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“Dying to Self” Can Be Dangerously Misunderstood

Last Thursday, I ran a post about “Dying to Self.” Today, I want to talk about how it is possible for someone to misunderstand the concept of “taking up your cross and following” Jesus to think that this means, “I must take abuse. My needs don’t matter. I have to let my husband beat me or abuse my children. I have to be a doormat.”

That is NOT what this concept is about. It is not about giving up our personhood or being a punching bag. It is also NOT about hurting ourselves or beating ourselves up. It is about seeking God’s will above our own. It is about knowing who we are in Jesus and knowing and receiving ALL He has done for us on the cross and through His resurrection. It is about living in a place of great spiritual strength in Christ, not a place of spiritual weakness.

There are different kinds of suffering in this life.

  • The suffering that happens because we are in a fallen world.
  • The suffering that happens due to our own sin.
  • The suffering we experience due to others’ sin against us.
  • The suffering that comes because we voluntarily do what is right.
  • The suffering that comes because God is disciplining us.

God calls us to lay aside our old sinful nature and live for Him. My old sinful self is no longer to be on the throne of my heart. Jesus is now my Master. So when I talk about “dying to self” I am talking primarily about suffering I experience because I decide to live for Christ as LORD no matter what the cost. It is about self-sacrifice in a way that brings honor and glory to God. It is not suffering for the sake of suffering. It is not suffering because I just have to sit and take abuse if I have the ability to leave. It is suffering for the sake of doing God’s will. If this doesn’t make sense, let me know and let’s talk about this some more. 🙂

There may be times when a believer is persecuted and may suffer for the Gospel by being imprisoned, by losing his/her job, or by being physically punished. That kind of suffering may be inevitable. But suffering at the hands of an abusive spouse or self-abuse is something that we can rightly seek to avoid. Jesus allowed Himself to be crucified because that was God’s will to bring about salvation. Other times when people tried to kill Him, He slipped away.

NOTE:

There can be confusion about this idea of dying to self, or the concepts that are like it in Scripture. One reason I think this happens is that from God’s perspective, we are already dead and crucified in Christ. We are already dead to this world and alive to God through Jesus. To Him, that happened 2000 years ago on the cross. It is a done deal sealed by the finished work of Jesus on the cross. He did EVERYTHING necessary to make us right with God. We have already been justified. To be justified means that Jesus completely paid our sin debt in full. It is an accounting term.

But then, there are also all of these commands about us participating in this process on a daily basis as we follow Jesus. So we are involved in “picking up our cross,” “putting to death the misdeeds of the body,” and making ourselves “living sacrifices” for God moment by moment. It is a continual mindset of surrender of self and yielding to the Lordship of Christ. Yes, this is the process of sanctification which continues for our lifetimes until we reach heaven. 🙂 It is that process of learning to live out and experience all that Jesus has done for us in our daily lives.

We absolutely must guard against a works-based salvation. We are all prone to want to go to that in our pride – to think that we can somehow earn what Jesus did for us on the cross ourselves. But we cannot!

The ONLY way we can have power and victory over sin is through the power of God’s Spirit working in us. We don’t have power in our own sinful flesh to do this.

From an Anonymous Wife:

Because I come from a background with a lot of out-of-control sin from adult authorities, I had a very distorted understanding of the meanings of things. And then coming to church and hearing blanket statements made as if everyone had the same lexicon made it even more confusing for me. “Dying to self” was one of those things that really frightened and terrorized me a bit.

When you live with abuse, your very self is being attacked as if its somehow wrong for you to live and exist and as if there is nothing good about you. You are being told all the time that you are bad, worthless, etc.

Then I get to church and hear the self being talked about as if its a bad thing too. It was years before my reasoning skills and theological understanding developed enough for me to even understand what was being talked about, so I couldn’t even articulate my difficulties for a long time! I thought God agreed with the abuse I suffered because of that and that my feelings about it were irrelevant to Him because they were part of self! Worse, I met Christians who actually thought that way. Now, hoping I indeed have gotten it, lol, here is what I think it means.

How I understand this now is that when Jesus asks us to deny ourselves, He is not talking about systematically trying to annihilate anything that is us. He is more likely talking about the self that is part of the sinful nature, the flesh.

It can also include our will when what we want is contrary to what God wants. But it does not mean that the person you are as far as your unique identity or personality equipment as God designed it,is what needs to die. I like animals and art and living in the country. That is not bad, its part of who I am as a person. There is no sin in it, of itself.

However, if God was calling me to move to an inner city neighborhood where he wanted me to reach out to homeless youth, and I said to him ” No, I don’t want to leave my farm and my wholesome environment, then that would be an example of denying myself for His sake. If I have a tendency to gossip or am bitter and unforgiving towards someone that would be an aspect of my flesh that God wants me to deal with by putting it to death on the cross.

Yes, He is referring to that we are dead and we count ourselves dead to our sinful old nature, our flesh, and to this world. But we are alive to God in Christ. We have a new self that is glorious, blessed, beloved, cherished, valuable, precious, and beautiful in Christ. It is so important that we know what “self” we are to die to and what it means to take up our cross.

