What does it mean to die to self?
We are in a blog series exploring how we can enter into the Psalm 23 life without lack drawing on Dallas Willard's book "Life without Lack). In part 1 and part 2 we explored the first step into this life without lack which is trust in/reliance on God in our real everyday lives. We looked at a simple way of growing our faith as well as the stages of faith that Job went through. This step involves how we relate to God.
The next step into a life without lack involves how we relate to ourselves and it involves 'death to self'. Again Dallas helps us:
In a day and age in which we hear far too much about self-fulfillment and self-promotion, this topic may not sound inviting. So it is essential at the start to notice that we are dealing with “death to self” not “death of self.” The distinction between these prepositions is vital to maintain. Death to self is not ultimately a negation, but a rising up into the very life of God (2 Peter 1:4). Thus our lives are saved by his life (Rom. 5:10). This is essential.
One problem that has hindered this teaching in the past is that those presenting it have not carefully drawn the distinction between death to and death of self. As a result, people view death to self as if it means getting rid of yourself. That is not at all what it involves. You were not put here on earth to get rid of yourself. You were put here to be a self, and to live fully as a self. The worth of the self—your self—is inestimable, and God’s intent for you is that you become a fully realized self as you make the grace-fueled movement from the old self to the new (Col. 3:9–10).
Willard, Dallas. Life Without Lack: Living in the Fullness of Psalm 23 (Kindle Locations 2459-2468). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.
This death to self, properly understood is taught in various places. These include:
Matthew 16:24-26 "Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?
2 Corinthians 4:7-11 But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh.
Galatians 2:19-20 I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Colossians 3:1-4 So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.
2 Corinthians 5:14-15 For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.
Dallas says "this is the essence of the death-to-self life: that we should no longer live for ourselves, but for him who died for us and rose again". It is not about the death of the self, but death to self that makes space for the life of Jesus in us and through us.
In dying TO ourselves we will need to address issues of our desires and our wills. We will need to understand our part and God's part in the process. And we will explore these things in the next post. But there are a three important misundertandings to avoid. Here again is Dallas:
Playing by the Rules
... The requirement on our part is to die to self.
What that will involve in your own life is a matter only you can decide. No one can spell this out for you or test you on it. People have played all sorts of games with this and created even more misunderstanding. Think of all the things that have been presented as dying to the flesh: we shouldn’t wear lipstick or cowboy boots, or drive certain kinds of cars. When I was in college, one of the Bible professors bought a bright, shiny new red Ford. How he was criticized! Red?! A black one would have been much less ostentatious and self-serving. When we try to make rules for dying to the flesh, we are likely to miss the core problem, which is not our behavior but what is in our hearts.
Willard, Dallas. Life Without Lack: Living in the Fullness of Psalm 23 (Kindle Locations 2648-2660). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.
Don’t Mistake Me for a Doormat
I spoke earlier about people who struggle with dying to self because they do not want to become doormats for Jesus. Death to self is not like that at all; it will turn you into a rock! Take Moses, for example. He was said to be the humblest man on earth (Num. 12:3), but he was hardly a doormat to Pharaoh or to the people of Israel. He was dead to himself, which meant that he was completely dead to other people’s efforts to act from self. It will be the same for us. When we see people dominated by their lust for glory or insisting that their will be done, we will be in a position where we can be very firm in not cooperating with them, even if they’re our loved ones. When we live in the Shepherd’s sufficiency and die to our selves, we become the most firmly established people in this world.
Willard, Dallas. Life Without Lack: Living in the Fullness of Psalm 23 (Kindle Locations 2847-2854). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.
Whatever Happened to Self-Worth?
Dying to self does not exclude having a proper sense of self-worth, including the need to feel recognized and valued. Recognition from others is a good and proper thing. But it must not be what controls our lives. It must not become the goal of our existence. If we find that our need for recognition is consuming our thoughts and determining our behavior, then we need to move to a higher source for our sense of our personal worth. That source is, of course, God’s love for us. Apart from that, nothing fills the void that is left in our hearts. The knowledge that Jesus Christ died for us is the foundation of our self-worth.
Willard, Dallas. Life Without Lack: Living in the Fullness of Psalm 23 (Kindle Locations 2872-2877). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.