“Dying Daily” is a False Gospel

Question: Which of the following statements is not taught in the Bible?

A) You have to die to self and live for God.

B) You have to die daily in order to live for Jesus.

Answer: Neither of them are found in the Bible.

How do people come to the idea that we need to keep dying for Christ? I think it’s because people want to think there must be something they should be doing, something that is on their shoulders when it comes to living the Christian life. Then they read verses like these and fit them into their preconceived notions:

In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 6:11.)

and,

I face death every day—yes, just as surely as I boast about you in Christ Jesus our Lord. (1 Corinthians 15:31.)

The problem is that those verses have nothing to do with a daily spiritual struggle.

It’s impossible for a Christian to die to sin

William R. Newell, in Romans: Verse-by-Verse, gives the answer to  misinterpretation of Romans 6:11.

Now here is the very opposite of the false teaching about the Christian life. For these legalists set you to crucify yourself! You must “die out” to this, and to that. But God says our old man, all that we were, has already been dealt with – and that by crucifixion with Christ. And the very words “with him” [in verse 5] show that it was done back at the cross; and that our task is to believe the good news, rather than to seek to bring about this crucifixion ourselves. (Newell, p. 213, emphasis in original.*)

So when Paul told the Christians in Rome to count themselves dead to sin he was not telling them to put their sins in the dead column. He was telling them that Jesus already put them there. Their sins are accounted for in the column that says they have already been dealt with in Jesus’ death.

That’s why Christians get to count themselves dead to sin in the past tense; you have already died with Jesus and risen with him in his resurrection. Don’t try to do over again what Jesus has already accomplished.

No one died daily, not even Paul

The verse where Paul told his friends in Corinth that he faced death every day has sometimes been translated as “I die daily.” That has unfortunately led people to read a spiritual component into his “dying” that isn’t there when you read the verse in context.

And as for us, why do we endanger ourselves every hour? I face death every day—yes, just as surely as I boast about you in Christ Jesus our Lord. If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus with no more than human hopes, what have I gained? (1 Corinthians 15:30-32.)

Paul is writing of physical dangers, not spiritual. As Newell explains:

Many quote Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15:31 “I die daily” to prove the … idea of our “daily dying to sin.” But we need only remember that the great message of 1 Corinthians 15 has to do with the body to refute this.  …

To make the words “I die daily” mean an inward spiritual struggle with sin is to refute Paul’s plain testimony: “I have been crucified with Christ”; “Our old man was crucified with Him”; “He that hath died is righteously released from sin” … . (Newell, pp. 208-209, fn., emphasis in original.)

There is no dying daily left for you to do. The Bible says that Jesus has done all the dying for you when it comes to sin:

Because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.

Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself. (Hebrews 7:24-27, emphasis added.)

Sin’s position now in regard to you is a dead one. There is no dying to sin or dying to self or any other dying that you are supposed to do. In fact, you can’t do it even if you tried. It’s impossible because Jesus has done it for you.

What is left for you to do now? As the Spirit of Christ lives in you, you are now living in and for him.

We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. (Romans 6:4.)

Satan wanted to steal this life away from everyone, but Jesus said he is here to give you more life than you could ever have imagined.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:10.)

So stop trying to die.

Start living.

***

[My thanks to Jeremy White at Valley Church for pointing out this passage from Newell’s commentary.]

***

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53 Responses to “Dying Daily” is a False Gospel

  1. AH, Tim if more people could get the truth of this message. Every moment we must make a choice not to go back to the starting line and brush away the debris, repaint the line, tighten our shoelaces and adjust our shorts, but rather to believe that God is indeed good, He indeed sees us as pleasing, and He indeed is passionately in love with us and as to start living from the finish line point of “it is finished.”

    There is as much disobedience populated in those statements as there is, in those who would choose to go on living as they please, after supposedly tasting grace and both reveal another truth, that neither has really tasted grace.

    Amen! Tim thanks for having the cojones to write this post this morning, much needed truth.

