The following conversation started based on this statement–The term “die to self” is not found in the Bible. Those who have received Christ have already died and have received a new heart that is free from sin.
Todd: you come to Christ denying yourself. And that means you take Christ on His terms, not yours. The proud sinner wants Christ and his pleasure, Christ and his covetousness, Christ and his immorality, but you don’t get Him on those terms. And then once you’ve come to Christ, Jesus is saying here it becomes a way of life to deny yourself. A happy way of life, admittedly, is it not? For I’m not happy when my self acts, I’m happy when the Spirit of God acts in me. Joy comes to me in obedience, in holiness.
Arthur Pink said, “Growth in grace is growth downward. It is the forming of a lower estimate of ourselves, it is a deepening realization of our nothingness. It is a heartfelt recognition that we are not worthy of the least of God’s mercies.”
That’s why in Colossians 3:5 it says we have to commit suicide. We have to mortify our members that are on the earth. We have to put off, Ephesians 4:22 says, the old man, corrupted by lust.
So, self‑denial then is the way in and it becomes the life pattern. We say no to self and we say yes to the Spirit of God. As long as we’re in this body, “the flesh” we will have to deny our natural reaction. Now we are in Christ, and yes we should hate sin…this is our position in Christ. That is how corrupt our flesh is..
Louie: “I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ….” He is the “All” in our nothingness for sure. We have already been co-crucified with Christ. Reckoning ourselves dead is the only way the Christian life is lived because it’s really Christ living it. I am not in competition with Him as if I am going to attempt to live it. As far as mortifying the members upon the earth, I don’t think those are who I am. In other words, dying to fornication, uncleanness, covetousness, etc. isn’t dying to self. I am a new self in Christ and that new self is a right self therefore I don’t deny it (the new self). I am at home with who I am in Christ. He doesn’t operate through me in spite of me. In fact He operates through me because of me. You see the invisible God makes Himself visible through common, ordinary folks who have come to see themselves as having died (already) not still dying to sin and the Law.
Todd: Rom:7:14 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am fleshly, sold under sin.
15 For I don’t know what I am doing. For I don’t practice what I desire to do; but what I hate, that I do.
16 But if what I don’t desire, that I do, I consent to the law that it is good.
17 So now it is no more I that do it, but sin which dwells in me.
18 For I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, dwells no good thing. For desire is present with me, but I don’t find it doing that which is good.
19 For the good which I desire, I don’t do; but the evil which I don’t desire, that I practice.
20 But if what I don’t desire, that I do, it is no more I that do it, but sin which dwells in me.
21 I find then the law, that, to me, while I desire to do good, evil is present.
22 For I delight in God’s law after the inward man,
23 but I see a different law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity under the law of sin which is in my members.
24 What a wretched man I am! Who will deliver me out of the body of this death?
25 I thank God through Jesus Christ, our Lord! So then with the mind, I myself serve God’s law, but with the flesh, the sin’s law.
So Paul did recognize that how corrupt the flesh is…that why have to die daily not for Salvation, but deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow him…We wait with anticipation for our Glorify body. I am not argue your point, but we still have the flesh.
Louie: We do have flesh but flesh is not me (self). Romans eight tells us “you are not in the flesh if the Spirit is in you.” “He that is joined to the Lord is one spirit” (1 Corinthians 6:17). This is why we are told to walk in the spirit and you won’t fulfill the lust of the flesh. In fact the real you (spirit joined to the Holy Spirit) doesn’t want to sin. On the other hand, the flesh is apt to do anything!
Todd: If I ask you another question; who lives your Christian life? Who? It’s a basic question. Come on, you’re doing this every day. Who’s doing it? You say, well, it’s me. That’s too simple an answer. If you’re living the Christian life, is it you or is it the Holy Spirit? Look, you don’t want to take credit for the good stuff, and you don’t want to blame the Holy Spirit for the bad stuff, so who is it? See, you have the same dilemma. Let me help you. The apostle Paul said this: “I am crucified with Christ nevertheless I live, yet not I.” So, he didn’t understand it either; that’s the reality of it.
