Theology THURSDAY: Dying to Self… Literal or Figurative? or Both?

I’ve been encouraged to change my theology entries to Thursdays because Theology Thursday sounds better 🙂

I want to highlight a couple of comments from last week’s topic that I think are critical for us to remember as we move to the next topic.

Karin offered this verse: “Do not be deceived; God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction.” Gal 6:7 — A verse I was called to memorize as a young child, I think in 8th or 9th grade but that has not been in the forefront of my mind lately.

John said: “I do know that fatherhood has taught me more about God’s love than any other single thing, sermon, book, or what have you.” This is so cool. I hope we get to learn the lessons of parenthood someday.

Jessica said: “I think the consequence to our sin (crossing the boundaries of Freedom) is something we can compare to the Israelites wondering in the desert. When we are disobedient to God our journey to maturity takes longer and we will probably find ourselves in the valleys of life until we have fully devoted ourselves to Christ. God wants our eyes on HIM. He wants us to “…press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called us heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:14″ (another verse from the teen years, I spoke on this verse at my high school graduation.)

Jessica also shares one of my favorite quotes from C.S. Lewis: “we are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. we are far too easily pleased.” — c. s. lewis, the weight of glory

Angel said: “we do have freedom IN CHRIST…through faith. We are no longer in custody, Christ has the keys, we need to trust Him with each area of our lives and walk out into the freedom He has granted us. Yes, we are human…we will still sin and have consequences, but we are no longer bound by sin.” (referencing Galatians 3:23)

Continuing in Galatians, Matt offers these insights: Gal 5:1 – So Christ has really set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law

Now what to do with this freedom

Gal 5:13-15 – For you have been called to live in freedom not freedom to satisfy your sinful nature, but freedom to serve one another in love. For the whole law can be summed up by this one command Love your neighbor as yourseslf. But if instead of showing love among yourselves you are always biting and devouring one another, watch out! beware of destroying one another.

Love his simple approach. Galatians has alot to say about this topic of Freedom.

Rob’s response may have been to most challenging for me personally, my biggest take away the imagery of this quote: Do you mortify; do you make it your daily work; be always at it while you live; cease not a day from this work; be killing sin or it will be killing you.” –John Owen

While Suzanne’s insights relative to our command to “pursue holiness,” awakens a new understand of my role in this battle over flesh: “there are 2 sides and 1 side has clearly one/ however, there is on-going guerrilla warfare by the losing side upon the winner. so, the winning side still experiences victory in the war, but the guerrilla warfare continues. this is like our lives. we are FREE from sin through Christ. He paid the price, and if we are His child, we’ve received forgiveness from ALL sin (that we’ve committed thus far and future grace for future sin–wow–amazing!!). however, as sinners, our entire lives have gotten us in the habit of sin. so, there are certain sins that are SO habitual that they, in guerrilla-warfare-like fashion, will continue to war against our souls. so, we continue to need His grace and strength in this life, and thankfully, He continues to conform us to the image of His Son. however, we need to be actively pursuing holiness by being in the Word, recognizing or sin & repenting of it, etc. thankfully, as we are becoming more holy and more like His Son, we will not succumb to sin as we’ve done in the past.”

And finally, Shannon sums up the dialog with a final challenge: “I’m trying to fully understand the freedoms I have in Christ, and that the boundaries that He has set for us are far greater than I often realize. This also has a major impact on how I interact with my fellow Christians. In the past (and regretfully honest, even today), if I see Christians hanging out in a different area of the Courtyard or Corral of Christ (ie within His boundaries of our freedom), I find myself judging them or rebuking them b/c they are not standing exactly where I’m standing. I must cease this! If someone else is avoiding the sins of the flesh and instead living in the Spirit (as laid out in Gal 5), within the freedom boundaries set by our LORD, I MUST accept them and encourage and love them and fellowship with them, EVEN IF the details of their lives are unsimilar to mine. God truly does set out a huge area for us to live within and enjoy our Christianity, and we should explore that. And if we choose not to, we must still allow for others to do so.” I totally identify with this point, and have to remember to keep pride a bay in my relationships within the Body.

