Dying to self: what in the world does it mean? Part 1

In the church today there is a lot of talk about not being selfish. But I’m never quite convinced that we really know what that means. I’ve known people who believe that doing anything for ourselves is wrong. I know women living in complete guilt because they are drowning in exhaustion but are convinced that doing anything to relieve that exhaustion is selfish, and therefore denied to a believer. But is this what dying to self means?

And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it.” Luke 9:23-24

In this first part of this topic, I’m simply going to look at what self is. I’ll tackle a bit more of the depth of what it might look like to die to self in next week’s post.

Is self a bad thing?

is self good or bad

Well, that’s a loaded question! Biblically, self just means me. It means human. So how can self be good or bad? It just is being a person. Kind of like our flesh, it is the basis of our existence in this temporal world – neutral by itself. The good or bad comes into play when we decide what power and authority self has in our lives.

Words used with self in scripture are:

  • self-willed
  • self-exaltation
  • self-indulgent
  • self-control
  • self-abasement
  • self-made
  • self-restraint
  • self-condemned
  • self-lovers (lovers of self)

Do you see the pattern in these expressions? Self (me) is in the Captain’s Chair, so to speak. I’m controlling my will, exalting myself, putting myself down, etc. It is all about placing my thoughts, desires, plans and will as the standard of my life.

A man’s pride will bring him low,
But a humble spirit will obtain honor. Prov 29:23

Because we are created in the image of God, we carry attributes of His. But the problem is that, apart from the redemptive work of His Spirit, those attributes become distorted and corrupted. Think of Multiplicity (the movie) – it’s like making a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy. After 7-10 different copies of the copy, the original version is often lost and undiscernible. That’s what our lives are like apart from Jesus’ sanctifying work. This attribute of authority is distorted from God’s plan.

The humble spirit that we are called to have means that we recognize who we are in relation to God. We acknowledge Him as God and see ourselves in a lower position to Him. When we allow our self to reign, we are lifted up with pride – even if sometimes it doesn’t feel like pride. But seeing ourselves as God sees us and living in humility before His Lordship is the first step toward the life He planned for us.

What was God’s plan?

Well, that is pretty much a no-brainer.

[clickToTweet tweet=”God’s original intent for our lives was to submit to His authority in all things. ” quote=”God’s original intent for our lives was to submit to His authority in all things. “]

To be controlled by His Spirit and follow His lead in every aspect of our lives. Instead, we’ve made an idol of our selves and lost our freedom, joy and victory in the process.

The mind of man plans his way,
But the LORD directs his steps. Prov 16:9

Have you tried to be self-controlled? We might be able to do it for awhile, but then we blow it badly. We make set our goals, we make our plans and we are easily thrown off when things go awry. Why is that? Because we centered ourselves at the heart of the control. When we begin to surrender that authority to God, and begin to walk in the power of His Spirit, then we can begin to find hope, promise and victory.

So self is pretty neutral. It is when we give self authority that we run into problems. Next week, we’ll look at what dying to self means and ways we can begin to live it out for God’s glory.

Be sure and continue with my series in Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4.

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All Scripture quotations are taken from the NASB.
Unless otherwise indicated, photos from pixaby.com

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  1. I’m talking about humility all month at CMB, so I especially appreciated your post this morning. Just a few days in and I’m realizing there is much to learn on this subject. We don’t like surrendering self – but oh, the blessings the Lord has for us when we do. So thankful for His grace and mercy when, even though I know His ways are better, I let self sneak back in. Thanks Kate for this timely word. Blessings!

    • I’m going to make sure I read your posts on humility!!

      Sometimes it is hard to recognize when we are allowing self to rule the roost. Keeping our hearts open to the Lord and His leading and correction is the only way for us to see. Thanks so much for sharing, Deb, and for your growing friendship!


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