The Christian lifestyle is intended to be one where the believer lives not in service to self, but in service to God and other people. One reason we come to this conclusion is because of an important lesson Jesus taught in the Book of Matthew. Found in chapter 22, Jesus gives crucial insight to those of the Christian faith - He shares the greatest commandments.
“He said to him, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important command. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39)
From these two commandments we know that we should be striving not to love ourselves, but to love others. There is no commandment given to love ourselves, perhaps because Jesus knows such an act comes naturally. What does not come naturally is giving love. We understand the Bible’s emphasis on the points about loving outwardly through the notion ‘die to self.’ This figurative statement means we think of ourselves less. Important to note - this does not mean we think less of ourselves, but rather think of ourselves less. Jesus displayed through His character the importance of serving other people. In fact, love is the way by which people will know we are followers of Christ.
“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35)
In the Bible, we do not read the words verbatim, “die to self,” however the idea is present throughout various passages in Scripture. From this idea, we can interpret various ways to do this within our daily lives. First, though, we must examine the passage presenting this idea.
What Does the Bible Say about 'Die to Self'?
Another way to reframe the idea of “dying to self” is self-denial, saying yes to others more often than saying yes to self. The more we say yes to others, God and people, the better we can establish the two greatest commandments within our lives. Here are Bible passages displaying how we can increasingly die to self:
“I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)
One way we die to self is by living more like Christ and less like ourselves. This means that we try to incorporate more Christ-like traits into our way of thinking and being. Literally, this means more of God and less of us. To be crucified with Christ is to allow our flesh to die, and make room for the Holy Spirit within. On the Cross Jesus died for our sins. Thus, dying to ourselves in this way is to cast our sins off, or let them die. Even though we live our lives in the flesh, satisfying basic human needs, what is more important is satisfying the spirit.
“I face death every day, as surely as I may boast about you, brothers and sisters, in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (1 Corinthians 15:31)
As believers, the daily death we face is as literally as it is figurative. The Bible states firmly that the flesh and spirit are oppositional to one another (Romans 8:7). Therefore, every day we make the choice to live according to the callings of our spirit or that of our flesh. Which one Jesus desires for us is clear. This again emphasizes, less of ourselves and more of God.
“So, you too consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Rom. 6:11)
Being dead to sin indicates that we have separated ourselves from sin enough that the consequences of such behavior leave our lives. Though it is an ideal state of being and not one anyone will ever manage (Romans 3:23). However, we are nonetheless called to strive toward this ideal. Sin separates us from God and others, meaning the two greatest commandments are unable to be fulfilled when we choose sin over following the spirit. Therefore, erasing sin from our lives will further help us to think of ourselves less.
Why Did Paul Say to Die Is Gain?
Paul had much to say on the topic of choosing the spirit over the flesh. As one of the more prolific writers of the Bible, Paul has authored 13 books within the Bible. In the Book of Philippians, we get a frequently quoted verse.
“For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21)
This verse highlights the importance of choosing others over self. When Paul says, “to live is Christ,” this means to live like Christ. He preferred to live like God instead of a sinful human being. Paul knew though that being human naturally brought sin. He had his own personal struggles for which he sought God time and time again (2 Corinthians 12:7). We too will face our own battles even if we have a desire for God, Despite his struggle, Paul still sought to follow God. What he came to learn was that God’s grace was sufficient (2 Corinthians 12:9). Grace is God’s undeserved favor, which He gives despite the battle we wage inside daily. He shows this to us in spite of us needing to make a daily choice of picking Him over our flesh.
Recognizing the benefits of following God, this is the “gain” that Paul refers to in his verse. And the gain also includes every other benefit the Bible details for those who follow God. Every description of forgiveness, mercy, favor, are all available as gain for God’s children.
2 Ways to Make Sure You're Not Focusing Primarily on Yourself
The only two ways to fulfill the greatest commandments and not focus on yourself is to find ways to show love outwardly. We can seek to serve God directly or serve others (which still serves God).
1. Serving God
This process begins with prayer. Much as God directed believers of old to various cities to preach the Gospel, God also directs us in our daily lives. The more we understand God’s will for our lives the more we can live accordingly. We have been blessed with free will, but we should use that to satisfy the spirit and not the flesh. In addition to our prayers, we can serve God by understanding His word. He has laid out specific commandments for us to follow but gives us the choice of learning those commandments. The more informed we are of our faith, the more we can incorporate Christ into our lives. Lastly, we can serve God by offering praise. This means thanking Him for the good He performs in our lives and being content with His blessings, much as Paul found himself.
2. Serving Others
One way we serve people is by finding ways to help them with tasks. This may involve donating time toward the completion of a project or donating money for a program or research. Donating our resources in any way is reflective of God’s sacrificial nature. Another way of servitude is encouraging people. We accomplish this feat through actions, but can also do so through words. Building others up is a way to focus less on ourselves and highlight the importance of others.
These are but a few of the ways we can show love for others. As we grow in our relationship with Christ, God may reveal more ways to connect with Him, and we too may find that there are additional ways for us to serve people. The more we seek God, the more we will come to know. And the more we know, the more we can die to self.
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Aaron Brown is a freelance writer, dance teacher, and visual artist. He currently contributes articles to GodUpdates, GodTube, iBelieve, and Crosswalk. Aaron also supports clients through the freelance platform Upwork.
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