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What Does It Mean for the Christian to "Die to Self"?

If you are a Christian you might have died already although you do not know it yet. Yes, your death may already be a reality but you are still alive, reading this article. I will prove to you that you have already died by two illustrations. If after reading these two illustrations, you agree that you have died already, then you and I will confirm that indeed you are already dead to self. You are then a Christian who has died to self.

First Illustration: From the Banyan Tree

There is a tree that does not grow out of the soil. It grows out of the branch of another tree. Its seed alights in that branch and germinates there and produces roots that go down to the soil. In a matter of time--many years--this tree which grew out of the branch of another tree kills the host tree and now becomes the only tree that is visible.

The name of such a tree is banyan, sacred to many religions and in many regions of the world. It is believed to be a dwelling place of gods and spirits.

I give this illustration because in a similar way that is what happened to humanity or the human race. Humanity is like the host tree of the banyan tree. When Jesus came and joined himself to this humanity he germinated and grew from that humanity. Like the banyan seed he did not germinate from the soil, like Adam, but from the body of Mary his mother. His body was like our body but it was this body which would be instrumental in transforming the whole of humanity into his image as son of God. This was the body that was transfigured into a glorified son of God.

Eventually like the banyan tree this Jesus so transforms humanity that the old humanity would no longer be visible but only his kind of humanity, one that is completely obedient to God. The transformation has already begun and is continuing in the lives of those who accept this reality. We do not have to list down here the names of those so transformed from all walks of life, in all kinds of denomination or churches. The list of saints is endless.

When Jesus therefore came into the womb of Mary his mother he began as it were to put to death the old humanity, just as the banyan seed begins the process of putting to death the host tree as soon as it has germinated in the branch of that tree. He finally finished putting to death this old humanity during his death when his body which is like that of ours died. In other words the old humanity has already died with the death of Jesus.

Since you and I belong to this old humanity which died already with the death of Jesus, then you and I have already died in our old humanity. And this happened centuries before you and I were born into this world.

Of course I do not expect you to understand this reality immediately. There is someone else, not me, whose work it is to make you understand this reality, the Spirit of Jesus. The banyan tree is only there to help us illustrate this reality.

Second Illustration: From the Structure of the Human Body

The second proof is similar to the first one, but this time it comes from the structure of the human body.

In the language of organizational management we usually refer to the president as the head of an organization. This is only an analogical use of the word "head". What we mean by this is that the president is the one who is in charge of the overall operation of the organization.

It is believed by Christians that Jesus founded a church or gathering of believers and that he is the real head of this church. But this church is not just an organization. It is an organism, a society that grows from within. It has dynamism of its own, unlike that of an organization which depends on some kind of board of directors or trustees. An organization can be dissolved by its board, but an organism cannot be so dissolved. It goes on living.

Since the church is an organism it is like a human body which is also an organism. Now Christians believe that the head of this organism called church is Jesus. So Jesus is an organic head, he is like the head of a body. This is why Paul the Apostle referred to the church as the body of Christ.

And here is where we have a fitting analogy or illustration. When Jesus died he died as the head of this church. If he died as head, then his body also died, for you cannot have a dead head and a living body. When the head dies the body also follows.
Thus when Jesus died, we as members of his church died already with him. This is represented fittingly by baptism which is properly administered by immersion. Going under water signifies our death and burial with Christ.

That is why in the prayer during a funeral, the Catholic minister (priest, deacon or lay person) says, "In baptism he (the deceased) died with Christ, may he share in his resurrection." He already died before his physical death, the first death was signified or represented by baptism.

We Have Already Died

What does all this lead us to? It leads us to the reality that we Christians have died to our self, whether we understand this or not.

For a Christian therefore to "Die to Self" means that he or she has already died to self through the death of Jesus. This is the reality. To appropriate this reality means that he accepts the death of Christ as his own death also. To understand this is another matter. To live it is still another matter. To give witness to others that this has indeed happened already is the result of living out this reality.

Not a Matter of Controlling our Desires

To die to self does not mean that we control our sinful desires, as we read in many books or hear from many sermons. It is acknowledging that we have died with Christ in his death, asking God the Spirit to make us understand this reality, and enabling us to witness to this reality.

To die to self is the work of God himself in us. It is not the result of our effort to kill our sinful or egoistic desires. To die to self is not to kill our ego by our own efforts. We cannot do it.

Dead to Self You Now Live a New Life

If you agree that this is the meaning of "to die to self", then you agree that you have died already. You and I confirm that indeed you are already dead to self. You are then a Christian who have died to self. Slowly but surely you are being transformed into the image of the resurrected Christ by the power of the Spirit, not by your will power. Your old self has died with Christ and a new self, the self of Jesus himself, is given to you and grows in and through you.

What Paul said to the Colossian Christians will be applied to you, “For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.”

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