addressing the false teaching of “daily dying to self,” part 4
Part 1 (link) introduces how detrimental this concept can be in the context of an abusive marriage, and gives my husband Tim a platform to speak. Part 2 (link) addresses Scriptures such as “I die daily,” “deny yourself,” and “take up your cross.” Part 3 (link) addresses the Scriptures that talk about “mortification” and spiritual “dying.”
The Christian life is about finding “rest from works” in the spiritual realm
Jesus promised that those that came to Him would find rest for their weary souls. He accomplished the work in the spiritual realm, so that we wouldn’t have to. Our part is to trust Him in His finished work. But . . .
In contrast, the “daily dying to self” teaching is a work (in opposition to faith) that Christians are told they’re supposed to accomplish in the spiritual realm, in order to further our life in Christ.
But it’s impossible. Have you observed that it’s impossible in your own experience? Have you felt like the “self” kept resurrecting after you “killed” it?
Back when I had my “I die daily” sign on the wall next to my bed in college, it always seemed impossible, I guess because it was. I was working so hard to die so I could finally get rid of that sinful self. But funny thing, it seemed like I kept being pulled down by it, with the sin still very much in evidence. I guess because I was trying to accomplish something that only the Savior could do—and I didn’t know He had already done it.
It was many more years before I finally began to understand what it means that I died with Christ and I’m risen with Christ. I’m still learning. But instead of learning with a heavy burden and dread, feeling like I can’t ever do it right or enough, I’m learning it with delight, joy, and anticipation of what the Spirit of Jesus Christ is doing and will continue to do in my life, to turn my heart away from sin and the things of this world, and toward Him.
The Christian life is about valuing the eternal more than the ephemeral
Christians know there are two realms. There is the realm of the
visible, tangible, physical, and ephemeral.
And at the same time, there is the realm of the
unseen, intangible, spiritual, and eternal.
Jesus often set these two realms against each other: the eternal against the ephemeral. Here’s an example:
And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last. ~Luke 13:30
There are “some” who are first in the physical realm who will be last in the spiritual realm. As Jim Elliott, the martyred missionary to the Auca Indians, said in regard to this very teaching,
He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep [the ephemeral physical things]
To gain what he cannot lose [the eternal spiritual things].
In John 6 Jesus lays out His most compelling case for the unseen and eternal Bread—His own life that would be given for them—to be far greater than the seen and temporary bread that the multitude had just enjoyed. (It was such a compelling case that almost everyone walked away.)
In John 4 Jesus said to the woman at the well,
Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life. ~John 4:13-14
And this He spoke of the Holy Spirit, the next verse tells us. He was cryptically contrasting the physical water with the spiritual water, and making crystal clear which one is more valuable.
Jesus spoke a similar cryptic teaching about life and death that is sometimes used to support the “daily dying to self” teaching. It’s repeated five times in the gospels. Here is one of them:
Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. ~Matthew 10:39
Jesus is saying to the crowd, “You think you’re going to find ‘life’ someplace else, in this physical realm, but it’s not going to work. It is in Me that you’ll find your greatest fulfillment of life.” To those who have believed on Him He says, “If you’re willing to turn your back on your old life for me [a life focusing on the visible, tangible, physical, and ephemeral], you’ll find your greater spiritual life.”
The fulfillment Jesus gives is in the realm of the unseen, the realm of the spiritual. And it is in this realm that we find lasting treasure.
“Losing your life” for Jesus means you’re willing to give up the visible, physical, ephemeral things of this world for the unseen, spiritual, eternal things of Jesus Christ. You’re willing to give up earthly treasures in order to gain heavenly treasures. Not only is this a much clearer and more straightforward command than perpetual dying of the spirit or soul, but also it’s more in line with the rest of the New Covenant in Christ.
A disclaimer regarding the physical realm and abuse
When I say I believe the Bible teaches two realms, I don’t mean to be even hinting that I think the physical realm is bad. No, this world, including our bodies, is given to us by God and is good. He is pleased with His physical creation. The simple fact, though, is that it’s temporary and not of ultimate value or able to give lasting satisfaction. It’s meant to point us to Him.
I also don’t mean to imply, by referencing the spiritual as greater than the physical, to give any credence to the false teaching that has circulated in some Christian circles that abuse to the body doesn’t matter because it’s just the body and not the spirit, so the core part of that person wasn’t affected.
I don’t know if from where you’re sitting you can see the steam coming out of my ears on that one, but I want to make sure it’s really clear that for one thing, trauma does affect the core part of a person. And for another thing, the teaching I’m presenting does not teach this kind of separation of a person’s self. After all, it’s impossible to split up the self like that.
The spiritual life in Christ is ultimately more fulfilling than the physical things of this world, so much so that one can be willing to give up his or her physical life for it. But that doesn’t mean you should endure abuse of any kind, or try to act afterwards as if nothing has happened to you. I hope I’ve made that abundantly clear on this blog (such as here and here and here and here and here and here) and elsewhere (such as here and here and here and here and here). If you’re in such a situation, I urge you to escape if possible and get help as quickly as you can.
