Dying to Self


What does it mean to deny ourselves

Question: "What does the Bible mean by 'dying to self'?"

The concept of “dying to self” is found throughout the New Testament. It expresses the true essence of the Christian life, in which we take up our cross and follow Christ. Dying to self is part of being born again; the old self dies and the new self comes to life (John 3:3–7). Not only are Christians born again when we come to salvation, but we also continue dying to self as part of the process of sanctification. As such, dying to self is both a one-time event and a lifelong process.

Jesus spoke repeatedly to His disciples about taking up their cross (an instrument of death) and following Him. He made it clear that if any would follow Him, they must deny themselves, which means giving up their lives—spiritually, symbolically, and even physically, if necessary. This was a prerequisite for being a follower of Christ, who proclaimed that trying to save our earthly lives would result in our losing our lives in the kingdom. But those who would give up their lives for His sake would find eternal life (Matthew 16:24–25; Mark 8:34–35). Indeed, Jesus even went so far as to say that those who are unwilling to sacrifice their lives for Him cannot be His disciples (Luke 14:27).

The rite of baptism expresses the commitment of the believer to die to the old, sinful way of life (Romans 6:4–8) and be reborn to a new life in Christ. In Christian baptism, the action of being immersed in the water symbolizes dying and being buried with Christ. The action of coming out of the water pictures Christ’s resurrection. Baptism identifies us with Christ in His death and resurrection, portraying symbolically the whole life of the Christian as a dying to self and living for and in Him who died for us (Galatians 2:20).

Paul explains to the Galatians the process of dying to self as one in which he has been “crucified with Christ,” and now Paul no longer lives, but Christ lives in him. Paul’s old life, with its propensity to sin and to follow the ways of the world, is dead, and the new Paul is the dwelling place of Christ who lives in and through him. This does not mean that when we “die to self” we become inactive or insensible, nor do we feel ourselves to be dead. Rather, dying to self means that the things of the old life are put to death, most especially the sinful ways and lifestyles we once engaged in. “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24). Where we once pursued selfish pleasures, we now pursue, with equal passion, that which pleases God.

Dying to self is never portrayed in Scripture as something optional in the Christian life. It is the reality of the new birth; no one can come to Christ unless he is willing to see his old life crucified with Christ and begin to live anew in obedience to Him. Jesus describes lukewarm followers who try to live partly in the old life and partly in the new as those whom He will spit out (Revelation 3:15–16). That lukewarm condition characterized the church of Laodicea as well as many churches today. Being “lukewarm” is a symptom of unwillingness to die to self and live for Christ. Death to self is not an option for Christians; it is a choice that leads to eternal life.

Recommended Resource: A Godward Life by John Piper

What does the Bible mean by "dying to self"?,

Luke 14:26 (ESV)
26 If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple [a true Christian].

He who wishes to follow Him must choose Him so unconditionally as Lord and Guide that he makes all other loyalties and ties absolutely subordinate to his loyalty and devotion to Him.  The Saviour, of course, does not mean that he who desires to follow Him must hate his parents and other loved ones as such, but certainly if loyalty to Him clashes with loyalty to them he is to treat his loved ones in this condition as though they are persons whom he hates. But even when he acts thus towards them for the sake of his absolute loyalty to Christ, he must continue to love them and all other people, in accordance with Christ's law of love.
Norval Geldenhuys. Commentary on the Gospel of Luke. (Grand Rapids, MI: WM. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1951), 398.

Luke 14:27 (ESV)
27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple [a true Christian].

Indeed, he who is not willing to die the most hideous death, by crucifixion, for the sake of his love and loyalty to Christ, cannot be His disciple. The general idea that these words of Jesus about "bearing the cross"  refer to passive submission to all kinds of afflictions, like disappointments, pain, sickness and grief that come upon man in this life, is totally wrong. The people to whom Jesus spoke those words fully realised that He meant thereby that whosoever desires to follow Him must be willing to hate his own life (verse 26) and even to be crucified by the Roman authorities for the sake of his fidelity to Him. So, in a wider sense this pronouncement of Jesus means that only that person who for the sake of His service surrenders all self-seeking and abandons all striving after his own interests can be His disciple.Norval Geldenhuys. Commentary on the Gospel of Luke. (Grand Rapids, MI: WM. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1951), 398.

Luke 14:33 (ESV)
33 So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple [a true Christian].

Here the Saviour declares expressly what the indispensable requirement is for anyone who whishes to become a real disciple of His. He must relinquish all his possessions - not merely money and material things, but also his dear ones and everything that his heart clings to, yea, even his own life, his own desires, plans, ideals and interests. This does not mean he must sell all his possessions or give away all his money or desert his dear ones and become a hermit or beggar or wanderer, but it means that he must give Christ full control over his whole life with everything that hs is and all that he possesses, and that under His guidance and in His service he should deal with his possessions in a manner that is best. In some cases it has meant, or will mean, that a man will have to take leave of his worldly possessions and go into distant lands to work for Christ. In most cases, however, it means that man in his ordinary life places his all at Christ's disposal to such an extent that, while still remaining in possession of his goods, he honours and serves Him thereby.  The important thing is that whosoever desires to follow Him must be inwardly free from worldly-mindedness, covetousness and selfishness and wholly devoted to Him.Norval Geldenhuys. Commentary on the Gospel of Luke. (Grand Rapids, MI: WM. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1951), 398-399.