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Dying to Self

A couple weeks ago, I wrote a post about finding yourself where I shared my thoughts on finding yourself by losing yourself in Christ. Well, this time I am going to take that a step further and discuss the act of dying to the self. Let’s take another look at what Paul says about the idea of living in accordance with the flesh, or the fallen self:

“But that is not the way you learned Christ!— assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:20-24, ESV)

Now, Paul is pretty clear about his meaning here. We must put off the old self and don the new self. But, there’s more to it than that. This is not simply an act of removing an article of clothing and replacing it with something else. The self is not merely an interchangeable facade we can switch to and from whenever we please. It’s far more engrained into our flesh. We can’t see the Kingdom of God if we continue living in the flesh. Let’s look at what Jesus had to say to Nicodemus about the subject.

Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered,“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:1-8, ESV)

Jesus says we must be “born of the Spirit.” Well, the implication here is that we are in the flesh, as Jesus says we must be born again. We were born in the flesh. Therefore, we strive to appease the flesh. Even the most selfless manifestation of the flesh is still of the flesh (the actual validity of selflessness is another topic not to be discussed quite yet). So, how do we become born again? How are we born in the Spirit? In Romans, Paul issues an encouragement to his audience:

You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.” (Romans 8:9-11, ESV)

So, then, we are not in the flesh when we have the Spirit within us. Rebirth in the Spirit comes when we are no longer in the flesh, but in the Spirit. But, in order to be born in the Spirit, we must die to the flesh. But, why do we have to die to self in order for the Spirit to abide in us?

Well, the Holy Spirit is God. This is a foundational belief of the Christian faith. As God, He cannot be in the presence of sin (“God is light,” meaning morally pure, see 1 John 1:5). The flesh — the self — is sinful and fallen and depraved. Therefore, the Spirit, being fully God and holy and pure, cannot dwell with the flesh. So, the solution is dying to the self to make sure we are poised for the Spirit’s indwelling. But, “dying to self” is still an abstract concept at this point. However, Jesus gives us some advice on how to do this:

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23, ESV)

Self denial. A radical concept. How do we deny ourself, though? That’s still pretty abstract. Take up your cross daily. Ok, the cross is symbolic of death, reinforces dying to self. Still not very practical. Follow Jesus. A little more practical, but not entirely applicable to life. So, let’s break down each of these commands of Jesus’.

1) Deny Your Self

Denying your self is a foreign idea to the western mind. Our culture prides itself on self-sufficiency. You make yourself or you break yourself. But, what Jesus is saying is that that is not the Truth. Jesus is saying that, in order to be His disciple, you must forfeit control over your own life. This is not to say you truly have control over your life, however it is to say that you must seek the will of God. Seek happiness in God. That pursuit will look different for everyone, but I can tell you it is not seeking him anywhere other than where you’re at. If you are under the pretense that you need to leave where you are and get in a better situation to find Jesus, your faith is then contingent upon where you’re at instead of who Jesus is. That is not the kind of faith that Jesus deserves, nor is it the kind of faith He desires. If you can’t find your faith in the situation you’re in, you won’t be able to truly find it, no matter where you go. Seek Christ whether in the respite of peace or in throes of suffering. Deny yourself any notion of control over your environment. Let Christ’s glory determine your situation, not your situation determine Christ’s glory.

2) Take Up Your Cross

Daily. Take up your cross daily. The idea here is that dying to self is not a simple, one time event. It is a continual process that we must be active in. We are participants in our own death, with the hope that Christ is our resurrector. Every. Single. Day. When you wake up every morning, pray for the Spirit and pray that you can deny yourself as the day moves forward. Jesus was not passive in His death, so you’re not allowed to be either. Be active in the death of your self and allow the power that raised Christ — the power that dwells within you, too — to raise you to life and rebirth you.

3) Follow Jesus

This is perhaps the hardest part of dying to self: following Jesus’ teachings. The reason this is difficult is because it requires constant and intent studying of His teachings. It’s a commitment. What essentially happens as a Christ follower is that you’re constantly involved in higher education. You are constantly a student, learning His teachings, applying them to your life, and longing for the day when you can walk up to the Dean and look Him in the eye to say “I gave my all.” However, you’ve already been granted graduation. Your efforts in the school of life are not to gain your graduation or to prove you’re worthy of it, but rather to thank your Dean for the reception of graduation.

When we die to our self and become reborn, don’t let yourself think that this is the path to salvation. It’s not. Only Jesus is the path to salvation. As my pastor said last Sunday, “These are not things we do to be saved, they are things we do because we are saved.” You should die to yourself because you love Jesus and He saved you. You should die to your self because you’re unworthy and you received salvation anyway. If you’re dying to yourself to prove your worth or to earn your salvation or to be pious, you are submitting to an idolatry that places your actions above God’s grace. Die to yourself because you love Jesus and He deserves your life, fully. He doesn’t need your life, — He needs nothing — but He deserves it. Give it to Him.

