The Truth about Dying to Self
There are certain teachings or beliefs or doctrines that exist in the religious setting of Christianity that do not appear to have much scriptural basis. One of these teachings has to do with the idea of the believer dying to himself. And it could be nothing more than a problem of semantics, or simply using wrong wording. Yet using wrong words to describe something can be confusing to the hearer.
Buried With Him
The phrase “die to self” doesn’t appear in the scripture. There are, however, verses that do speak of a dying process that takes place in the believer.
Colossians 2:12 Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.
Colossians 2:13 And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses;
This passage speaks of the identification the believer has with the death of Christ through water baptism. It says that we are buried with Him, and that we are raised from the dead with Him through our faith in the operation of God, that is, our belief that God raised Christ from the dead.
Notice that it says, and you, being dead in your sins . . . has He quickened or made us alive with Him through the forgiveness of sin. You, or your inner self, has been quickened or made alive, not put to death. The death that Christians experience in Christ is the death to sin. But death to sin is often described in Christian circles, as death to self.
Mortify the Deeds of the Body
Someone will say, we must die to ourselves, as if the enemy of our soul is our self. Our self is not our enemy. Our self is who we are. If we die to our self, we become nobody. The sin that is in our lives is the enemy of our soul. The bible tells us that the wages of sin is death, not the wages of being yourself.
Romans 8:13 For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.
Mortify means to put to death or become dead to something. If you, it says, through the Spirit, put to death the doings or the works of the body, that is, the sins that the flesh is prone to, then you, that is, yourself shall live. The sin is put to death, not the self. The self is made more alive as the result of the sin dying. It’s easy to see how this can be confusing to someone who has been taught that self is the problem.
Not my Will but Thine be Done
Someone will say, well, dying to self has to do with dying to your own will. If you die to your will then you are dying to self. And if that’s the case, then Jesus must have died to Himself.
Luke 22:41 And he was withdrawn from them about a stone's cast, and kneeled down, and prayed,
Luke 22:42 Saying,Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.
Nevertheless, not my will, but thine, be done. It was not Jesus’ will to go to the cross. His will, in the moment of facing that horrific experience, was not in line with the Father’s will. Yet that was the reason He had come from heaven, to take upon Himself the sins of the world, and to bear them away in His own body to the cross of Calvary. John, the Baptist, had said, behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Jesus would have rather avoided that, if possible. Yet He knew why He had come to that moment, and He was willing to do what He knew to be the divine will of the Father.
The Bible tells us that Christ was tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin. So, we know that it was not sin for His will to be different than the Father’s will. But Jesus did not die to Himself, He died to His own will to obey His Father’s will. He chose the Father’s will over His own. Our will and our desires do not constitute who we are.
Renewed Day by Day
Proverbs 20:27 The spirit of man is the candle of the Lord, searching all the inward parts of the belly.
It is the inner man, the spirit of man, who is being changed in our pursuit of Christ. Paul refers to this part of our being as the inward man.
2 Corinthians 4:16 For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day.
The inward man is the self. It is the inward man, the spirit of a man, that is regenerated or born from above to become a new creature in Christ. It is the spirit of a man that feeds upon the word of God and grows in the knowledge of God. It is the spirit of a man, the true self of an individual, that is changed into the image of Christ. Our self, our spirit, our inward man, is made new, or invigorated, or made alive, day by day. He is not put to death.
There may be some sin issues yet to deal with in our lives, and God is gracious to help us by His Spirit. Our will and our desires may not yet be in divine alignment with the Father’s, but they will ultimately line up as we continue to follow Christ. Those things may not disappear overnight, but they will, with the help of the Spirit, be mortified or put to death as we follow the Lord.
But our self, our inward man, our born-again spirit, will not be put to death, but will rather be renewed and strengthened with greater life. Let us not confuse our sin and our wrong desires with our self. We die to those things, but we do not die to self.
Dying to Self
Someone may say, well, what’s the problem with thinking we need to die to self? You’re just making a big deal about the wording. It’s just an issue of semantics. The issue with the idea that a believer is supposed to die to self is that it makes self the enemy or the bad guy in our life. For this reason, many believers are constantly down on themselves and feel as though they are in some way inherently bad or even inferior to others. And if self is the enemy to be defeated, then there is no escape from this condition.
Never good Enough
We feel as though we can never be good enough, because we can never seem to die to self. Self is perpetually with us. We can never seem to become someone other than who we are, and self never seems to match up with who we think we’re supposed to be.
There’s an old saying that goes, when we try to be someone we are not, we stop being ourselves, and become nothing. And that’s exactly what happens when dying to self is our goal. We are supposed to die to sin, we are supposed to yield our will and desires to the Father, but we are not supposed to die to self. In fact, it’s impossible t do so. It is an exercise in futility.