    • Tim says:

      Thanks, Patrick. People think they are being extra obedient by adding on things like “Die to self”, but they are really refusing to live in the finished work of Christ in the death that has already happened.

  2. Excellent post, Tim.

    I think there is a death of self, which is not quite the same as a death of sin (although sin lessens as we grow in Christ), but it doesn’t come about by anything that I can do, other than surrendering to God, who is Love. The death of self is not the result of some kind of self-aggrandising mourning over our sin, nor of literal or metaphorical scourging, although if we are led to fast, in whatever way that manifests, then that can be useful. The surrendering mustn’t be used to beat ourselves up for our fallen-ness; that’s a clever trick from the enemy, as you have said. Death of self, in this sense, comes from continual surrender, by grace alone, so that we are ‘transformed by the renewing of our minds’ (Romans 12:12 – thank you, Celebrate Recovery!). Which makes me want to jump up and down for joy 😀

    • The contemplatives through history have often said that the death of self, and the workings of grace, actually make them *more* themselves than ever before. Christ is the fulfilment of self – the Upside Down Kingdom again!

      • Tim says:

        If there is a death to self, it is only once, not as a discipline. That deathwais when we died with him and therefore are also going to be raised with him, as Paul said. That is different from the disciplines of things like fasting which is a type of denial so we can focus on God and what he has for us. Once we are in Christ we are called to live, not to die, not even the littlest bit.

  3. Ruth says:

    So what happens to a young man of faith suffering from several genetic disorders, one of which brings with it outlandish and downright blasphemous outbursts when stress overcomes him. He is genuinely sorrowful for his outbursts after the storm, but do we count him not really of God because he continues to have this problem? His father doesn’t see him as behaving as a nexessarily saved soul, but I know ADHD, Tourettes and High Anxiety Disorder make for frightful bedfellows. He exhibits a loving and caring nature, reaching out to,others and consistently involved with helping others and getting to church and young adults despite difficult shift hours, but, I don’t know much peace about this at the moment.

    • Tim says:

      The life in Christ can still be riddled with the problems of this world, including conditions like that, Ruth. It’s not a matter of whether someone behaves like others who are different, but rather a matter of whether the person belongs to Jesus. (And when it does come to behavior for some reason, C.S. Lewis said we should compare to what we would be like without Jesus, not what we look like compared to others.)

  4. Jeannie says:

    Tim, in light of your post I’m wondering what you think of Jesus’ words: “Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” (Mark 8:35) (This is just after Jesus told the people that anyone who wants to follow Him must deny themselves and take up their cross.) I realize of course this is before Jesus’ death and resurrection. I’m just wondering how this verse might relate to what you’re talking about — I can see it being taken as evidence that we need to “die” somehow in order to live.

    • Tim says:

      We do die in Christ, that is we share in his death. That is what gives us new life and assures us we will also share in his resurrection.

      • Jeannie says:

        Yes – that doesn’t quite explain the “lose your life” passage, but I agree.

        • Thanks for the post Tim. I am glad you brought this verse to attention, Jeannie, I am rather surprised at TIm’s response to your comment to be honest because it seems somehow illogical. How are we loosing our lives for Christ sake if all it means is our partaking in salvation?

        • Tim says:

          We lose our life when we die in him, and then – as Paul says – we no longer live for ourselves but for Jesus as he lives in us.

    • Tim says:

      Good point, John. Do you see this as a daily death feat, or a matter of considering as dead – and mortifying (in the King James language) – that which Christ has already killed in us? I see it as the latter, and that we are to leave these dead things behind. And of course, even though Paul tells the Colossians to mortify those things, he does not say that this is a prerequisite to living in Christ, which is the mix-up I was getting at in this post.

      • John Allman says:

        I haven’t really got anything to add to what the scriptures I quoted said. I noted the cognitive dissonance between scriptures I remembered, and what I read of yours asserting that no such scriptures existed. I reminded you, your readers and myself what I’d remembered, and where it was to be found in the bible. I hadn’t thought any further ahead than that. I am not a theologian.