In Death, Part V

I wake up and open another box of cigarettes. I flip my lucky around as usual, beginning to doubt its actual luck. Still on high alert after one-eye, we head out early. Early is relative in death. Everything is simultaneously too early and too late in death. If you stop to think something’s too early, you might already be too late. Time is best not measured. We walk for miles. Smoking and chatting. Neither of us discussing Cyclops at all. That’s what I’m gonna call him. It’s not creative. But creativity is best served for other survival ventures. A few miles in, we were out of water. But, there was no time to stop at this point. We were still in woods. Easily traceable. The sun is reaching its highest point. It’s unusually hot today. The climate has not been consistent since the Impact, but it’s mostly cold. Sweating, we begin to slow down near a small town. It looked like it had been untouched by technology. Quaint. Quiet. Somehow quieter than the world around it. Perhaps because the busyness of technology had never entered its atoms and made it eternally anxious. We trudge into this small safe place.We fall at the foot of a building that appears to be an Inn. Surprisingly well kept. We find a well on the outskirts of the town and begin to fill up our canteens, drinking from the well itself as we went. We began to talk about Cyclops. We had both decided to refer to him as that. Makes sense. As I said. Gotta preserve that creativity.

As we enter the center of the town again, we hear a rustle. A young woman ran off towards a house. We follow. We quietly enter the house behind her. We hear a small scattering sound. Like a hoard of mice. We follow the sound upstairs. We see two groups of 3 scurrying off. We follow one group into a large study. We flip the lights on and dozens of faces appear around us. Pale with rage or fear, I can’t quite figure out. But, they stare at us with dead eyes and expressionless faces. We scream. Not my proudest moment. As our child-like screams of horror fill the room, the group cringes. They let out a collective hiss. This leaves me and the young man silent. We stand there, looking at each other. Petrified.

As the imminent horror of death by snake people leaves my mind, I begin to notice the group around us. Their fingers are held to their mouths. Lips pursed. Like a crotchety librarian… Wait. Are they? They’re shushing us! I quiet down to a whisper and tell them we won’t hurt them. We just wanna know what’s going on. A small woman comes out to us. She says her name, but I try not to remember names, so I don’t really recognize it. She explains to us that they are a small civilization here in death. They don’t refer to it as that, but I know that’s what they mean. They were a small Amish village — one of the few remaining ones — that managed to survive the Impact. They believe they survived because their homes and land did not possess the quiet hum of background technology. They believe the Impact targeted all electronic technology. That is very possible. And it would explain the pristine shape of this town. As they began to experience threats to their still-functioning society, they began to adapt survival techniques that involved avoidance. In other words, they are the quietest movers and shakers in death.

We explain our story. Who we were in life. What brought us together. Cyclops. We tell them we would love to learn from them. We promise to serve the community. We just want to learn how to be quieter and we’ll be out of their hair. The woman says she needs to gather their village council. She and few other women walk out of the room. A young boy approaches us timidly. He asks us about how we survived. We have not been practicing our filters much in death, so the boy begins to get terrified at our graphic recounts. He runs away quietly to his parents. I assume so, at least. We stand awkwardly for a moment. The women return in the room.

“We have decided,” she speaks in such a quiet voice.

She tells us, and the room, that we will be allowed to stay. But, we must contribute by teaching the village basic survival skills. She says their pacifistic lifestyle held them back from learning how to survive in a hostile environment. We agree. I was a teacher, after all. She begins asking questions about life before the Impact. They really wanted to learn about the steps immediately preceding the Impact. They are curious a to how technology had ruined society. I am more than happy to oblige, as I have grown quite the spite towards technology. However, I’d prefer not to discuss it at large. I ask her to take us somewhere more private. She nods in agreement and leads us from the house and towards the Inn where we had collapsed earlier.

In Death, Part IV

The young man carries himself like he’s not an addict. He is poised. He is alert. He would have made a fine soldier. Every now and then, he stops and scans the area. Usually, because he thinks he hears someone. But, it’s never anything. We stop in the next town. We go on a supply run. We walk into an antique store and look around. Just for fun. I don’t like this building. The way it continues to settle. Too many creaks and groans as we walk around. He calls me over. He asks if I happen to have found any loose tobacco. I had a few towns ago. He has an old pipe and asks if he can have some. He says he hasn’t smoked a pipe in ages. He packs it up. I watch him intently. I never was one for pipes. I like my nicotine quick and to the point. He turns to me to ask for a light. His eyes widen. I feel a sharp pain in the back of my head. Everything goes blurry and fades to black.


