.  Paul often speaks of facing death due to persecution, and in Romans 8:36, he quotes Psalm 44:22, “For your sake we are being put to death all day long; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”  So what Paul is saying is he knows he’s risking his life and he’s willing to risk his life in order to do the will of God.

What did Jesus mean when He said, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me”?  He had just begun to teach his disciples that the Son of man would have to suffer, then He admonished them that if they tried to save their lives, they would lose it, but if they were willing to lose their lives for His sake and the Gospel’s, they would save it.  Again, Jesus is talking about persecution and being willing to risk your life in order to do the will of God.  God’s will for Christ was to be born into this world, reveal the Father through miracles and teachings, suffer at the hands of man and bear all the sins for all time, be crucified in the most humiliating fashion paying our penalty for sin, be buried and rise again on the third day so we can be declared righteous and be reconciled to God.  Christ’s cross was to do the will of God, even though in His humanity He asked that it be taken from Him, that He wouldn’t have to go through with it, but He loved the Father so much, and He loves us so much, that He was willing.  Our cross is the same as His–to do the will of God wherever that may lead.  Will we do it perfectly like Jesus did?  Probably not, but praise God He doesn’t give up on us and cast us aside!

The obvious danger of dying to self is the risk of facing ridicule, loss, and even death, but the obscure danger of dying to self comes when the focus is still on self.  Scott, a good friend of mine and resident theologian for a large Christian ministry said, “One doesn’t pick and choose the topics, the moments or actions for which one ‘dies to self’–it is an abiding attitude.  Otherwise it is simply a legalistic act in the flesh to achieve recognition for pseudo-righteousness.”

Those whose focus is on self often think of themselves as martyrs.  That’s almost like wearing a ‘I am humble’ button!

As my pastor often points out, it is the heart that counts.  And one of the things I appreciate about his teachings on dying to self is he focuses less on dying and more on living for Christ and others.  Isn’t that what it’s really all about?  Steve Cobb, pastor of Temple Baptist Church in New Bern, NC said this, “You’ve given up your life without Christ in order to embrace your life with Him.”

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About Rene Yoshi

Just a transplanted Okinawan-French Southern girl with a wee bit o' Irish, sharing photography and what I'm learning about spiritual things, including putting off legalism and religious traditions, and embracing God's matchless love, tender mercy, and amazing grace! View all posts by Rene Yoshi

8 responses to “The Danger of Dying to Self

  • Scott

    Our naturally autonomous nature insists we continually view the Lord’s Message as “all about US” rather than Him. We easily forget that if, indeed, we were “…all that and a bag of chips” we wouldn’t have needed a Savior in the first place. Our salvation, at its foundation, is really not about us anyway, it is about the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ meeting the demands of a Holy God in our behalf…

    You’ve penned a wonderfully insightful piece, Rene Yoshi…

    • Sweet Rains

      Thank you so much, Scott! 🙂 Your comment reminds me of something D.A. Carson said, “We go to heaven, not to be saved, but to see Jesus’ glory, because God has determined, because of His love for His Son from before the foundation of the world, that His Son’s glory would be displayed. Now, I know that’s bound up with our salvation… but unless you see that this is not simply so that we will be saved, but so that we will see Jesus’ glory, then even heaven itself becomes slightly domesticated by some assumptions that we are at the center of everything, when it’s Jesus who is at the center of everything.”

  • Tim

    hey, you should check out Nee’s book “The Normal Christian Life”. I think you’d like it. One of my favs.

    Nee explains Romans 5-8, and how Paul taught that we HAVE BEEN crucified with Christ. Not that we still need to be. He teaches that is a past event, not something that we still need to. He teaches that not only have we died with Christ but we have risen with Him too. “I am crucified in Christ, it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me”.

    Check it out. He also talks about preoccupation with self in our attempts to falsly crucify ourselves.

  • Sweet Rains

    Amen, Tim! Thank you for the book recommendation and for adding your thoughts. 🙂

  • Sam

    Good post!

    Yes, denying ourselves can have just one goal. Getting ourselves out of the way is only about growing in Him and serving others: edification in love. Way to go!

    I suppose some suffer from a self-righteous martyr attitude that’s nothing more than an unfortunate religious trait of human nature. They will look for recognition in it.

    Rather we want Christ alone to fill up the space that’s left when we selflessly deny ourselves. Every new day is an opportunity to put off the old and put on the new that’s made in the likeness of Christ. He shines in His light to help us see where we need to change and what we need to deny.

  • Randell Bell

    🙂 Recognition of man carries its own reward, but recognition of God carries eternal reward Mat.6:5 And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
    16 Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
    17 But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face;
    18 That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.

    • Rene Yoshi

      Yes! It’s so easy to desire the recognition and praises of men, but I love when God expresses His love to me, especially when I’m feeling overwhelmed and under-appreciated. Thank you, Randell! 🙂

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