Louie: Well, that’s where I have to disagree with you. The Apostle Paul understood totally! The Romans 7 chapter is Paul walking us through what it looks like when someone is attempting to live the Christian life by obeying the Law. Of course obedience to the Ten Commandments was never why they were given in the first place. In fact they were given to show us our inability not our ability. The Apostle Paul’s great revelation in that chapter is he (we) have been truly delivered from trying. In Romans 6 we read we are dead to sin. In Romans 7 dead to Law. Romans 8 teaches us we are free in the Spirit! Galatians 2:20 is a one verse summary of Romans 6-8 wherein we discover the Christian life is in fact only lived by Christ but it’s in, through and as us. You see we are in a union with Christ. So when someone does “good stuff” it’s obviously Christ. On the other hand, if they do “bad stuff” it’s the enemy. Of course that begs the question of accountability. You might say, “Well, you’re blaming the devil for your sins and don’t want to own up to them.” What I’m saying is we are not the source of “righteous” deeds or “sinful” deeds. We are in fact always joined to another whether it be Mr. Sin or Mr. Righteousness. The good news is when we “sin” as a believer we are actually acting contrary to our nature. We have been born from above and are partakers of His Divine nature. We only sin when we are deceived or have forgotten we have been cleansed and transformed into a new creature in Christ.
Todd: Now, this is like trying to unscrew the inscrutable. You really cannot resolve these divine tensions. If we talk about the doctrine of the security of the believer, that we’re held safe by Christ, you can’t talk about that without flipping it over and talking about the perseverance of the saints. We will enter into glory if we continue in the faith. Every major doctrine regarding salvation in the Scripture, and many beyond salvation, have within them an apparent paradox that cannot be resolved on the human side. This is one of the evidences that God wrote the Bible and not men, or they would have eliminated all of those unsolvable paradoxes.
Louie: I was just saying this to Tracey as you were writing. When we are a spirit living in a earthly, temporal body, life is definitely lived in paradox but I wouldn’t say Paul didn’t understand it. I think He knew full well that He and Christ were joined therefore he “worked out his own salvation and yet it is God who works in you to do it.” Good stuff!
Louie: I love how this discussion of “dying to self” circled right around and found its way into Romans 6-8 which I believe is the center of the Apostle Paul’s revelation and what he taught everywhere.
Is Romans seven the destiny of a Christian until the day they die? What did the cross of Christ really do for us if it doesn’t provide deliverance from sin and death? Is there more God has to do in order to save us or is Christ and him crucified enough?
Is Paul’s documentation of his struggle with the Law and sin in Romans seven our destiny, or is it simply his defining for us what our lives look like when we see ourselves as independent beings attempting to please God in our own strength? Is Paul teaching us that our lives are always going to be defined by “the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want”? I think not, and I am going to attempt to explain why.
You see the Bible teaches us that we were created to be inhabited by God. We are told we are vessels, with Christ as the treasure-2 Corinthians 4:7, temples for His Spirit to live in-1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19, wives to bear fruit for God-Romans 7:4, bodies to obey Christ who is the Head Ephesians 1:22-23, 5:23, and branches to his vine John 15:1&5.
Of course we know Adam disobeyed God and found himself, and subsequently us, joined to the enemy. Ephesians 2:2-3 tells us we “formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.” So, we were all brought into this world indwelt by what John calls “the spirit of error”-1 John 4:4-6.
Once we see that humanity is the vessel, temple and branch caught up in a struggle between two opposing spiritual forces and not independent, we will begin to understand Paul’s writing in Romans seven. Paul writes in Romans 7:17&20 “So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.” “But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.” Could it be that Paul’s use of the word “sin” in this context is really the enemy, “the spirit now working in the sons of disobedience”, or as John puts it “the spirit of error’? Could the “I” he speaks of be his way of talking about a supposed independent “I” which is really a deception; because in Romans six we learned that we are either a slave to sin or a slave to righteousness. There is never a time when there is “just” me. We are always in union on one side of the equation or the other.