I awake to the sound of voices. An unusual sound. As my vision adjusts, I see the young man. He looks terrified. As I begin to comprehend the environment, I notice we are tied upside down. We have been stripped down to our underwear. He is panicking. I try to swing around and take everything in. But, the room is blank. The voices sound like they’re outside the door. I try to speak to the young man, but I spit up blood as I open my mouth. My headache is splitting. I need a fucking cigarette and some whiskey. I hear the door open and see some light leak in. I try to rotate and see who has entered, but I only hear his voice. He is rather upset. Suddenly, I feel myself spin around and there is a man right in front of my face. His breath wreaks of stale tobacco and sour milk. Pleasant. As my eyes adapt to the darkness, I make out the features of his face. He is missing an eye. He should probably have an eye patch because that void is fucking disgusting. It looks infected. His other eye — the one still in his skull — is bloodshot and pale grey. His lips are dry and cracked. The teeth he has are black with rot. He scans me intently. Or at least, half of me. He spits in my face. It smells like rotten eggs shat out by a dog then eaten by a bird who promptly puked it back up. Nice.


“Who the fuck are you?”


Well. I don’t know how to answer that, sir. I sit silently and try to take in the surroundings. He has a bat perched on his thighs as he crouches in front of me.


“Well? Who the fuck are you?”


“What do you mean?”


“What do you think I mean?”


“It seems inconsequential.”


“I like to know who I’m about to kill.”


Oh, a gentleman savage. “I don’t even know the answer to that anymore.”


“Well, you better find one quick. Cut them down.”


I feel a release and I drop on my head. That’ll help my headache. I am lifted up to stand and look in the eye of this man.


“You have a lot of supplies. What were you?”


“Just a teacher.”


“Bullshit.”


“Well, believe what you need to, but that’s all I was.” He doesn’t need to know anything more.


“Well, teach… I’m taking all your shit. I hope that’s fine.”


“You get an ‘A’ for survival technique.”


“Oh, you’re a funny guy, huh?”


I like to think so.


“How did you survive?”


“I guess it was just luck.”


“Luck. Sure. Because that’s what I call lucky. Let him go.”


The hands that held me up let me go and I stumble a little. I regain my composure and look him in the face. Which is probably the hardest thing I’ve had to do in death.


“Leave.”


“Ok.”


“Not you dumbass… Take the boy.”


His two cronies grab the young man and exit the room.


“I don’t like you.”


“Obviously.”


“You’re disrespectful.” He’s quite astute.


“Well, sir. You did kinda kidnap me and my friend.”


“Fair.”


“And took all of my supplies.”


“Yes, that’s right.”


“That’s pretty disrespectful.” I eyeball the bat he has now slung over his shoulder. He looks strong. I think he’s probably not very agile, having only one eye.


“Well, you haven’t earned my respect.”


“That seems a little one-sided.” He’s obviously a fair leader. He laughs. He drops his bat to his side. I see my opportunity and jump for the bat. Right as I grab it, I feel a heavy handed punch on my side. I fall over. Luckily, I still have the bat. I’m certainly not as strong as this man. I jump up. I now notice how large his hands are. He swings a southpaw hook towards my face. He misses. I swing the bat and he stops it with his right hand. I’m actually impressed. He jerks the bat, taking me with it. I hear voices clamoring outside the door.


“Stay out there! I’ll handle this cocksucker.”


Well, I think the homophobic comment was unnecessary, so I grab the bat and swing it hard. I connect. With the wall. The sting in my hands made me drop the bat. He grabs me by my neck and throws me down. He stands over me and clasps his hands together to swing down on my head. I duck through his legs and scramble for the bat. I grab it and swing it around and hit him in the leg. He drops. He quickly recovers. Just in time for me to hit him in the head with the bat. He drops again. For a little longer this time. I watch him shortly to make sure he doesn’t move. I burst out the door, swinging the bat. I connect with one of his henchman and the other puts up his fists to guard himself. The young man grabs him in a chokehold and eases him into a nice sleep. We run away from the brick building. I see my bag and our clothes and we snatch them up as quickly as possible and keep running. After about 20 minutes, we stop and pull on our clothes. He laughs. I laugh. They stole everything but my whiskey and my cigarettes from my bag. That’s fine. We take a swig of whiskey and I offer him a cigarette. We continue walking and laughing. Maybe he and I are more alike than I thought.


We continue walking. A little faster pace than normal. Occasionally downing some branches and veering off path to cover our tracks. We find a well covered clearing that looked acceptable to sleep in. We sit down and crawl under the clearing. As the sun begins to set, I light my lucky cigarette up. One more day. Though, now I’m wondering if this is actually a lucky cigarette in this world…