But the unbiblical “daily dying to self” teaching, the false teaching that “your marriage is designed to kill you,” those are the teachings can so easily be used to keep vulnerable people in abusive situations. As one reader wrote to me:
I started questioning it [daily dying to self] when it was making me crazy to figure out how to do that in an abusive marriage where I was . . . being emotionally and mentally destroyed (how do you daily die to self when your self is being killed daily?). Although I finally realized that I had to have a self in order to die to it, it took a few more years to see that that was not what the Lord was saying.
And a few last words because this is so important
Thank you so much for sticking with me through this study. I believe there is great freedom and joy in believing and understanding the truth that you don’t have to try to keep on dying to yourself. I’ve seen that freedom in my own life as I’ve come to understand it more thoroughly, as well as in the lives of others, including not a few heroes of the faith.
The New Testament doesn’t teach that a black dog and a white dog will be battling it out in our souls for the rest of our miserable lives. Rather, our Lord Jesus is working in us the ability by His Spirit to see and value what is truly valuable. This, in fact, is holiness.
Holiness is treasuring what God treasures
and despising what God despises.
The gospel of John is full of life. If you look, you’ll see ever so many references to it. Here are three more to encourage you on your journey.
In him [Jesus] was life, and the life was the light of men. ~John 1:4
Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” ~John 8:12
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy [the sheep]. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. ~John 10:10
Remember that death is from the enemy. Life is from Jesus Christ. It was in the one-time death and victorious resurrection of Christ (in which we participated) that the enemy was ultimately defeated.
That “abundantly” in John 10:10 is the same word used in Ephesians 3:20—surpassingly superior, or as the Amplified version says, “superabundantly.” The “abundant life” Jesus referred to is life in the spiritual realm, because the life in the spirit that Jesus offers is far more satisfying than you can ask or imagine.
In the physical realm, for the cause of Christ, Christians who follow Him will be willing to give up their physical lives for the advancement of His Kingdom of light and love in rescuing souls from the kingdom of darkness and evil.
But in the eternal, spiritual realm, if you’re trusting in Christ for your salvation, you never again need to even consider the heavy, heavy, grievous burden of trying, in the realm of the spirit, to continually die, to yourself or to anything else.
Rather, in the unseen and eternal realm, you are called to live abundantly, in the life and power of the Spirit, in the enjoyment of the truest pleasures, the unseen and eternal pleasures which are to be found in Jesus Christ alone.
This is living the life Christ promised.
That’s good news.
Part 5, My Letter to the Man Who Said Your Marriage is Designed to Kill You, is here.
Go here to download your free Guide, How to Enjoy the Bible Again (when you’re ready) After Spiritual Abuse (without feeling guilty or getting triggered out of your mind). You’ll receive access to both print and audio versions of the Guide (audio read by me). I’m praying it will be helpful.
I never believed that it was ok to be abused, but I did make the mistake of staying with an abusive husband and loving, serving, and blessing him. I did this because I had read Luke 9:23, and the other scriptures listed. I longed to love God and to love others, and thought if I can’t love my sinful husband how can I love other sinful people? I learned during those years the lesson of your writing: it’s Jesus’s life, not His death, that now resides in me.
Your teaching on the subject of dying to self is excellent. We died on the day of our conversion and given new life. We are a new creation in Christ. Jesus paid it all. We just need to abide in Him and walk it.
I remember how I asked my mom, how could I get members of my youth group to stop sinning (smoking, drinking alcohol, cursing, sexual immortality), and she said, I couldn’t do anything but lead them into a love relationship with Jesus, then, and only then, would they put off the old man (ephemeral) and desire things of the Spirit (eternal). She was so right, and so are you.
I am currently separated from my husband, and walking in the light. God does not value marriage over my safety and sanity. I thank God for all the wisdom that has come forth in these past few years. Thank you for your heart for the truth.
Thank you for your comment, Yvette. I’m so sorry for what you’ve gone through but glad you’re walking in the light now.
Would it ever be possible that the best and hardest way to love someone would be to leave? Seems that enabling someone to continue in sin is not as loving as leaving and allowing God to bring him to the end of himself. It is sooooo hard on women who choose to leave for the sake of safety and sanity. They are made (by the church, primarily) to feel that it was not the loving thing to do.
I agree with you that determining not to enable sin is a loving thing to do. To allow someone to continue in adultery, for example, just to keep the peace or to present a false front of “godliness” is a bad choice for anyone who has the option to speak. I understand that those who have been kept voiceless may not be able to speak for some time, but it’s good to keep in mind: “sin should never be enabled.” I’ve known several women, though, who lost their church, their friends, and their family when they decided to stop doing that enabling.
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