 

By The Satisfied Wife:

April,
I think you are right on in what you shared about this. And something else hit me as I read this comment. In my experience, because I was mistreated for so long, and suffered in that sense for getting involved with the wrong kinds of men, and not having a strong father figure in my life, I became completely self-reliant and independent, with a heart hardened to the harsh realities of life. And in being mistreated and developing that independent spirit, looking back I see actually how selfish I became. That sounds wrong, but hear me out if you can 🙂

Because I was mistreated and grew up mistreated, and did not develop a healthy self-worth, and developed that desire in my heart to be loved and wanted and all those idols that are attached to that desire—-it actually made me self-centered. All I cared about was what I wanted, what I needed, what I wasn’t getting from this guy or my father or whoever. My husband pointed this out to me a long time ago, really right after we got married, he saw how selfish I was and how focused I was on having my needs met in the marriage. And because my needs and expectations weren’t getting met the way I wanted them (with the never ending black hole heart), I was disrespectful, complaining, negative, argumentative, controlling, etc.

That’s what happens when we are mistreated in life, as a young woman, we become fearful and controlling because we feel the need to protect ourselves because we have not been treated right. We become independent and self-reliant.

So when God led me to Himself, and revealed Christ in my heart—— that was one of the first things He showed me. He led me to read the book “Not a Fan”, and it was all about dying to self and following Christ. I remember how eye-opening that was for me, because my selfishness was exposed.

And as the years have gone by, He has continued to lead me to the true meaning of dying to self and following Christ, by leading me to your blog, and to the book captivating— and now I see all the pieces put together to this puzzle for me.

He has shown me that in reaction to the way I was mistreated by my own father and men in my life, my heart grew very cold and I became even more selfish. I was living in self-protection mode which entails controlling and fear for my whole life really. All I cared about was myself, honestly. I wanted what I wanted.

I’m not saying it’s ok for anyone to treat someone wrongly. But what I am saying is that, I had an even more challenging time learning how to die to self because of being mistreated and having developed a very independent self-reliant spirit that was highly selfish. I looked at everything my husband did through the lens of my wounded, selfish heart, instead of through Christ and the Cross. I had no idea that my wounded heart was behind all of the control, fear, and disrespect. I didn’t realize that wounded heart was behind a lot of the conflicts in marriage. It was harder for me to “let go” of control and all the fear and self-protection and it was hard to learn to truly trust God and surrender all to Christ. But once He opened my eyes, holding onto those things seemed like garbage compared to surrendering all to Him as Lord and having His peace and rest in my heart!

Now that I know who I am in Christ, and who my husband is in Christ, I have a hard time focusing on the things he does wrong. Letting go of myself and my own personal interests has been the way of finding true Life!

From Peacefulwife:

This process of dying to self can also be described in other ways, too, like:

  • being a living sacrifice for God (Rom. 12:1)
  • putting to death the misdeeds of the body (Rom. 8:13)
  • counting yourself as dead to sin and this world and alive to God through Christ (Rom. 6:11)

Taking up my cross is about laying down any sinful motives and about picking up God’s will. So I would allow God to search my heart for things like selfishness, greed, bitterness, idolatry, resentment, hatred, unforgiveness, malice, gossip, addictions, etc… things that are spiritually toxic to my soul, my relationships, and my walk with Christ – and I would reject those things and allow God’s Spirit to completely fill me with His love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

It is not only about getting rid of the sin that was in me before. It is also about receiving all of the good that God wants to give to me and the new self He provides for me.

There are some who have been  abused and mistreated who do not believe they are worthy to receive God’s love. Truthfully, none of us are “worthy” to receive God’s love. But God loves us because that is who He is and His love is available to each of us. We CAN receive His love, not because we deserve to, but because He freely gives it!

For those who have a hard time receiving good things from God, I invite you to check out this post by Radiant about Cinderella and the Gospel. I also encourage wives who have been abused and who are confused about dying to self to search and read some of these posts as well:

Boundaries by Dr. Cloud and Townsend may be helpful in this kind of situation where there is significant emotional/verbal abuse.

Nina Roesner has an e-course that may be a huge blessing for wives in emotionally/verbally abusive marriages and very difficult marriages – “Becoming a Woman of Strength and Dignity”

I believe we must find spiritual healing and wholeness in Christ FIRST before we learn how to “lose our life” for Christ or “put to death the misdeeds of the body,” or “be a living sacrifice” for God or “die to our old sinful self” in a healthy way.

NOTE:
I do want to mention – this is something we each choose to do ourselves. It is not appropriate for me to demand that another believer needs to “die to self” to do what I want him/her to do. I can’t force others to obey God. I can set a godly example. I can ask for what I need and desire. I can share my insights and perspective. But I don’t get to control other people or dictate to them what they should do.

My husband should be living wholeheartedly for Christ and leading and loving as Jesus did, laying down his life for me to portray the love of Christ. But it is not my place to say, “You need to die to yourself and do X, Y, and Z to lead me properly.” It is possible for me to try to manipulate my husband, or other believers, in this way, for my own selfish purposes.

SHARE:

If God has given you lightbulb moments about this concept, please share! If you are struggling with this idea, let’s talk about it together.

Much love to each of you!

April

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