My Daily Death – Part One
Dying to self. Doesn’t sound fun to peer into too intently. In fact, I’m nervous to even write this series: to study dying to self is to confront the selfishness of our hearts. Denying selfishness can be downright painful! But you’re here, so let’s dive in with yielded hearts to what God tells us in His Word about dying daily.
Selfishness and unselfishness refer to the attitudes of our hearts. From our hearts, our mouths speak and our actions testify to our self-love. Self-love is the epitome of the human condition. Our fleshly hearts long for self-esteem, praise from men, getting what we want, trial-free lives, ease and rest for ourselves. We lean into narcissism and the pampering of our own little world. The “lust of the flesh” drives us to take for our own pleasures (1 John 2:16.) The “lust of the eyes” seeks to fulfill our own greed and heart-lusts. The “boastful pride of life” seeks to take the glory from God and have it heaped upon ourselves. We, like the angel Lucifer and Eve in the garden, long not just to be like God, but to be God.
Don’t we see this from the very beginnings of life? Some people view babies as innocent little angels. Many of you have children, but even if you have not, you’ve at least observed them at church or in the store. From the earliest days, babies cry for their own desires. “My food! My wet bottom! My cozy thing!” By 12-18 months, even babies who were easy show that the true motive of their heart is for their way, their will, right now! Walk around a high school and you will see much self-love in the way teens interact with each other. Think back to your first year of marriage, if you’re married. What is the predominate thing we have to learn? Putting aside our own selfishness in areas we never had to before.
When we look at all 10 commandments, we see self-love at the root of all the things God forbids us from. Self-love: makes idols, kills, defies parents, covets, steals, lies and dishonors the Lord’s day. Jesus summarized His law for us to make it clear. What was the purpose of the Levitical law? Love God and love others. Where do we get this self-denying love? From the very God who is love.
Lou Priolo says, “The New Testament emphasizes love because love is the single best antidote for sin. Love is the action of Godness.”
So as believers, we have one purpose if our heart is beating and our lungs are still breathing. That purpose is to love. And what is love? Self-sacrifice for others. A quick scan through 1 Corinthians 13:4-9 will reveal love’s others-focus, “Love is patient and kind, it does not brag or boast and is not jealous . . . it does nothing from selfish ambition . . . it hopes all things, believes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.” 1 John tell us, “God is love.”
So, what is self-denying love for God and others? Let’s go to the start of the story. The deep love of God had a remedy for our self-infatuation. Knowing our hard heartedness, He not only told of His salvation for fallen man in His Word, but He sent Himself, Jesus Christ, to be the very demonstration of love (agape) in dying for sinners. He gave us His perfect example in that death: how to die to our own willfulness for the sake of another.
I have been crucified with Christ and it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me. The life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the son of God who loved me and delivered himself up for me. (Gal. 2:20)
This verse is key. We still have our sinful flesh after salvation. Self-love runs deep and strong. But the power of the Spirit resides inside that new man and we have the power to live for and as Christ.
For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. (2 Cor. 5:14-15, 17)
For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. (2 Cor. 4:11)
Christ died to save us from our own self-love, so that through His help we might live for Him and for others (and this is the summary of the two greatest commandments.). So, if this is one of the reasons why Christ came to die for us, then it follows that the result of His death is our death. John MacArthur says, “We die to survive.” And this surviving is so much more than that, it’s abundantly thriving. We must die to thrive.
Die to our will. Die to our earthly desires. Die to all selfish focus. Die even to our agenda for the day, personal hopes, dreams, conceited love for our ourselves, our will, our imaginations, our passions, our fleshly appetites, and if need be, die in our earthly life for His name.
For me, I am most tested to die daily as a homeschool mom, with kids by my side from the rising to the setting sun. I am tested to serve my husband when I’m exhausted from all that at night. I am tested to die for my church body, for their needs and sometimes their wants. I must die to thrive in these areas.
For you it may be very different. Your daily dying may be tested with a gossipy neighbor, a selfish husband, an aging parent, an irritating, slow or rebellious coworker, or maybe even slow drivers!
“This is too great,” some may say. “Christ asks too much. Doesn’t God want me to be happy, wealthy and healthy? Yet, I do love God. I hear His commands, I notice He says there will be trials but….”
