The Art of Dying to Self


Most of us have heard of having either left or right brain dominance. Those who have a left-brain dominance are supposed to be more analytical, while those with right-brain dominance are more creative.

Art is defined as a creative skill or ability, and science is knowledge about something or study of a subject. Typically, art and science are seen as opposites, just as with left or right brain dominance.

And by the way, the idea of left or right brain dominance? It turns out to be a popular myth. So, maybe art and science aren't so opposite.

A blending of art and science

In looking at the subject of the art of dying to self, it's helpful to consider the convergence of art and science. How does this apply?

Dying to self requires an understanding of the truth (knowledge) and some skill or ability (art) to put the truth into action.

It isn't enough to just know a truth, we need to act on it or apply it in a useful way. But, it's not all about actions, because our actions need to be based in truth, as well as be useful.

We need to understand the truth of what Jesus says about following Him. We also need to make a decision and commitment to continue putting the truth we understand into action in our daily life.

Whose path?

If we focus on one above the other, we may appear to be following Jesus, but be on our own path of self-improvement or self-righteousness.

We can see this in people who are committed to do good in every way. In Christian circles, this is called a works-based righteousness, which leads to self-righteousness.

Buddhism and similar religions and philosophies focus on self-enlightenment. This tends to isolate a person from the world around as they pursue a deeper sense of spirituality.

One person may stand out from the crowd because of their goodness, while a seemingly more spiritual focus requires an isolation from the people around them.

Whose mission?

What about those committed to following Jesus, His example, and obeying His commandments?

Today, perhaps more than ever, many believers are committed to being on mission.

There's a great focus on social justice and doing acts of kindness, ranging from anti-abortion ministry, or freeing people from sex-trafficking, to digging wells in remote areas.

A more stereotypical Christian mission is to focus on learning Scripture truth and sharing what they know through evangelistic efforts.

Is there anything wrong with these things? Not at all! But the question is, is it the Lord's mission each person is carrying out, or their personal version of it?

Internal, not external

What's missing from just focusing on either goodness or truth? Grace, God's grace! It's not an either-or pursuit, nor just trying to do both well.

The art of dying to self is an internal work rather than an external one. Not the work of the person denying and dying to self, but the work of God's Spirit within a believer.

The follower of Jesus needs to surrender their own will to Jesus. This is what's necessary to deny our self and die to self.

Here's another rewording of the statement of Jesus in Matthew 16:24, where He says, "let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me" (ESV).

“Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. (Matt 16:24 MSG)

Surrender, not self-discipline

Self denial is not about self-discipline. Self-discipline can easily lead to more self-focus.

A popular quote, falsely attributed to CS Lewis, goes like this—

"Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it's thinking of yourself less." (Rick Warren in The Purpose Driven Life)

Self denial and dying to self (taking up our cross) is a work of spiritual transformation.

It is a cooperative work with the Spirit of God where we must surrender our self-will to Jesus. But, it is still the work of God's Spirit in us by grace.

Paul said it this way—

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence— continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. (Phil 2:12-13 NIV)

An illustration of this art of dying is seen with Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane (Matt 26:33-44). Three times Jesus goes to the Father in prayer, and each time He surrenders His will to the Father.

Commitment and trust

This is a day-to-day commitment, not a once-and-done decision. Is it an easy commitment? No. It may seem easy to make at the moment, but it's tough to keep doing it consistently.

The struggle to continue in this commitment each day, throughout a day, is real. But again, this is where God's grace comes in and must stay as priority and key to keeping this commitment.

Because of His grace, which humbles us in a tender way, believers are empowered by His Spirit to surrender our will and follow Jesus.

He doesn't ask us to do what is impossible. He's shown us the way to do it. Now it's up to each of us to choose this way that leads to real life, and to keep choosing it each day, regardless of doubts, fear, or failures.

Jesus simply asks us to entrust our whole life to Him.

Jesus calls, will you trust Him with your whole life?

This is a follow-up to an earlier post titled The Art of Dying