So Thank You, my family, for joining in this discussion. For those of you just tuning in, I encourage you to go back and read the original post and the responses in full, Ive only just pulled one or two quotes from each that stood out particularly to me, but you may find other aspects of the responses equally challenging and encouraging.

Next up, its time for today’s Theology Thursday question of the day:

What is your interpretation of the following words of Jesus from the Gospel of John? Does Jesus mean He alone is the seed that must fall to the ground and die, or in his command to take up our cross and follow him, is he, in fact, calling us to follow him even unto death? Is “taking up our cross“, “denying“, and “dying to self” figurative or literal? Is praying for safety and rescue as priority in your heart over God’s will a sin? How can we become like Christ in our thinking about these tents of flesh in light of eternity and God’s will to be glorified among all tribes, tongues and nations?

John 12:23-28

Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.

“Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!”

Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.”

7 Comments Add yours

  1. Jason says:

    We went over that very passage at my church this past Sunday:) I don’t really have time to write anything right this minute, but let me throw this out there: “Jesus didn’t go to the cross so that we wouldn’t have to; He went to the cross so that we could meet Him there.” [D. Willard] I think a big reason why so many christians (myself included) are so powerless and so lacking in the “abundant life” that Christ offeres is that we’ve pushed salvation off into a distant eternity rather embracing discipleship NOW and working out our “salvation with fear and trembling.” “Christianity hasn’t been tried and found wanting, its been found difficult and left untried.” [GK Chesterton]

  2. Rob says:

    Does Jesus mean He alone is the seed that must fall to the ground and die?

    I don’t believe that Jesus is exclusively referring to himself alone in verse 24. Clearly, Jesus is referring to himself here, but I think it is inclusive as the next two verses imply that he is speaking to his followers as well… I think that verses 25 and 26 imply that Jesus is saying that his dying for our salvation is also his design for us to imitate. This message seems to appear throughout different passages in the New Testament (You make mention of this further on in your question as you refer to us taking up our cross; denying ourselves; etc). I think this passage in John is just one reference to use where Jesus is calling us to self-denial and to become like him in his dying so that others may see him in us (2 Cor 4:10).

    The message Jesus is preaching here is difficult to swallow, yet the reward is glorious… It is difficult because we are called to die (verse 24); we are called to hate our lives in this world (verse 25); and we are called to follow Jesus (on his calvary road) and become his servants (verse 26). Obviously Jesus knew this message was difficult and I think that is why he states in Matthew 7:14 that “…the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”

    However, as I mentioned above the reward is glorious because we will bear much fruit (verse 24); we will keep our lives eternally (verse 25); and we will be with Jesus and the Father will honor us (verse 26).

    In his command to take up our cross and follow him, is he, in fact, calling us to follow him even unto death?

    This very question reinforces my answer to your first question. His life mission was culminated at the cross… We are called to a life of daily self-denial… He has commanded us to take up our cross on a daily basis and follow him. These commands are found in Matthew 10:38; Matthew 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23; and Luke 14:27.

    “And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” – Matthew 10:38

    “Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” – Matthew 16:24

    “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” – Mark 8:34

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

    “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” – Luke 14:27

    It is clear to me that we are called to follow him even unto death… The disciples/apostles lives would be a good proof of this… I believe that all except for John were martyred.

    “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

    Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.” Matthew 13:44-45

    Do we truly value Christ more than everything else in this life? That is what we are called to do… Do we value him more than our possessions; more than our family; more than our friends; more than our freedom; more than our very own lives…?

    Is “taking up our cross“, “denying“, and “dying to self” figurative or literal?

    I believe that “taking up our cross” is figurative in the sense that we are not called to literally carry a wooden cross around every day. “Taking up our cross” means daily crucifying the flesh. It means losing that extra hour of sleep to spend time with Him… or not caring what others think of you as you stand up for truth and righteousness… It could mean giving up the luxuries of the American lifestyle to take the gospel to a third world country… It could mean losing a limb or losing your life because you were born into a closed country whose government opposes the gospel and you refuse to recant your faith in Christ. So I believe that the “denying” or self-denial and “dying to self” is literal.

