For those of you who follow this blog, you know that I think somewhat uniquely. Today I want to take up the challenge of defining what ‘you’ are. I’ve heard frequently about how we need to die to self, because ‘you’ are not holy. I think that we as Christians need to be extremely cautious and careful with the words and definitions of those words that we choose. In one moment we can say that God loves you, and that He accepts you just as you are, so come to Him for salvation, and then we turn right around in the next statement to say that you need to die to self, you are a sinner, the sinful nature cannot please God, and all sorts of statements like this.
I have a difficult time with this.
Why is it that Jesus would come to give us life and life abundantly, and then expect that we should only die and die and die and die and die and die and die and die and die and die and die and die and die? Are these contradictions? If they are, then why do we continue to teach them? If they are not, then what exactly is being expressed?
Lets start with a simple statement.
Salvation is based upon new birth. What does that mean? The new birth goes back to prophecies like Ezekiel 36:26 and Jeremiah 31:33. Now, if we read the context, it is quite obvious that what is being spoken of is intended for national Israel. Let’s look at these two verses in specific. “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel) “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.” (Jeremiah)
When we read our New Testaments, we find the teaching of the apostles declaring that this has already broken forth. For example, “You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on the tablets of human hearts,” 2 Corinthians 3:3. “He saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit,” Titus 3:5. “Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty consciences and having our bodies washed with pure water,” Hebrews 10:22. “In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,” 1 Peter 1:3.
I think that this is what we’re talking about with the “dying to self” thing. We die to self, which is to say, our old man. What is the “old man”? The old man is the person that we had become before conversion, the one destined to destruction. There were habits, mindsets, attitudes, sinful ambitions, greed, lust, anger and bitterness, and all sorts of evil built up in that old ‘you’. But when we come to Christ, when we enter the Kingdom of God, that heart of wickedness is taken out and replaced with a heart of flesh – the heart that desires only to do what is good and right. Where, then, is there room for statements of dying to self? Our self is no longer evil. Therefore, Paul boldly proclaims, “He who is in Christ is a new creation; behold, ALL things are become new.”
I actually have a problem when people say that we are continually supposed to die to self. I think it is semantics, though. We are indeed to die to the flesh – that old nature – and live from the power of God. We conform no longer to the pattern and mindsets of this world, but are instead transformed by the renewing of our minds. To this I give a wholehearted amen. My contention, then, is simply on the word “self”. What do we mean by this?
David, for example, in Psalm 56 asks the question, “What can mortal man do to me?” If we really think about it, especially when we look at the context of the Psalm, man can do a lot to David. He is already being persecuted. He is already being slandered and tormented by evil men. Obviously, mortal men are already doing something to him. So, the question can’t be about whether men can harm David physically or socially. The question seems to imply a different definition of the “me” that David is speaking of. What David is speaking of is the new man. It is who David is in the deepest depths. This is who David is in God – who the Maker has created David to be.
Let us go back to the initial difficulty.
Why is there always so much language about death? It seems to me that if you’ve died with Christ and been raised by the glory of the Father that you’ve already died and don’t need to keep dying. This is true. You’ve entered into new life, and therefore you don’t need to any longer “die to self” – unless, of course, you haven’t truly died to self. So, the question is no longer about “me” at that point, but instead about the sin that lives in me. As Paul says, “It is no longer I that sin, but the sin that dwells in me.”
The ‘you’, the ‘me’, it is speaking of who Christ has made us to be. It is speaking of that deep depth of who we are. There is nothing in that that needs to be put to death. When we come to Christ, we find that we’re not living from who God has made us to be. The essence of our being has been suppressed and cast aside – covered over with masks and supposed personality traits – twice dead. We indeed were dead in our trespasses and sins, but don’t neglect that Christ has made us alive through resurrection!
What we need to ask is two things. Does my life conform to how Scripture says I am to live and act? Am I living from who God has intended me to be, instead of someone else’s projection what what “Christ-likeness” is (including my own projection)?
To conclude, then, I hope this is freedom for some of you. Some of you have been oppressed and suppressed through language of dying and always needing to repent and surrender over to God. Have I sinned today? My conscience is clear – God is my judge; I do not even judge myself. Why should I repent of something that I don’t know about? What is the point of that? And if I repent simply because I’m “supposed to”, then is it really repentance? What is more important to me is answering those two questions in regards to everything I do. Am I living out of who God has made me to be, and have I projected a false image of what that means by misinterpreting – or completely ignoring – the Scripture? At the end of the day, those two things are truly what it all comes down to. It is all based upon living out of the core of who you now are in Christ – from the new heart – which is to say, to live out of love for your neighbor.
There is no greater love than this: to lay down your life for your friends. Paul even says that “I die daily”. But there is a significant difference between the dying to self when we enter the Kingdom and Paul’s daily death. It was self-sacrifice on behalf of others – HUGE difference. The wisdom of God is manifest in that when I die, or suffer, on behalf of others, life is imparted to them. This “death” is not about dying or suffering, but about serving. It is about taking up ultimate purposes. As Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 1:6, “If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer…”
The cross is experienced in the life of the believer once and for all to die to sins, and taken up again to give our lives as a ransom for many. Death and suffering are never glorified, but rather the life and power that come as a result of sacrifice. If we are focusing upon the death and suffering, then we have left the Christian faith. The beauty of the cross is found in the power over death itself, and not in the “Jesus died for me” alone. Why is it that Jesus’ death moves us? Is it simply because He died while I was still a sinner? Or is there something beyond that? I think that what moves us is the significance of the act, and not the act itself. Through His death, He has brought life. Through His resurrection, He has secured eternal salvation for all who come to Him. Likewise, we take up our crosses and follow Him.