        • Tim says:

          I appreciate the clarification you brought, John. My point was to refute those who use those verses to say that we are supposed to die to self. We aren’t. We are to throw off sin, of course, per, Hebrews 12, and that can happen daily one hopes.

        • truthstatic says:

          I think the grammar helps here to clarify. The phrase ‘put to death’ followed by a vice list in Col. 3:5 begins with ‘therefore’ which in Greek is a particle that is used to draw an inference from something previously stated. In other words, grammatically it is definitely the case that the earlier reference ‘you (pl.) have died’ in Col 3:3 refers to what Tim has been saying, namely that based on Christ’s death we have salvation in him. Yet, the fact that 3:5 draws an inference from this grammatically (there’s no other way to take that Greek particle) shows that the true element that Tim is emphasizing here is actually meant to be taken together with what he has been trying to refute, namely that part and parcel of the Christian life is a call to ‘put to death’ sin by adopting ‘the mind of Christ’ which is a cruciform, others-centered way of thinking as we see in Phil. 2. So it really is a both and rather than an either or.

  5. Thanks for this, Tim. Richard Rohr writes a lot about the shadow self, which I’ve found a really helpful way to think about this, because you are absolutely correct; there is no way we can “die” to ourselves. He says the shadow self is “that part of the self that we don’t want to see, that we’re always afraid of and don’t want others to see either”. He goes on to say that we can’t get rid of it, but we can expose its game and take away its power.

    • Tim says:

      Might the shadow self be what Paul calls sarx (flesh) in Romans?

      • I’d say it is, they seem to match!

        • Also, from a different angle, the flesh, the shadow self, or whatever we call it, brings to mind Julian of Norwich’s description of the servant who falls into the ditch and so can’t see his master’s face any more. Because he is helpless to get out of the ditch, and his face is turned away from his master, he thinks his master must be angry with him because he can’t do the master’s bidding. Julian goes on to say that the master is throughout solely concerned about the servant’s wellbeing and barely even notices his fallen-ness (instead viewing it only with compassion), and the master sees that the servant fell because he was so eager to do what his master wanted.

    • I think the shadow self was originally spoken of by Jung. I think it’s a very good way of expressing all those behaviours and decisions that are so deep a part of ourselves that we struggle to even recognise them. I’d be intrigued to read what Rohr has to say about it.

  6. Kathi says:

    I’ve heard people use John 3:30, “He must become greater; I must become less” for their argument in dying to self.

    • Tim says:

      That is a power-packed statement from an OT prophet regarding the Messiah, so in context it doesn’t support the concept of dying to self.

      • Greg Hahn says:

        I am certain that John the Baptist rolls over in the grave every time John 3:30 is quoted to support the idea of a person dying to themselves.

        God didn’t create us to die to self. He created us to live for him.

        Think about this: He didn’t tell Adam what to name the animals, but rather He delighted in what Adam decided their name would be. Christians today would wait until God gave them a word as to what each animal’s name would be! God wants us to be the creative people he called us to be. You can’t be that if you die to yourself!

  7. Tim, your position is thoughtful and thought-provoking–and your interpretation of key verses compelling–but, I think you, as well as those who have the polar opposite position, are engaging in what philosopher A.N. Whitehead called the “fallacy of misplaced concreteness”. “Dying to self” shouldn’t be taking as literal, whether bodily or spiritually. It is a metaphor which, as your analysis shows, may not always be useful. Yes, we “die” once with Christ. That is our justification, and it is all of grace, and never has to be re-visited. But our sanctification (being made like Christ) is an ongoing process which involves anguish (read about Paul’s in Roman chap 7) and regularly saying “No” to that “self” of ours which always “wants what it wants” (to paraphrase Woody Allen), often to our own hurt and the hurt of others. This is a life-long daily process which will not be fully consummated until our reseurrection in the fullness of God’s Kingdom. And that process often feels like, and can can be figuratively, metaphorically, illustratively described as “dying to self” (even if there are often better metaphors).