How do we learn to do this? Friend, we look again to Christ. We look to both His commands and to His example. No one who lives in the flesh can die to self. It is only through the work of the Holy Spirit.
Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil. 2:5-11)
He who committed no sin died to His own will for the will of His Father for our opportunity to die to our selfishness. John MacArthur also says, “Dying to self means simply a mental check on our determination not to live for oneself and to live for Christ. Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:31 says, ‘I die daily.’”
How can we plant the truth of this into our hearts in order to “die daily?” Let’s look at Matthew 16:24-26, “Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?’”
Let’s go back to the setting. We find Jesus and the disciples talking before the crucifixion. Jesus starts making it clearer and clearer to His followers that He must go up to Jerusalem to suffer. Peter pulls Christ aside and says, in verse 22, “God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to you!”
And Jesus rebukes him, and He says, verse 23, “Get behind me Satan, you are a stumbling block to me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but mans” (after all, this is the main purpose of Christ’s life).
I’m always encouraged reading this passage. Peter failed so miserably time after time, yet through learning from his mistakes, he played a foundational role in the founding of the church and was used in mighty ways for our Lord.
Richard Baxter said, “Wherever the interest of carnal self is stronger than, and more predominant habitually than the interest of God, of Christ, of everlasting life, there is no true self-denial or saving grace; but where God’s interest is the strongest, there self-denial is sincere.
So, if selfishness is imposing my will over God’s . . . . you can see why Christ rebuked Peter. Peter wanted to hold onto Christ, an earthy pursuit, but Christ had to die and fulfill the Father’s will to save us all from self-love and God-hate.
There is a high cost of following Christ. A modern gospel calls people to self-fulfillment in being saved. It is actually completely the opposite. MacArthur calls it the “end of you–it is self-love suicide.” Self-fulfillment always leaves emptiness. Dying to self in order to live for Christ brings ultimate fulfillment. Again, Baxter clarifies the work for us:
But when men are brought to deny themselves, they are in their measures restored to their first esteem of life and all the prosperity and earthly comforts of life. Now they have learned so to love them (comforts) as to love God better; and so to value them as to prefer everlasting life before them; and so to hold them and seek their preservation as to resign them to the will of God, and to lay them down when we cannot hold them with his Love, and to choose death in order to life everlasting, before that life which would deprive us of it. And this is the principal instance of self-denial which Christ gives us here in the text, as it is recited by all the three Evangelists (disciples) that recite these words, [He that saves his life shall lose it, etc. And what shall it profit a man to win all the world and lose his soul?] By these instances it appears, that by self-denial Christ means a setting-so-light by all the world, and by our own lives, and consequently, our carnal content in these, as to be willing and resolved to part with them all, rather than with him and everlasting life: even as Abraham was bound to love his Son Isaac, but yet so to prefer the Love and Will of God, as to be able to sacrifice his Son at God’s command.
So self-denial starts at the cross: at salvation we deny our own person and confess our utter inability to do any good. Christ’s blood atones for our sin and we are reborn. His life, His death, His blood was shed, for our every moment. We are a new creation. The old man is dead and in the grave–we rise again with hearts born to be slaves of Christ our master. We are now followers of Christ and no longer our own.
Jill should be dead. You should be dead. Christ’s servant is now here to live every breath for Him; to follow His examples, to obey His commands, to worship God and live for others more than self. Oftentimes we think that the cost is too great. But that is earthly-mindedness. God’s wisdom is not our own wisdom. For in dying we truly live. In giving up our wants and desires in pursuit of Christ, we find His rich rewards and a depth of mercy and grace that we never find when we are tentative and fearful to follow Him in self-sacrificing ways. Herein is joy. In obedience, we find untold blessing. The disciples left everything to follow Christ. They laid down their nets or left their tax collecting booths. They left extra clothes and bags of money. They parted from family and homes and comforts to follow Him. They were called by the Messiah to walk away from all earthly trappings and follow His words and His ultimate example.
So we see that life is not about fulfilling our dreams and getting our way. It is about dying to self to live for Christ. This is counting the cost and living like Christ. He gives us the strength, through His Spirit, to deny ourselves despite the cost. In part two we will cover the other part of the verse: “take up your cross.”