It’s been said, “what goes up must come down.” However, when it comes to spiritual life, the reverse is true. What goes down must come up! In order to be exalted one must first be humbled. in order to experience resurrection life, one must first go through death. And one must die to self in order to live unto God.
Die to self! The very thought of it conjures up the old legalistic preaching that used to make me feel like a struggling worm. The concept is hardly considered much in the mainstream church today. We are all busy teaching about grace and how to get ahead in life by faith.
Nothing wrong with that, but if we miss the biblical truth about self denial we miss a key element in our spiritual advance. The truth is that dying to self doesn’t have to be legalistic, but is in fact the doorway to freedom and power.
Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it (Matthew 16:24-25).
When Jesus said to take up the cross and follow Him, He was not talking about embracing trials and troubles. He was talking about commitment. At conversion, a real change takes place. The heart begins to desire what God wants more than what self wants, and the believer reckons himself dead to his old way of life. It is now about living for God.
Then the believer begins to find true life, as Jesus said. The old you has died, the new you is now growing.
It is important to reckon yourself dead, “for he who has died has been freed from sin “(Romans 6:7). But as long as the flesh still exists, there will still be opportunities to die to self. I learned a powerful lesson about this on a recent trip in China.
I had planned to visit a project near the Vietnam border. Five years ago, we got trapped there due to a landslide on the mountain road. I wasn’t excited about going this time with all the continual rain that had been pouring. A Chinese brother assured me the road would be safe, but when we got to our first destination, the rain was falling hard. I struggled with fear about the next day’s trip down to the border. I told him I didn’t want to get trapped there again! I wasn’t worried about our safety. I was worried about messing up our schedule and missing some important meetings.
But the next morning the Lord dealt with me. He showed me that I hadn’t died to self and trusted Him. I thought I had! I thought that’s what conversion was all about! But He showed me that I needed to die to my plans, even if they were good, and just trust Him to lead. If we got trapped, so be it. Maybe the meetings (though good) weren’t ultimately necessary or could be rearranged. Maybe He would work out a greater good through the difficulty. He knows how to protect and bless, even though we have our own ideas on how things should move forward. I started to feel relief letting go of my control of the situation and putting it into His hands.
That morning I told the brother, “If you think the road is safe, I’ll be okay with going.” I had peace.
“Oh,” he said, “our friends called and said the rain made the road worse last night. It’s too dangerous. We won’t be going!”
It was good that we didn’t go. The news reported that six people died from flooding in that area on that day.
Dying to self doesn’t have to be legalistic. It’s an amazing way to put everything in the Lord’s hands and be free of anxiety and fear.
I know that there will be plenty more opportunities to grow in this lesson. What about your own plans? Have you released them to God? If they’re necessary, He will see you through. If not, they may be good, but not God! He may have better for you. Trust Him, die to self, and discover freedom.