    • Tim says:

      Good points, Michael. I’d say the real problem with die-to-self as a metaphor is that it is so unhelpful: it quickly leads in the wrong direction.

  8. Pastor Bob says:

    Mark 8:34-35 (NIV) Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.”

    The cross as symbol of death is not necessarily implying a “daily death” but that which MUST occur. Contrast this concept to Romans 12:1 –
    Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.

    The living sacrifice, trouble is it it climbs off the altar. Confess, repent, work hard not to repeat, yet a new issue comes up, the sin comes out again. ALL of us have said something we should not, (ask the spouse!) and yet we easily slip and say it again.

    Too nebulous for short discussion, yet – I live that Christ might be glorified!

  9. Laura Droege says:

    After reading the post and reading the comments, I think that one of the issues with the “dying to self” metaphor is that it often mistakes “denying” and “dying”. We can’t die to our sins, etc., as you said. But we can deny ourselves the sinful things that we selfishly want or deny ourselves anything that hinders us from living an abundant life in Christ. But on the flip side, we can also start denying ourselves things for the sake of denying them, as if the denial gives us brownie points with God, and refuse to live the abundant life he’s already obtained for us.

    For example, one could fast (denying food for the body) for spiritual reasons but that has nothing to do with whether my sin was crucified with Christ or not; that was already taken care of at the cross. My relationship with God and my justified position before him have nothing to do with whether or not I fast or don’t fast. I might be doing it to learn how to depend upon God for my strength or to get closer to him or to clear my heart of earthly distractions so I can seek his will on an issue. It’s not necessary for me to fast to do any of those things, but it might be a way to help me in doing them. But when someone fasts, they have to be careful that they aren’t doing it from the desire to deny for the sake of denial; that’s legalism. And that’s where I was when I was anorexic. (I hope what I said makes sense.)

    • Tim says:

      That made complete sense, Laura. Denial can be a constructive part of discipline, but only when it is because we live in Christ. if we do it as some sort of “die daily” effort, it won’t bring us closer to God but farther from him. We grow in God because the Spirit of Christ lives in us, not because we try to repeatedly die to self.

  10. Tim, you seem to have a way of turning theological tables over. Love it!

    • I used to hear so much preaching about “mortifying our sin”, which was made popular by the Puritan John Owen. And so many friends spend so much energy “fighting” their sin.

      Your post is a nice remedy for this self-flagellation.

      • Tim says:

        We’re told in a couple places to put our sin to death, but we’re also told that the way sin dies is a) by Christ’s death on the cross, and b) by us turning to Jesus and letting go of the sin (Heb 12:1-2). That’s a lot easier than entering into some sort of fruitless struggling, for sure.

  11. Lesley says:

    I am totally guilty of using the “die to self” phrase and you’ve completely given me a new perspective…life changing, Tim! Thank you!

  12. Keith Giles says:

    I want to applaud you for addressing this topic of “death to self” without even once quoting Jesus, who on several occasions told his disciples that no one could be a Christian unless they took up their cross daily, died to themselves, and followed Him.

    Nice one.

  13. Keith Giles says:

    Yes, the cross of Jesus is miraculous and awe-inspiring. We don’t talk about it or meditate on it enough. It is the scandal of the universe that the perfect, pure, Holy One became smeared with the filth of sin and shame…our filth…our shame.

    But we forget that Jesus offered us a cross of our own. Before he took up his cross, he called his disciples to take up their own cross and follow him.

    “Then he said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” – Luke 9:23

    A.W. Tozer once said, “Among the plastic saints of our times, Jesus has to do all the dying, and all we want to hear is another sermon about his dying.”

    We are also called to die along with Jesus. His death was for our salvation, but our death is also necessary to the process. We must surrender our lives in exchange for the new life that Jesus died to give to us.

    Jesus also tells us, “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.” (John 12:24-26)

    Somehow, in my walk with Jesus, I have forgotten to carry my own cross. Somehow, I have neglected to receive the words of my teacher, my master and my friend when He tells me that “Anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:27)

    What is left for me is repentance, and a search for the cross which He has set aside for me to carry.

