“Die to self.” This phrase is often spoken in Christian circles. When it is fully unpacked, it isn’t a bad phrase. However, it is rarely unpacked and instead just left hanging.
The first, and primary, place in Scripture used to justify this phrase is found in today’s passage in Matthew. Here Jesus speaks about denying oneself. How do we get from denying to dying? That’s a really good question. It would seem that since Jesus is using the cross people automatically tie denying to dying. What if, however, Jesus isn’t talking about death but disgrace? The cross was a place of humiliating death. Despite our cultural appropriation of the cross, in Scripture, the cross is a symbol of death, betrayal (specifically toward the government), and disgrace (you were hung up naked). In fact, it wasn’t death that was the primary issue of the cross, but the disgrace. If we take that perspective, picking up one’s cross was tying disgrace to denial of self. That does put an interesting twist on it, doesn’t it?
Paul provides a framework in Romans and in 2 Corinthians. It sounds similar, but it is different. Not living for oneself, but living for Jesus and others.
A healthy part of a parent/child relationship is that the parent forgoes certain things so that their children can flourish. This does not mean that the parents are to “forget” themselves, for if they do they will hamper or even endanger their children. Not that there are not times, but as a general rule this is the case. Another way to think of it is the oxygen masks on airplanes. You may have gone through the “training”. The crew tells you to take care of yourself (aimed at parents) prior to taking care of your children. It is not because people want the children to suffer, but that the parents will make better judgments (oxygen does that) when masked, and are better capable of taking their children after taking care of themselves.
The reason “die to self” is dangerous is that it implies (or one can readily infer) that one’s very self/identity/awareness is to die. This absolutely is not the case. We are not clones. Denying oneself is very different. In the concept of progressive sanctification (growing in God’s grace and holiness), God started and continues to do good work in each of us. We don’t cease being ourselves, but gradually and continually become a better version of ourselves, coming closer and closer to what we would have been had the world (and us) not fallen into sin.
The last, maybe most important, reason that “die to self” should cease being used is that it misses the point. We are really to live beyond ourselves. That is what we are called to do. In a cultural climate that is showing increasing amounts of nihilism (especially in the younger generations), the way we speak of a transformative life with Christ shouldn’t use the image of death. Death is all around us. Many (regardless of political affiliation) call our current culture a culture of death (for different reasons, granted). Let’s not be part of the culture. Let us shine the light of LIFE with Christ.
1) What are ways you can share about LIFE with Jesus to others?
2) In what aspect of your life are you not living for others? Why? Are you sure?
3) How will you change how you talk about living for something greater than yourself?