    Why else would Paul write in 1 Corinthians 15:19, “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.”? Paul goes on to say, “If the dead are not raised at all… why are we in danger every hour? …I die every day! …if the dead are not raised, Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” (1 Cor 15:29-32)

    I think it is clear that Paul is living a life of self-denial and is saying why would we be doing this if there is no reward beyond this life? If that is the case, we are of all people most to be pitied… Why are they most to be pitied? Because they are daily denying themselves, constantly in danger, enduring suffering (2 Cor 11:23-28)

    Pointing Jesus’ command of self-denial at ourselves and using Paul’s example… John Piper asks the following questions:

    “How many Christians do you know who could say, ‘The lifestyle I have chosen as a Christian would be utterly foolish and pitiable if there is no resurrection’? How many Christians are there who could say, ‘The suffering I have freely chosen to embrace for Christ would be a pitiable life if there is no resurrection’?” (Desiring God p.261)

    Is praying for safety and rescue as priority in your heart over God’s will a sin?

    I think it is sinful to pray for safety and rescue as priority over God’s will… Remember Jesus prayed “not my will but your will be done.” The priority of our prayer should be that God get the glory and that he use us to accomplish his will.

    However, there are biblical examples of praying for safety and rescue. In Acts 12 the church is earnestly praying for Peter’s release from prison. So prayer for safety and rescue is justified but should not take priority over God’s will.

  3. suzanne mosley says:

    So, again, I’m posting after Rob, and like last week, I say “ditto” to everything he said! I’m going to have to continue making sure that I post after him; he’s making my responses SO MUCH EASIER! 🙂

    Ironically, I think that this week’s question and last week’s question are related. At least in my life, I can see the link. I think, as Christians, we often pound our chests & yell in the wind “Freedom in Christ” as a license to do whatever we want. However, we are called to be imitators of Christ and to deny ourselves & take up our crosses daily. So, with that command, some of our “freedoms” are relinquished. The beauty is that, as we pursue holiness, we ARE, by the gracious work of the Holy Spirit through our Father, continually conformed to the image of Christ. As I’m continually conformed to the image of Christ, I’m worried less about my “freedoms” and what I’m having to “deny” myself; I see those things as a JOY and not a loss.

    “The things of this earth will grow strangely dim by the light of His glory and grace.” That’s where I’m currently living and what I’m basking in as I think about the life of Christ and His redemption of my life.

  4. AnnieLaurie says:

    Jason, Rob Suzanne, — Thanks for the challenging insights! Here is where I am stuck:

    ‘The suffering I have freely chosen to embrace for Christ would be a pitiable life if there is no resurrection’?” (Desiring God p.261)

    What suffering have I freely chosen to embrace? None. Its clear that this is what the Bible teaches. But its also clear to me that, having grown up attending church, Sunday School, mission friends, girls in action, youth group, and the like, never was I ever challenged in this type of commitment to Christ until I attended Passion conference in 1998… well beyond my initial “decision” to accept Jesus as my savior.

    Now, many years later, I’m afraid I’m faced with a second decision. How to exercise my freedom. Will I choose to sow seeds for the gospel, deny self and this earth’s pleasures? or will I choose to use my freedom to enjoy this life as much as I can and avoid as much trouble as I can until God calls me home?

    I am stuck between a culture that screams “embrace your freedom!! live in prosperity and plenty!!” and a religion that says “choose suffering for the sake of the Gospel, for the sake of God fame, For the sake of the lost, for the sake of the eternal truths of Christ!!”

    And the most baffling part of this whole thing is this: my eternal security is held in heaven, in Christ, despite how I choose to live today, yesterday or tomorrow because of I choice I made as a 7 year old child.

    I imagine that, in this life, I will sometimes choose suffering for the sake of the Gospel and I will sometimes choose to live in prosperity and plenty. But my prayer is that I will more often than not, freely choose to follow the footsteps of Christ for the sake of the Gospel and God’s fame among all people. This is a scary truth to admit, but now that it has been revealed, received, and understood, not to face this truth and take action would be “utterly foolish and pitiable” indeed.

