Have you heard the Bible say that we are to die to our own self? What does this mean? What does the Bible describe as dying to oneself?
Taking up the Cross
Luke 9:23-24 “And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”
Jesus directly ties in denying oneself with taking up his cross and doing it daily. If that were not enough, He then says “to all” who are there to follow Him. The next sentence begins with “for” which essentially is a clause to the previous sentence so if anyone is to follow Jesus they must do at least 3 things; deny themselves, they must take up his or her cross and they must do this daily. The cross Jesus speaks about isn’t His cross because they couldn’t pay for your own sins. The cross Jesus was speaking about was the cross each one of us would have to carry on our own shoulders. Jesus died for sinners by taking up His own cross but when we take up our own cross it means that we must die to ourselves which means that we must put God the Father’s will ahead of our own, just as Jesus did and prayed “not my will by yours be done” (Luke 22:42b). The disciples and all of those who heard Jesus’ words knew what taking up a cross meant. They had seen plenty of crucifixions in their lifetime or at least they had all heard how a condemned man would have to carry his own cross to the place of his death, having to carry the very instrument of his execution. This is why they knew what Jesus meant by taking up their own cross.
Killing Your Self-Desires
Jesus said that “anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me” (Matt 10:38). If someone is taking up his or her cross, they are basically saying they are willing to lose their life and if they are to lose their life for Jesus’ sake, they will save it (Luke 9:24). A.W. Tozer once said that there are more plastic saints in our days that want Jesus to do all the dying and all the carrying and only want to hear about it and not live it out for themselves. This is not good enough for what Jesus was saying. The fact that Jesus “bore our sins in his body on the cross” was in order that we might be “dead to sins” (1 Pet 2:2a). In other words, you cannot bear your cross without killing your own interests, desires, wants, and will. That is what denying self is all about because all “those who belong to Christ Jesus have put to death their human nature, with all its passions and desires” (Gal 5:24). Now, “having been set free from sin [we] have become slaves of righteousness” (Rom 6:18) which means you should “now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification” (Rom 19c). At one time we used to present our “members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness” but now you are to “present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life” (Rom 6:13).
Jesus Became the Curse for Us
When a person repents and trusts in Christ they are then “released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code” (Rom 7:6). We are now those “who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Rom 8:4b). Remember that Jesus said that if we seek to save our lives we’ll lose it which is why Paul wrote that “if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Rom 8:13). To deny the self is to “put to death the deeds of the body” and if so, “you will live” but if you or I “live according to the flesh you will die” which makes Jesus’s statement make perfect sense where He said “if you seek to save your life, you’ll lose it but if you will lose your life for His sake, you will keep it” (Luke 9:24). This is just the opposite of the way the world thinks, which should not surprise us since God’s Word says that “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” (Prov 16:25).
Dying to Self
Before I got married, I was very selfish. All my time was spent on my own desires, my own interests, and whatever I wanted to do but after I got married, I had to deny all of the things that I used to do and loved doing and had a new desire. I wanted to please my wife and later, I wanted to make my children happy so my desires changed with my life’s circumstances. What used to be all about me became all about them (the family). In the same way, I used to love my sin and Christians know that sin is pleasurable but only for a season (Heb 11:25) but then the Holy Spirit began to change my desire and what I used to love (sin) I began to loathe. What I used to hate, I began to love. My old self was dying but it didn’t always come naturally nor did it come quickly. When a person repents, they turn from their sins and forsake them and although we still stumble and fall, we get back up. That’s the difference between an unsaved person and a saved person; the unsaved person doesn’t fall into sin, they dive into it with pleasure and swim in it with no desire to get out of it…but the saved person has become a new creature in Christ (2 Cot 5:17) and although they are not sinless, they do want to sin less! Every Christian falls and stumbles but they get back up, dust themselves off, and keep moving forward, growing in holiness by the help of God’s Spirit. “The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Cor 5:17b) but we realize that “All this is from God” (2 Cor 5:18a).
If you haven’t ever been born again, then you cannot possibly enter the kingdom of heaven (John 3:5) but Christians know that this new birth is literally being born from above (John 3:3) as the original Greek indicates. God creates in us a new heart and our desires change and we begin to deny ourselves to what we once loved and now love what we once hated but we still continually struggle in this denying of the self as you can read from Paul’s experience (Rom 7). It isn’t easy but it becomes easier the more you strive to deny the self. God will help us if only we will ask. That’s why Jesus says that “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” and they must learn to “deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23-24).