By: Gary Ott
IS “DYING TO SELF” BIBLICAL?
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)
“And whoever does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” (Matt.10:38)
“Truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:24)
“…I die daily.” (1 Cor.15:31)
Do these verses teach us that you, a hungry-hearted Christian, by your own effort and self-discipline, are responsible before God to die to your own selfish desires and self-trust?
Is it God’s will for you, by exercising your will, to inflict some kind of suffering on yourself and through some form of self-denial you become holy and acceptable to God?
If so, why play around the edges? Go for it!
Jesus also said, “If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; it is better for you to enter life crippled or lame, than to have two hands or two feet and be cast into the eternal fire. If your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out and throw it from you. It is better for you to enter life with one eye, than to have two eyes and be cast into the fiery hell.” (Matt.18:8-9)
In the first and second century, a group of serious minded followers of God castrated themselves because they truly believed that by doing this they would become more holy and acceptable to God. Some plucked their eyes out and cut off their hands and feet out of a passionate desire to become more acceptable to God and walk with God in a higher, exalted state of holiness.
A prominent group of highly religious, Jewish men, in an effort not to lust after women had a written rule to help them abide by God’s rule, “Thou shalt not commit adultery”. This rule required all men serious about walking with God to turn their eyes toward the sky anytime a woman was approaching them while out in public. They ended up running into things and getting bloody noses and bruises on their head and body so they came to be called “The Bleeding Pharisees”.
Monks in monasteries, claiming to be Christians, believe vows of poverty and celibacy and separation from the world make them holier, godlier and more pleasing to God than other Christians.
I took my wife, 14-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son to a working monastery in France. The monks grew lavender and sold products like potpourri, oils and lotions that the monastery used for expenses with the rest going to the “Mother Church”. Inside a large, solid granite, barn-looking building with exposed beam ceiling 40 feet overhead, were rows of wooden cots with mattresses made of straw covered with sack-cloth where a few hundred men slept every night and would do so for the rest of their lives. The only decoration in the entire building was on the walls above each bed; a “cat of nine tails”, a black leather whip, representing a constant reminder of the need for self-induced suffering and self-denial.
To all visitors the message was clear; if you suffer for Jesus by denying your selfish desires for money, sex, nice clothes and even a comfortable bed you will be a holy, spiritual person that God is more pleased with than the average run of the mill Christian sitting in the pew while attending church. In fact, if you’re serious about following Jesus, their message was that you must engage in a similar type of self-denying lifestyle!
Think about it, if “dying to self” is the way the Christian life is lived, then it’s pretty much reserved for strong-willed people! A person with a weak-will need not apply and should expect to fail by giving in to his own selfish desires and end up being a sorry excuse for a Christian. Well, if living a godly Christian life is a matter of self-discipline, obviously performed best by those who are strong-willed,
then that leaves me out, how about you?
Are you one of the strong-willed, a bit stoic and somewhat ascetic?
Are you, therefore, satisfied with your performance in “dying to self”, considering yourself a pretty godly Christian as a result
of the sacrifices you’ve made to follow Jesus? Be careful!
Don’t let misinformed teachers of the Bible convince you to follow their decrees such as “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!”(Col.2:21) as if this approach will produce godliness!
O, yeah, “Such [practices] have indeed the outward appearance [that popularly passes] for wisdom, in promoting self-imposed rigor of devotion and delight in self-humiliation and severity of discipline of the body, but they are of no value in checking the indulgence of the flesh. Instead, they do not honor God but serve only to indulge the flesh.” (Col.2:23) Makes you begin to wonder if “dying to self” is really what the Bible teaches, doesn’t it?
One passage of Scripture more than any other addresses the issue of “dying to self”, “Taking up your cross daily” and answers the question of how “I die daily”:
“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; therefore we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed;
perplexed, but not despairing;
persecuted, but not forsaken;
struck down, but not destroyed;
always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus,
so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.
For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake,
so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.”
An understanding of Greek, the language God chose to communicate His Word to mankind, especially the significance of a verb in the “passive voice”, clears up the debate once and for all, and provides a definitive answer as to whether “dying to self” is Biblical.
Simply put, a verb in the “active voice” means you are the active agent, the source of the action. Like the verb “to kick” in the Greek active voice means you are “kicking” somebody.
In the “passive voice” you are the recipient of the action: somebody is ‘kicking’ you and would be translated you are “being kicked”.
And more to our focus on “dying to self”, you are not “kicking yourself”, “dying to self”, but you are “being kicked”, “being delivered over to dying” by someone other than yourself!
Stop and think, “For we who live (referencing our daily life)
are constantly being delivered over to death” (passive voice), means we are not the active agent in “dying to self” but someone else is the active agent and we are the recipients of that action.
Who is the one “delivering us over to death”? Is it us delivering ourselves to death and personal sacrifice by self-discipline?