    And when, Lord willing, I choose the way of the cross, may this be the truth to which i cling:

    For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. (2 Cor. 1:5)

  5. Rob says:


    I believe the questions that you raise are very indicative of why it is so difficult to be a good biblical Christian in this materialistic, self-glorifying place called America. We have so much here, it is very easy for us to gain the whole world and yet lose our souls…

    In Luke 9, Jesus tells us to deny ourselves and take up our cross daily… So I think it is a daily struggle, and each and every day we are called to deny ourselves for the sake of the gospel. I don’t think Jesus is saying that we are to run to suffering or to run towards persecution. However, I think he is saying that as we stand for Christ, and do what he calls us to do, persecution will come, discomfort will come, suffering will come.

    Personally, I feel that if some oppressive regime came into power over this country and Christianity were banned with punishment of torture or death… then we might find out how many true believers there are in America. And unfortunately, I believe that many would fall away… (1 Tim 4:1; 2 Peter 2:2) And I do believe in the eternal security of the believer… but I also believe that simply saying a prayer does not make one a Christian.

    I hope that you and I and the rest of us are more empowered to exercise our freedom in such a way that the gospel is proclaimed; that we make much of Christ and less of ourselves; that we come to the realization that true, everlasting joy is found when we deny ourselves for the sake of making his name known. Jesus endured the cross for the joy that was set before him (Heb 12:2). Will we be able to pursue joy in the same way?

  6. suzanne mosley says:

    i agree with Rob. i think that, often, the sermons preached about “denying ourselves” are so hyperbolic that the ONLY application of the text given…is martyrdom. TRUE, in our “easy Christian culture” country, we NEED to hear about martyrdom…and we need to know that IT still occurs and could possibly happen to us. i, like, rob don’t think that the ONLY application of this text is to RUN towards suffering and to RUN towards hardships. HOWEVER, i don’t think our “freedom” in Christ means that we are to embrace the affluence, “bubble wrapped”, individualistic, self-absorbed Christianity that is often preached in America. i do think there are DAILY decisions that we make that require DENIAL of self for the sake of the gospel. they may not be “life or death for the sake of the gospel” decisions, but they ARE decisions that, ultimately, boil down to an issue of obedience. do i love God, Christ, the gospel enough to be OBEDIENT to Him in this decision at this moment? like yesterday, will i respond to the Spirit’s urging/prompting in my heart to steer the conversation towards the things of Him as i talk with my neighbor? or, do i love myself and what other’s think of me more than i love being obedient to Him in that moment?

    the other thing that i was trying to communicate in my earlier post…is that as we continue to GROW in Christ and are FURTHER conformed to His image, the “drastic measure” of some of our “die-to-self” decisions don’t appear that way. we don’t look at them and think “man, i HATE denying myself.” we begin to see these “die-to-self” decisions as choices made to obey Christ, to make much of Him. as i grow in my r’ship with Him, there are still HARD “die-to-self” decisions that I’m faced with. However, they are different than ones that I faced 1 year ago, 5 years ago, 10 years ago. Often the ones I faced 5 or 10 years ago are EASY decisions now, and I don’t view them as difficult. although, they were at the time. i think that’s part of the sanctification process.

    for example, sacrificing your income & time to go on mission trips–a ‘death to self’ decision–was probably hard to make the FIRST time you did that. it probably got easier and easier to make that decision to GO…to empty yourself for the sake of the gospel, to give your $ to go, etc….the more times you went. that’s what i’m trying to show you…that’s a part of growing, being conformed to His image. however, now, you’re faced with different “death-to-self” decisions. i think we think “death-to-self” has to look like martyrdom only. that, martyrdom, is the ULTIMATE example. obviously, those are REAL examples particularly in certain parts of the world where the Church endures constant persecution. however, i submit that there is a continuum of these decisions. The primary thing, however, is…what are you choosing in those times of decision? you or God?

    so, i think if you’re asking yourself the question…”am i embracing TOO much of this world or choosing ‘comfort & ease’ for my OWN glory?”, you’re in a good spot. i think those evaluative questions are necessary. sadly, rob, jason, or any other commentor can not answer that question for you. i have often prayed that God would help me know what it means that this world is not my home and to help me store my treasures in heaven & not here. evaluating your life based on those principles from His Word are a good place to start.

