“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:  Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross!”

– Philippians 2:5-8

We live in a culture whose effect on each of us is self-absorption.  We want to get ahead or move in ways to achieve something to better ourselves.  The examples are vast.    In the business world, shareholders desire higher margins on their investments.   Salary based earners may strive for higher paid promotions, while wage-based earners look for opportunities to work the extra hour for time and a half.   In our friendships, we may expect something in return.  Marriages break down because one or both feel that they are not getting what they need or want out of their partner.   Some of us strive for perfection while others feel the need to speak out and fight for what they believe is right, and sometimes we put people down or manipulate them to get them to agree with us.   

When living in such a state of self-absorption, we become prisoners of our own soul, chained down by our own egocentricity and equivocation.   We want what we want when we want it. Evelyn Hill said once, “we mostly spend our lives conjugating three verbs: to want, to have, and to do … we are kept in perpetual rest.” In the end we worship a false trinity – power, possessions an human relationships.

But Jesus has shown us otherwise.

Jesus did not focus on getting his needs met.   He could have turned stone into bread during his temptation but did not.  When he met the woman at the well and did not share a cup of water with him, Jesus could have created something instant but did not. And ultimately, he could have saved his own life, sparing the torture of the cross, but did not.   

Death to self is not a common topic you would have with your employer, your spouse or friend but Jesus calls us to give up these attitudes of self-absorption and follow him.   In Mark 8:34-38, Jesus calls to his disciples to take of the cross and follow him.   Taking up the cross in this passage could have a double entendre.  In Jesus’ time, his disciplines could regard his statement as literal – come and die with me.   But more likely, there is an underlying figurative meaning that suggests that to have a revitalized life in Jesus Christ, where you are not self-absorbed, you must give up your old ways and focus in on Jesus’ way.

What does death-to-self look like?   

Death to self involves shedding away the self-sins:  self-righteous, self-sufficiency and self-pity.   As we purge these sins:

  • We no longer want to have our way
  • We no longer are concerned about what others think
  • We no longer think that our way is always right
  • We no longer defend ourselves every time we think we should
  • We loose the desire to be first
  • No no longer obsess with self

How does one go about dying to self?   

It’s not an overnight process, but it relies consistently on God’s grace to transform your life little by little to purse away the self-sins.

First – ask God to help you identify those self-sins.  Take them to God in self-reflection like welcoming prayer or examination of conscious

Second – look at how Jesus enacted.  A great example concerns the time Jesus spent with his disciples hours before his crucifixion (see John 13:1-12).  Washing the feet of his disciples during his time was completely counter cultural.  Washing feet was a job for a slave, not Jesus the Almighty, but Jesus did this to teach them an example, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” 

Third – practices spiritual disciplines to point you away from self-absorption.   This can be secrecy – abstaining from letting our good deeds from being known.  Practicing the discipline of secrecy will help us with pride.   Another discipline can be fasting – abstaining from the early desires but having a good attitude about it.   Lastly, we can become frugal.  Make do with what you have and resist the temptation of desiring something more.  

What “death to self” is not?

Care needs to be taken when considering what it means to die unto oneself. It does not mean that we extinguish previous ways or experiences of life that have defined or made us. We continue to define ourselves by how God uses our talents, skills, weakness and shortcomings. Instead of extinguishing our personhood, we center our thoughts on God. We retain our personhood, our history, genetics, choices and circumstances and move away from an autonomous self-image. “Death to self” cannot happen first without “birth of the true self.” And our true self cannot be realized without God in the picture.

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