Category: Self


The concept of “dying to self” is found throughout the New Testament. It expresses the true essence of the Christian life, in which we take up our cross and follow Christ. Dying to self is part of being born again; the old self dies and the new self comes to life (John 3:3–7). Not only are Christians born again when we come to salvation, but we also continue dying to self as part of the process of sanctification. As such, dying to self is both a one-time event and a lifelong process.

Jesus spoke repeatedly to His disciples about taking up their cross (an instrument of death) and following Him. He made it clear that if any would follow Him, they must deny themselves, which means giving up their lives—spiritually, symbolically, and even physically, if necessary. This was a prerequisite for being a follower of Christ, who proclaimed that trying to save our earthly lives would result in our losing our lives in the kingdom. But those who would give up their lives for His sake would find eternal life (Matthew 16:24–25; Mark 8:34–35). Indeed, Jesus even went so far as to say that those who are unwilling to sacrifice their lives for Him cannot be His disciples (Luke 14:27).

The rite of baptism expresses the commitment of the believer to die to the old, sinful way of life (Romans 6:4–8) and be reborn to a new life in Christ. In Christian baptism, the action of being immersed in the water symbolizes dying and being buried with Christ. The action of coming out of the water pictures Christ’s resurrection. Baptism identifies us with Christ in His death and resurrection, portraying symbolically the whole life of the Christian as a dying to self and living for and in Him who died for us (Galatians 2:20).

Paul explains to the Galatians the process of dying to self as one in which he has been “crucified with Christ,” and now Paul no longer lives, but Christ lives in him. Paul’s old life, with its propensity to sin and to follow the ways of the world, is dead, and the new Paul is the dwelling place of Christ who lives in and through him. This does not mean that when we “die to self” we become inactive or insensible, nor do we feel ourselves to be dead. Rather, dying to self means that the things of the old life are put to death, most especially the sinful ways and lifestyles we once engaged in. “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24). Where we once pursued selfish pleasures, we now pursue, with equal passion, that which pleases God.

Dying to self is never portrayed in Scripture as something optional in the Christian life. It is the reality of the new birth; no one can come to Christ unless he is willing to see his old life crucified with Christ and begin to live anew in obedience to Him. Jesus describes lukewarm followers who try to live partly in the old life and partly in the new as those whom He will spit out (Revelation 3:15–16). That lukewarm condition characterized the church of Laodicea as well as many churches today. Being “lukewarm” is a symptom of unwillingness to die to self and live for Christ. Death to self is not an option for Christians; it is a choice that leads to eternal life.

The Bible actually has many passages that tell us what God has to say about our worth and our value in His eyes. Genesis 1:26-27 says we are made in His image, the very image of God. Psalm 139:13-16 says we are fearfully and wonderfully made, and all the days of our lives were written in God’s book before we were ever born, confirming God’s prior knowledge and plan for our lives. Ephesians 1:4 says God chose His children before the foundations of the earth were ever formed, and in Ephesians 1:13-14 we’re told we are God’s own possession, chosen for the praise of His glory, and that we have an inheritance in heaven with Him as His children.

But notice the wording in each of the above phrases: “are made,” “are fearfully and wonderfully made,” “were written,” “God chose His children,” “we are God’s own possession,” and “we have an inheritance.” These phrases all have one thing in common: they are things done to us or for us by God. These are not things we have done for ourselves, nor have we earned or deserved them. We are, in fact, merely the recipients of “all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3). Therefore, we can conclude that our worth is not really of the “self” at all; rather, it is worth given to us by God. We are of inestimable value to Him because of the price He paid to make us worthy—the death of His Son on the cross.

The Bible tells us that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). In fact, we “were dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). What worth is there in dead things? None. God imputed to us His own righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21) not because we were worthy of it, but because we were unworthy, unlovable, and unable to make ourselves worthy in any way. But—and here’s the miracle—He actually loved us in spite of our condition (John 3:16), and because He did, we now have infinite worth.

John 1:12 tells us that to those who received Christ and believed in His name, God gave the right to become His children. First John 1:9 tells us that if we confess our sins, He is faithful to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we focus on how much God loves us and the price He paid to redeem us, we’ll come to see ourselves as God sees us, and that will help us understand just how much we’re really worth as children of the most high God.

Our self-worth is too often based on what other people tell us about ourselves. The one, true authority on our self-worth is Jesus Christ, and since He gave His own life up for us by dying on a cross, that should tell us just how valuable we really are.