I think Paul’s writing in Romans seven is his way of exposing the lie of the enemy. According to Isaiah 14:13-14 Lucifer’s whole goal was, and is, to exalt himself and make himself “like” God. If that’s the spirit now working in those whom are deceived, they too will think they “independently” can obey God’s perfect and just commands and make themselves “like” God. What if God’s plan all along was for his commandments to expose our inability to keep them? What if God knows we can’t perform up to His perfect standard, but He wants us to know this? What if it is only after full exposure by His Law that we come to understand our true powerless state? It seems to me our powerless state being exposed is the only real way we will ever let go of the lie of independence and see our need to embrace union with Christ.
The Apostle Paul gave all his energy and attention to performing up to God’s perfect standards and ultimately found it to be futile. He said he put no confidence in the flesh [our humanity attempting to live apart from the Spirit of God] but rather counted all he had accomplished as “dung” compared to knowing Jesus Christ. You see he was granted revelation from God that we humans were created to house His Holy Spirit but in the fall another spirit, the spirit of this world, took up residence within. In 2 Corinthians 4:3-4 Paul says, “even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.”
Let me finish by pointing to Paul’s conclusion in Romans 7:24-25. Paul struggled and fought trying to keep God’s Law because he knew it was good and holy. Finally he cried out for deliverance from the never ending struggle of trying and failing and began to thank Jesus Christ! If we continue reading on into Romans 8:3-4 we discover God himself, by way of His Spirit, will live in the believer and He will in fact fulfill His own requirements through them. “For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” Notice it says, He condemned “sin” in the flesh, not condemned the flesh. Maybe we’ll talk more about this next time but for now I pray you will take serious stock of what these scriptures are telling us, and “that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling…’ Ephesians 1:18.
The young man asked me “What if you start feeling as if you’re going back to the old man?” Doing a Bible study with several men who are looking at a considerable amount of time behind bars is not without it’s challenges. When someone on the outside struggles with depression or feelings of isolation it’s one thing but when you’re talking with someone who probably won’t be free for years, or maybe ever, it’s another story all together.
Making our way through the letter to the Colossians we slowed down a bit to focus on Paul’s statement about his goal of making the once hidden Mystery of God known among the Gentiles. He said He was made a minister in order to fulfill the word of God and preach “the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints, to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:26-27).
As you read Paul’s writing’s you will begin to see this message of “Christ in you” to be his foundation no matter what else He teaches. For me it seems there is never enough said about how God’s plan all along was to inhabit His people. It was never His intention that we be apart from Him and live in the self-effort strife of trying to work our way up to His standards. I shared with the men how God never thought we could keep His commandments. While many think God gave us His commandments– primarily the Ten Commandments–expecting us to keep them, the reality is He gave them in order to awaken us to our inability to keep them. The deception brought on by the fall is so deep rooted in man it takes something such as the demand for perfection to shake us, bring us to our senses and prove to us our inability to make ourselves “like God.”
The core deception the enemy fed to Adam was that He/We could be independent from God. The idea that we are independent and can do our own “Good” or “Evil” is what has to be removed from our thinking. God gave us His Law to show us who He is so we would start to understand He is Holy, just and perfect and to show us we aren’t. It is only reasonable that a Holy, Just and Perfect God requires Holiness, Justice and Perfection from His creation, right? Jesus Himself did say, “Be perfect/Holy as your heavenly Father is Perfect/Holy didn’t He? The question is how are we to succeed at this impossible demand? Can we try a bit harder? Maybe we can discover a new method of self-improvement, go to a seminar. Are we to hire our very own life coach or guru? No!
