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.”