Anyone who is without Christ and without hope or who adopts the world’s values may come to view life as futile and hate living (Ecclesiastes 2:17-18). Thus, a secular worldview may result in self-hatred. Presumably, we who have obeyed the gospel and love the Lord do not hate life; we are not without hope in the world (1 Corinthians 15:19; Colossians 1:5; Psalm 16:8-11). Even though we are sojourners and look for a better place, we hate evil, not ourselves (even though we sometimes produce evil). Because Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us by faith, we are righteous and should be glad; we should exult before God and be jubilant with joy (Psalm 68:3)! Self-hatred is the cry of a tormented soul, not the new song of one whom God has saved with His strong arm and for whom He has done marvelous things. Yet, sadly, even redeemed saints can feel depressed and bereft of joy (see Psalm 51:8-12). Why is this? Certainly a repenting saint should have a broken spirit and contrite heart; but a saint should shun self-hatred as an inordinate earthly passion (Colossians 3:5) of the flesh (1 John 2:16-17).

According to Scripture, anyone who continually practices iniquity injures himself and shows that (in a practical sense) he despises or hates his own life (Proverbs 29:24; 8:36; 15:32). Saints do not continually practice iniquity or keep sinning in this way. Although self-hatred is not godly, Christians may experience something like it when they harbor unconfessed sin and feel the conviction of the Holy Spirit. However, both unbelievers (those who have not confessed they are lost in sin and trusted in Christ as their Lord and savior) and believers may fall victim to feelings of self-hatred to the degree that they submit to the world’s values regarding beauty, success, and similar “markers of value.”

A person may come to hate himself for being old or physically unattractive. Some may arrive at self-hatred because they consider themselves losers who lack certain talents or resources (intelligence, personal connections, money, and influence). Anyone who accepts the idealized standards of beauty, success, and power as portrayed in the mass media—and fails to live up to those standards—may arrive at the unreasonable conclusion that he or she is not worthy of love and begin to sink into self-hatred. God warns us not to hate our neighbors, and we must not make unreasonable demands upon ourselves and end up sinning against God by hating ourselves (Leviticus 19:17).

If you hate yourself because you do not “measure up” according to worldly standards, realize that in doing so you are showing hatred or anger toward God who made you as you are and placed you in your current circumstances. If you hurt yourself in an act of self-hatred, is this not truly an act of vengeance against God? Just as we are to love our neighbors as ourselves, we are to love ourselves and so show thanks and honor to the sovereign God who made us and placed us in our circumstances, no matter what these might be.

Having a healthy sense of self does not mean we deny that we are sinners. Scripture records instances when human beings, having seen the King, the Lord of hosts, are immediately overwhelmed by a consciousness of their utter sinfulness. Witness the terror of the prophet Isaiah: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (Isaiah 6:5). Was Isaiah guilty of self-hatred? No, but Isaiah was overwhelmed by a sense of his depravity when standing before a holy God. Our awareness of God’s holiness makes us feel appropriately wretched. But this sense of clarity regarding who we are and how we compare with an utterly holy God does not need to result in self-destructive hatred of ourselves. Rather, it should point us toward receiving the salvation and forgiveness that God offers us.

God, our savior and Lord, will ultimately deliver us from this body of death (Romans 7:23-24). As a result, we must forget the past and press on to what lies ahead—toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:13-14; Luke 9:62; Hebrews 6:1). We must not get distracted while running the race or be discouraged by inordinate emotions or become warped and twisted by the corrupt values of the world around us. Instead of living on the basis of our emotions or trying to live up to worldly ideals, we must continually live by the word of God and seek to please Him.

We cannot trust our feelings in matters of love and hate, for our sentiments in these things are unreliable. Sorrow that leads to repentance is a good thing, but self-hatred is counter-productive. Just as an athlete must exercise self-control in all things, the saint must not let fleshly self-hatred or its opposite (pride) control him (1 Corinthians 9:24-25). Fleshly self-hatred is worldly, leading to death; but godly sorrow leads to repentance (2 Corinthians 7:10). Repentance occurs when we turn away from our sin and toward God (Isaiah 55:6). As unworthy as we are of God’s grace toward us, we must believe Him when He tells us that He forgives our confessed and forsaken sins; indeed, He utterly forgets them (Psalm 103:9 and Isaiah 43:25)!