No, the one who is the active agent of our “death” is God our Father!
Jesus said about Him, “I am the true vine and my Father is the Vinedresser.”(John 15:1) The Vinedresser “prunes” us as “branches” in the “true vine”, who is the living, indwelling Lord Jesus Christ.
God orchestrates and engineers circumstances that cause us pain and suffering and make us realize our weakness, helplessness and complete inadequacy when it comes to living a godly life. God has also built in “death” into our willful behavior, “ There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.”(Prov.14:12)
In other words, if you live long enough you don’t have to worry; “affliction”, “various trials”, “tribulation”, persecution, feeling “struck down”, “reviled”, rejected and experiencing perplexing and potentially depressing circumstances will find you! They found Paul:
“For we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction which came to us in Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life; indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead”(2 Cor.1:8-9)
This painful “death” experience happened to Paul for a specific reason. The purpose of God was that through the “affliction”, Paul would die to himself, stop trusting in himself, and put his trust fully in “God who raises the dead”. And as far as what exactly happened, we’re not told what the “affliction” was, on purpose I think, to help all of us identify our afflictions with his.
You mean to say Paul was not trusting in God when this happened to him? Right! He was on his third missionary journey and had already experienced incredible things as an apostle; people saved and baptized, people healed, demons cast out of people, churches started all over the civilized world and miracles of deliverance, not to mention encounters with the Living Christ where divine revelation (60% of the New Testament) was imparted to him. He was even “caught up to the third heaven…into Paradise, and heard inexpressible words which a man is not permitted to speak”. You think all this might go to your head if you were Paul? Yes, by his own admission, a certain amount of self-trust/self-confidence had crept into his attitude. How much was too much, 50% or just 10%, how about 1%? God brought in the affliction to break Paul of whatever degree of self-trust/self-confidence he harbored at that moment and move Paul, through “dying”, not physically, but psychologically, into an attitude of 100% trust in God; first, to “raise him from the dead”, put him back on his feet and then work in him to produce godliness and through him to accomplish his calling as an evangelist to the gentiles.
We are no different than Paul! God will do whatever is necessary to break us and bring us to the end of our self-trust/self-confidence in order for the life of Christ to be manifested in and through our mortal bodies and unique personalities. This experience is the only thing that brings about true godliness and a lifestyle that pleases God.
“Taken up our cross daily”, becoming that “grain of wheat that falls into the ground and dies” and “dying daily” are all a matter of entering, by faith into our crucifixion with Christ. This is accomplished by our Heavenly Father making us realize, through real life pain and suffering (the process of “Brokenness”), that His Son, Jesus Christ, not only died for you, but you died with Him! He wants you to be able to say with Paul, from the depths of your being, “I have been crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ lives in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live (not by my will) but by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” (Gal.2:20)
Can you imagine the amount of self-mutilation that could have been avoided and the vast number of useless, fruitless vows of poverty and celibacy that would have never been made if only the Biblical truth regarding how to live the Christian life would have been clearly understood? Don’t make the same mistake by concluding it’s up to you to die to yourself by means of exercising your will to deny yourself and follow God!
By “dying to self” you will only prove through your failure the truth of Romans 7; that if you try extra hard to live the Christian life, frustration and disillusionment will drive you to the point of crying out, “O wretched man that I am, who will deliver me from the body of this death?”
Our only hope of ever living a godly Christian life is to realize through Brokenness, by God “delivering you over to death”, that you died
and it’s now “Christ in you” manifesting Himself in and through you that makes the difference!
“The just (the Christian) shall live by faith (not your will)”. (Rom.1:17) Faith in what? Our death and resurrection with Jesus Christ!
Rather than trying to discipline yourself into godliness,
make Paul’s passionate pursuit your own,
”to be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from Law-keeping, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith,
that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death”.
Godliness, all the character qualities and behavior that are consistent with God’s design and will, is given to us by God;
“seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us…”(2 Pet.1:3) It comes, not by exercising our will to attain it, not by “dying to self” but through understanding and believing “the true knowledge of Him who called us”. Who called us? The Holy Spirit! (Rom.8:30, John 16:8)
What is “the true knowledge’? That through the Holy Spirit baptizing us into union with Christ in His death and resurrection (Rom 6:4-6) we have “become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust (including ours)”. Escaping the corruption in the world and our lusts is accomplished by our co-crucifixion with Christ; “may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” (Gal.6:14)
Yes, “godliness”, in character and conduct, is a work of God the Father on us (Brokenness), God The Holy Spirit working in us and God The Son manifesting Himself through us, not by “dying to self”!
Please read “Gary’s Backstory” on this website under the tab-heading “The Hungry Hearts” and know, from age 9 to 20, I believed “dying to self” was Biblical and then, from age 20 to the present, 41 years, I have believed the truth described above with radically better results
In my character and conduct than when I practiced “dying to self”.