“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” – Galatians 2:20.
I’m sure that very person reading this blog has been in this position. I was working on a sermon for Sunday when one of the staff came into my office and asked me if I had a minute. I really didn’t and what’s more I already knew both what he was going to ask, and the agreed upon answer. I looked down at my sermon notes, afraid to lose the progress I was making. But, then I looked up and said, “sure.” I started to listen but I couldn’t resist the gravitational pull of the sermon in progress laid before me. When the person asked me a question I realized I couldn’t hear him because I was debating what opening story to use in my sermon. Busted. Convicted and embarrassed, I looked directly into his eyes, knowing that he wanted my attention. Getting my priorities straight meant putting the sermon aside for a few minutes and listening carefully as he repeated his question.
Dying to self seems like a mysterious, deeply theological subject. But is it? To die to self is to set aside what we want at this and any moment and focus instead on loving God with our heart, mind and soul. It also means valuing others as much as we value ourselves. Matthew 22:37-39 says, “Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” Dying to self means that we have given up the old sinful ways we used to live by, and we now live to please God—His Ways not our own.
Dying to self requires us to move away from our natural tendency for looking inward and looking outward to serve God and others. It is a whole lot easier to pay attention to others when our own interests, such as the sermon, do not dominate our thoughts and actions. Philippians 2:3-4 says, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”
Sometimes people equate dying to self with the death of self. But self-denial is not the same as self-rejection. God treasures you and has no interest in destroying what makes you unique. Rather God works within you and reshapes you into the person you were mean to be when you became a Christ follower.
As we die to self, we no longer try to get our own way or try to get people to look up to us. To strive for recognition. We stop telling people what to do as if we always know better than others. We let go of trying to make a good impression on others. We stop being obsessed with what we want. We stop worrying about how circumstances affect only us, and we stop wanting what others have and wondering why they have this stuff and we do not.
This is not something started today and completed tomorrow. It’s a lifelong process. The process begins at the moment we accept Jesus Christ as Savior, and continues throughout our lives.
But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t work at it. Start simple, start small, knowing more significant challenges lie ahead. Ask God how you might deny yourself a little something every day: In our me-first, materialistic culture, it might mean something as simple as talking to someone you haven’t talked to in some time because of a fall out. Or not becoming angry when someone tries to goat you into anger. Or not becoming defensive when ridiculed, humiliated or questioned. As you follow through with these choices, watch how God meets your needs. You will forget why you had a falling out amidst the conversation; you’ll find that people will see as the bigger person for not getting angry or defensive.
These daily behind-the-scenes denials train us to be selfless in small ways so that when we find ourselves in bigger struggles of faith, we will be ready to die to self.