We must not allow ourselves or our fellows in Christ to be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow (2 Corinthians 2:7). We must quickly forgive ourselves and restore other repentant sinners. Having repented, we must trust God, who is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). We must hate sin, but not hate ourselves, for we are the temple of the Holy Spirit. To continue in a state of self-hatred after we have received the grace God offers us does not honor God and demonstrates a failure to understand the nature and value of the salvation Jesus purchased for us with His blood (1 Peter 1:18-19).

Self-discipline is essentially the same as self-control, one of the nine fruits of the Spirit listed by Paul in Galatians 5:22-23. The KJV translation uses the word temperance in place of “self-control” which, like self-discipline, generally refers to our ability to control or restrain ourselves from all kinds of feelings, impulses, and desires, which includes the desire for physical and material comfort. Now, even though self-control is the last of the spiritual fruits mentioned by Paul, and even though it is a term not used extensively in the Bible, self-control is clearly an indispensable attribute of the Christian life, especially as our unredeemed flesh sometimes causes us to succumb to the persistent tug of our sinful desires.

The apostle Paul calls us to “purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God” (2 Corinthians 7:1). And in his letter to the Romans, he exhorts us to “offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God,” and not to be conformed to the pattern of this world (Romans 12:1-2). Yet most Christians would agree that subordinating the constant pull of these worldly desires in order to please our Lord is not always an easy thing to do. Paul discusses his own inner conflict and struggle with sin in his letter to the Romans, “What I want to do I do not do…the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing…it is sin living in me that does it” (Romans 7:15-20).

It is clear that our seemingly insatiable human appetites and needs can easily lead to sinful excesses if not controlled. Especially in affluent societies, the lack of self-discipline is rampant, as evidenced by the number of obese people and the extensive use of stimulants, depressants and over-the-counter medications. Further, the enticements of the material world have caused many to yearn for and acquire material goods far beyond their needs and their ability to pay for them. Indeed, the nations of the world have fallen into the same trap, borrowing trillions of dollars to finance bloated budgets that result from the inability to exercise self-discipline. For Christians, without self-discipline, our appetites for comforts and pleasures can easily become our master and lead us into sin or otherwise hinder us in our spiritual walk. If the spiritual does not govern the physical, we can become easy targets for Satan due to our lack of self-control (1 Corinthians 7:5).

Paul discusses self-discipline in his letter to the Corinthian church. As the Greeks had the Olympic games and the Isthmian games, they were very familiar with the rigors of athletic training, especially if one wanted to win the “prize” or the “crown.” Paul analogizes living a disciplined Christian life to an athlete in training: “Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training” (1 Corinthians 9:25). When Paul says “I beat my body and make it my slave,” he is saying that his body is under the dominion and control of his mind, not the other way around. Paul is showing us how self-control is needed to win the race that is before us and to live the life that is “holy and pleasing to God.” For Paul, the “race” was winning souls for Christ, a goal which he states four times in verses 19-22.

It is important to understand that self-control is a work of the Holy Spirit, not a work of the individual. After all, Galatians 5:22-23 lists the fruit of the Spirit, not the fruit of the Christian. As we are merely the branches upon which the Vine (Christ) hangs the fruit He produces (John 15:1-8), it is the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit that gives Christians the power and ability to exercise self-control so that we will not be mastered by the “cravings of sinful man.” As Paul said, “God did not give us a Spirit of timidity, but a Spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7). Indeed, Christians are controlled not by the sinful nature, but by the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:9), who helps us in our weakness (v.26), which makes us able to say “no” to sin.

The wise King Solomon wrote many proverbs for the purpose of helping us to live a “disciplined” and prudent life (Proverbs 1:3). Certainly, we will be more victorious in our Christian walk when we exercise our Spirit-given self-control, that which helps us respond in obedience to the commands of Scripture and allows us to grow in our spiritual life.

Love as described in the Bible is quite different from the love as espoused by the world. Biblical love is selfless and unconditional, whereas the world’s love is characterized by selfishness. In the following passages, we see that love does not exist apart from God and that true love can only be experienced by one who has experienced God’s own love firsthand:

Romans 13:9–10, “The commandments, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not covet,’ and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”

John 13:34–35, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

1 John 4:16–19, “And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us.”

The statement “love your neighbor as yourself” is not a command to love yourself. It is natural and normal to love yourself—it is our default position. There is no lack of self-love in our world. The command to “love your neighbor as yourself” is essentially telling us to treat other people as well as we treat ourselves. Scripture never commands us to love ourselves; it assumes we already do. In fact, people in their unregenerate condition love themselves too much—that is our problem.

In Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan, there was only one who showed himself to be a true neighbor to the man in need: the Samaritan (Luke 10:30–37). There were two others, a priest and a Levite, who refused to help the man in need. Their failure to show love to the injured man was not the result of loving themselves too little; it was the result of loving themselves too much and therefore putting their interests first. The Samaritan showed true love—he gave of his time, resources, and money with no regard for himself. His focus was outward, not inward. Jesus presented this story as an illustration of what it means to love one’s neighbor as one’s self (verse 27).

We are to take our eyes off ourselves and care for others. Christian maturity demands it. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others” (Philippians 2:3–4). According to this passage, loving others requires humility, a valuing of others, and a conscious effort to put others’ interests first. Anything less than this is selfish and vain—and falls short of the standard of Christ.

None of this should be taken to mean that we should see ourselves as “worthless.” The Bible teaches that we are created in the image of God, and that fact alone gives us great worth (see Luke 12:7). The balanced, biblical view is that we are God’s unique creation, loved by God in spite of our sin, and redeemed by Christ. In His love, we can love others.

We love others based on God’s abiding love for us in Christ. In response to this love, we share it with all whom we come in contact with—our “neighbors.” Someone who is worried that he doesn’t love himself enough has the wrong focus. His concern, biblically, should be his love for God and his love for his neighbor. “Self” is something we want out of the way so that we can love outwardly as we ought.

The dictionary definition of self-righteousness is “confidence in one’s own righteousness, especially when smugly moralistic and intolerant of the opinions and behavior of others.” Biblically speaking, self-righteousness, which is related to legalism, is the idea that we can somehow generate within ourselves a righteousness that will be acceptable to God (Romans 3:10). Although any serious Christian would recognize the error of this thought, because of our sin nature, it is a constant temptation to all of us to believe we are, or can be, righteous in and of ourselves. In the New Testament, Jesus and the apostle Paul came down particularly hard on those who attempted to live in self-righteousness.

Jesus’ condemnation of self-righteousness was especially harsh in His treatment of the Jewish leadership of the time. Six times in Matthew 23, Jesus condemns the scribes and Pharisees for rigidly adhering to their legalistic traditions in order to make themselves look better to others. The parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector was specifically told by Jesus to “some who trusted in themselves, that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt” (Luke 18:9–14). The Pharisee assumed his acceptance with God based on his own actions, whereas the tax collector recognized that there was nothing in himself that would cause God to approve of him. Over and over again in the Gospels, Jesus clashes with the Pharisees and scribes about true righteousness. At the same time, He spends a great deal of time and energy warning His disciples about the dangers of self-righteousness, making it clear that, without Him, they could do nothing (John 15:5).

Paul’s treatment of self-righteousness is no less scathing than Jesus’ was. He began his great argument in Romans for the grace of God by condemning the Jews’ self-righteous trust in circumcision (Romans 2:17–24). He follows that up in chapter 10, saying that the Jews tried to gain acceptance with God based on their own righteousness, demonstrating ignorance of the true righteousness of God (Romans 10:3). His conclusion is that Christ is the end of the law for righteousness, not man (verse 4).

Paul’s letter to the Galatian church also addressed this issue. These believers were being told that they had to do certain things to be acceptable to God, specifically, to be circumcised. Paul goes so far as to say that this is another gospel and calls those who advocate it “accursed” (Galatians 1:8–9). More tellingly, he tells his readers that, if righteousness could come from their own actions, then Jesus died “for no purpose” (Galatians 2:21), and that righteousness could come “by the law” (Galatians 3:21). Paul’s conclusion about the Galatian believers was that they had been foolish in their attempt to be perfected by the flesh (Galatians 3:1–3).

It would be an understatement to say that every believer is plagued by this attitude. It is in our sin nature to try to do something to merit our salvation. The costly freedom of grace, bought for us by the blood of Jesus with no contribution from us, is difficult for our prideful hearts to understand or appreciate. It is far easier to compare ourselves with one another than it is to recognize that we cannot measure up to the standards of a holy God. However, in Christ we can know true righteousness. In Christ, we can know the forgiveness of sin that comes to us through grace. Because He stood in our place, we benefit from both His sinless life and His sin-bearing death (2 Corinthians 5:21). Because of His sacrifice, we can face our sin and bring it to the cross, rather than try somehow to be good enough for God. Only in the cross can we see the grace that covers all our sin and defeat the constant tendency toward self-righteousness in our hearts.