    Jesus has left me with an example of what love is. He has called me to follow where he has already traveled. Our attitude should be the same as that of Jesus, as he humbled himself, we are to humble ourselves, as he emptied himself, we are to empty ourselves, as he took on the form of a servant, we are to take on the form of this same servant.

    The amazing thing about the Gospel of the Kingdom that Jesus came and died to preach and proclaim is that “the Kingdom of God is near you” (Luke 10:9). This means that we don’t have to strive and dance around to get the Kingdom to arrive or to make it go. It’s here. Right now. Jesus announced it. He invites us into the Kingdom right now. Today.

    What we often miss is that, the pathway into this Kingdom is through humility, servant hood and taking up our cross to declare Jesus as our Lord and our King.

    Jesus declared the Kingdom was near to us. He demonstrated that it was true. He modeled for us how to enter the Kingdom and enjoy the Kingdom kind of life.

    We’re left with little mystery then, as to where the Kingdom is and how to enter it. What we’re challenged with is the cost of this great treasure. It costs us everything, and yet, in comparison, it costs us nothing at all.

    “I died on the cross with Christ. And my present life is not that of the old “I”, but the living Christ within me. The bodily life I now live I live believing in the Son of God who loved me and sacrificed himself for me.” (Gal 2:20)

    We’d love for there to be “another way” into the Kingdom, wouldn’t we? Even Jesus, when faced with his own cross, prayed and asked if there was another way, yet he concluded by saying, “Nevertheless, not my will be done, but yours” and he accepted this call to surrender unto death.

    Our temptation is no different. The lie of the enemy is that there is “another way” to partake of the Kingdom and to follow Jesus besides the cross. We cannot allow ourselves to think that following Jesus is possible without dieing to ourselves daily and allowing Jesus to be our Lord and King.

    “The terrible thing, the almost impossible thing, is to hand over your whole self–all your wishes and precautions–to Christ.” (C.S. Lewis, “Counting The Cost”)

    The cross of Jesus is a stunning and breathtaking act of love and sacrifice by God Himself for people like you and me, and the cross He asks us to carry is our declaration of love and gratitude to Him for this amazing sacrifice.

    “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” – (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “The Cost Of Discipleship”)

    • Tim says:

      You speak of the necessity of dying in Christ. I agree and quoted Scripture that says the same. But the Bible says we have died – past tense – not that we must daily die. We should quit trying to do what the Bible says we’ve already done. Jesus died once for all, and we die once spiritually and then live in him eternally.

  14. Really glad I stumbled upon this blog today. I was wrestling with the same thoughts. I think too many of us waste a lot of time on a cross, pushing our selves by the feet up and down- struggling to live. We’re immobilized, stuck, nailed there in the process of dying, but some how we never end up actually dead. Still wrestling with the idea of taking up the cross daily and following Him- Somehow I don’t think it means to have the cross handy to climb upon it again and die every day… Perhaps to remind us that the work of the cross is over… Thinking on this today… thank you for your thoughts!

    • Tim says:

      Good thoughts, Rhonda. Jesus may have said to carry a cross, but he never said to get up on it and die on the cross. He did that for us.

  15. Dying-to-self, amongst a few others things, reminds me of Jn 15:13 “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” and this song, which I can’t help but share, sorry : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R5iCVeR3oGY

  16. That’s enough, I could listen to their music all day.

  17. You are the light of the world. When you awaken, you take up the things of this world again. When you sleep, you should let all the cares of the world cease. Take Jesus with you there into that unknown place of rest and all of your dreams will be sweeter.

    I believe that is what Paul meant by “I die daily.”

    • Tim says:

      I think the dying daily he is referring to is that he faced hardships on behalf of the churches, often to the point of risking his life. It’s a figure of speech in his hands that seems to fit the context of the passage.

  18. Pingback: Dear Christian, your marriage is not supposed to kill you | Here"s the Joy

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