  7. I agree whole-heartedly with Rob, on every single point he has made.

    The Amplified Version of Matthew 16:24-25 says:

    “Then Jesus said to His disciples, If anyone desires to be My disciple, let him deny himself [disregard, lose sight of, and forget himself and his own interests] and take up his cross and follow Me [cleave steadfastly to Me, conform wholly to My example in living and, if need be, in dying, also].
    For whoever is bent on saving his [temporal] life [his comfort and security here] shall lose it [eternal life]; and whoever loses his life [his comfort and security here] for My sake shall find it [life everlasting].”

    and I love that! I agree that we have softened our Christianity in America (and especially the DC metro area). I hear far too often claims like “God would want me to have nice things.”, which in many ways contradicts numerous passages in the Scriptures about the dangers of wealth and the blessings of poverty. If we deny our flesh, God gets glorified. Thomas Merton, the 20th century Catholic mystic, stated,

    “I don’t worship God so that I can live; I live so that I can worship God.”

    when I first read that, it hit me upside my head. I had by and large been living with a wrong attitude about my Christianity. I had to shift my perspective and priorities.

    And so AnnieLaurie, you hit straight to the heart when you move pass the theoretical or ideological issues of self-denial and go right to what it means specifically for you life. It’s a question I ask myself constantly as well.

    As Rekindling continues to flourish, we are slowly raising funds, and so I have to figure out where to spend them. Part of me wants Rekindling to buy a nice laptop and a fancy phone, but then I remind myself I have a laptop and old phone currently that both work fine, so why go buy new ones? And I want to pay myself a slightly higher salary than I need, so that I can buy a new vehicle. I’ve had my 1993 Ford Ranger for 13 years; it’s topping 199,000 miles this summer; it’s scratched up, beat up and old. I try to justify that it’s OK for me to buy a new vehicle. But then I think why get a new one when this old one still runs? I believe with all my heart that it’s God that has kept that truck running all these years. Most of the world can’t even afford a vehicle and walk instead. Why should I drop $20K or more on a vehicle when I already have one that still works? That’s $20K that can instead go to much more impactful needs. I have plenty of Christian friends who tell me I deserve a new vehicle for my work in the Kingdom, but I want to make the decision to not buy another vehicle until this ol’ truck breathes her last. That is one area where I try to live in self-denial.

    And I think of a Palestinian Christian that I met spring of ’07. During our time over there, we heard from numerous Palestinian Christians and their thoughts on the politics of the region. Almost all of them wanted their land and freedom back, and were willing to work for that via peace alone (no support of violence). And then one day, at a Arab campus, I met a young Palestinian Christian who told me that while yes, he’d like his dead family members back, and his rights to travel back, and his property back, and freedom to live a good life, he felt that this was the cross that Jesus was asking him to carry, and so carry it he would. He took his loss of freedom and respect with his head high (in pride for Christ, not himself), knowing that Christ would be glorified through his specific self-denial. That rocked my world. I can still clearly picture that conversation, and my dumb-founded expression. You know me, and you know I’m not ever at a loss for words, and that young brother-in-Christ’s perspective and decision silenced me.

    Rob is right that if America would see the rise of persecution of Christians, we’d see real colors of individuals come to the forefront.

    And so I want to put Christ first in my life, in all areas; and if that means staying poor and staying single for the rest of my life, so be it. Not for my glory, not for later rewards in Heaven for such decisions, but for Christ- for His Glory and for the expansion of His Kingdom! If I can give up money, relationships or even my life so that one more person can receive the unimaginable blessing of the gift of eternal life, JUST ONE even!, I would gladly pay it.


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