5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 For one who has died has been set free from sin. 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.(ESV)
24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.(ESV)
One of my favorite movies is The Princess Bride. There’s a scene where one of the main characters is continually using the word “inconceivable.” The events that to him are “inconceivable” keep happening. His concept of what is impossible keeps running into the brick wall called reality. At one point, another character says “I do not think that word means what you think it means.”
“Dying to Self” is a phrase I often hear spoken by my friends at church. My department even offers a class with that title. It’s a deep and meaningful phrase but sometimes I wonder if it means what we think it means. The phrase “dying to self” doesn’t appear in scripture. We are to “deny self”. We are to “take up our cross”. We are to “consider ourselves dead”. We are to “lose our life”. All of these are ways, I think, of expressing the same idea and “dying to self” is a great way to express this idea. But I’ve noticed a tendency to misunderstand a key aspect of what it means. I often hear “dying to self” used to indicate a need to die. Used this way, dying to self is something we ought to do that we haven’t yet done.
But the Bible is clear. In Christ, I have already died. I’m dead. Buried. Crucified. It’s already happened. It’s a present reality because of a past occurrence. Hence Paul’s instruction in Rom 6:11 that we should “consider” ourselves dead. Another translation says we should “reckon” ourselves to be dead. This is an accounting term. His point is that since we are already dead, we should accurately account for this reality, considering ourselves dead, reckoning ourselves dead, marking ourselves in the “already dead” column of the account.
The point of “dying to self” isn’t that I need to die, but rather that I need to align myself with the truth that I am already dead.