Christian Living,  Culture

Dying to Self in a ‘Me-First’ Culture: The Christian Counter-Narrative

I work with young adults on a weekly basis, and I am deeply concerned for the younger generation within the church. The next generation is being trained by the culture to live according to feelings and desires. Now feelings and desires are not inconsequential, but the Christian worldview is so much more holistic and purposeful. While the non-Christian culture promotes personal happiness and fulfillment as the ultimate pursuit, the Christian worldview understands the purpose of life is to glorify God through dying to self.

photo of the antithesis of dying to self

All around us the culture promotes a world where the most important question is, “How does this make me feel?” We are always being fed the lie that life is all about pursuit of ease and comfort. Difficulty is to be avoided at all costs. Comfort and security are to be pursued at all costs. Our personal happiness is preeminent. We are told that unless we are happy, we are not really living the life we ought to be living.

Unsurprisingly, the culture’s message is contradictory to what Scripture teaches. In Matthew 16:24, Jesus tells his followers, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.”

The life of the believer is one of self-denial. To put it another way, following Jesus is costly because the believer must die to self. When someone comes to Christ, it is no longer about what makes him happy. His primary objective is how to best glorify and serve Christ. Paul likens this idea of the Christian life to fighting like a soldier to please the one who enlisted him (2 Tim 2:4). The point is that the Christian is to view his or her life very differently than non-Christians.

Although I think many readers will agree with the above sentiments, sometimes we need some practical insight into what that might look like in various situations. Here are three ways I think dying to self might look like for the believer.

1. Dying to self means not being afraid to stay in difficult situations, knowing that trial and difficulty are not to be avoided at all costs.

Imagine a husband who is working for a horrible employer. He does not enjoy his job, and everyone at work abuses him with verbal insults because of his Christianity. He could just leave right? If life was only about being happy then he should leave. But he has a wife and kids to provide for. He is called to take care of his family. So at that point, it should be obvious that biblically speaking he has a higher obligation to take care of his family rather than seek his own happiness.

There are many applications for this principle. It can apply to marriage, to jobs, to school. Just because life is difficult does not mean one should abandon where they are at. In fact, there are many more questions to be answered before addressing one’s own personal happiness.

2. Dying to self means being willing to put yourself into a difficult or sacrificial situations, knowing that is where Christ can best be served.

Where are the William Careys and the John Bunyans of today? (If you don’t know who those people are, that is part of the cultural problem). We forget that the Christian heroes of long ago were willing to suffer by putting Christ first and accept the necessary consequences of that decision.

Would you confront others for their sin and tell them of the goodness of Christ? Would you be willing to stand up for your fellow man and proclaim his rights even when your own rights are neglected? Would you be willing to give up your own Christmas present that you wanted for 7 months so that you can give a present to your neighbor’s son who will have nothing for Christmas? (I had to throw that in there just in case my sons read this). Would you be willing to forego watching your favorite team play in the Super Bowl so that the widow from church would have company for a Sunday evening meal?

These are such small sacrifices, but I fear that sacrifices such as these are not even an afterthought to many Christians.

3. Dying to self means being willing to say no to every right you have, no matter how delightful it might be.

One of my pastors used to say something I will never forget. “There are two types of people in the world. Those who focus on their rights, and those who focus on their duty.” Those that focus on their rights focus on what they deserve, what they need, and what they want. Those who focus on their duties focus only on fulfilling love’s command.

There are two easy tests to show how often we fail in this regard. First, look at how many times you talk about yourself and what you want, and what you feel. This may sound harsh, but being obedient in the Christian life has little to do with how you feel. Second, simply ask your best friend what they hear you talk about most. The sad testimony of our lives is that too many of our conversations are about our circumstances and conditions.

Dying to self is no easy task. But that is exactly what Christians are called to do. This is a stark contrast to the dream we are taught culturally to pursue. May God give us the grace to embrace what it means to be a Christian, and to be willing to die to self.

Peter serves at Shepherd's Theological Seminary in Cary, NC as the professor of Old Testament and Biblical Languages. He loves studying the Bible and helping others understand it. He also runs The Bible Sojourner podcast and Youtube channel.

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