After sharing with the men about the Law and it’s demands of perfection we found our way back to Paul’s goal of preaching the message of “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” You see the only way we can be Holy, Just and Perfect is if the Holy, Just and Perfect one takes up residence within us. The way God does this is the cross. When the first Adam sinned we all sinned; so God’s solution is to take us out of the first Adam and place us into Christ–the last Adam. The problem God has is we are free to choose and yet that really isn’t a problem because He knows there are those of us, after trying and failing for long enough, who will come to the conclusion that we are unable and will cry out to Him to save us. The Apostle Paul himself tells us of his own experience of this in Romans 7 where He cried out ” Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?” Of course the answer is “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” You see “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” So it is truly only “Christ in you” that can give us back “the hope of glory.”
Once we went through all of this we came to the issue of the young man feeling as if He was slipping back into the “old man.” We went from the Law and Christ in us to the division of soul and spirit. We read Hebrews 4:12 and talked about how we have all sorts of thoughts and feelings that come and go each and every day but we don’t have to take condemnation for them. Feelings are part of what makes us human but we aren’t meant to be ruled by them so if you feel a bit blue or depressed from time to time it doesn’t mean it is you. At some point we have to start recognizing the real us is our inner man joined to Christ not our thoughts and feelings. Sure we have thoughts and feelings but they don’t define who we are. “He that is joined to the Lord is one Spirit” (1 Corinthians 6:17). We don’t deny or attempt to fight feelings we simply see them for what they are and let them be. It’s not as if we can fight them away, in fact fighting them tends to feed them power and we end up in a worse state than when we started most of the time.
While it sounds crazy at first we have to give ourselves permission to be human or as my friend Sylvia Pearce says, “We have to give our humanity a break.” Now this doesn’t mean we allow sin into our lives but what it means is we give ourselves permission to have thoughts and feelings and they don’t stop us from walking in the Spirit. The enemy has the free range to inject thoughts into our minds and we must learn to see them for what they are. I told the guys when you have those thoughts and think to yourself “Where did that come from? Why am I thinking that?” Right away you identify them as from the enemy, take it captive, and present the truth to it. It goes something like this: If you are feeling angry, fearful or depressed you say to yourself, “Well, that isn’t me it’s my emotions. The real me is joined to Christ and Christ didn’t give me the spirit of fear, He’s not angry or depressed so it must be the enemy so I don’t have to take it.” That is what it means to take our thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). You see the old man didn’t have the ability to do this because He didn’t have Christ living in him but thanks be to God we do.
Why is this happening to me? What am I going to do now?
Have you ever been there? Have you ever asked yourself any of these questions?
We are all born blind according to the scriptures. We come into this world deceived about God, ourselves and why we’re here. The enemy, the very one who blinded us, wants us to live as though we have it all together and aren’t in need of anyone. In a word “independence” is his game which is the big lie. Thankfully, the truth is available, but the bad news is most aren’t willing to receive it until it is their last option.
Raise your hand if you woke up one morning and thought “I feel great today, I think I’ll hand the reigns of my life over to Jesus.” I would venture to say none of us have ever done that. On the contrary it is only after our world collapses that we cry out for God.
Although we are all brought into this world spiritually blind, thank God there is light. For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” Did you notice it said, “out of darkness” rather than into darkness? God has a way of bringing light, not only into the equation, but even out of it. God is omnipresent, and even though we may not see him in our confusion, blindness and denial he is there. Not only is he present his plan actually involves all of the things that have brought us so much grief. Without the darkness we could never understand or appreciate the light, right? I mean as long as things are seemingly going our way we would never cry out for Jesus would we? So, is it totally off base to think God may just be orchestrating all of these things?
The more I study the Word, and see how God works in others, I understand more and more how blind most of us really are. We have bought into the lie that God is here to make us comfortable, and settled in this world, when in fact this world is really only preparation for another. All of what goes on in the temporal is so we might discover what it means to walk in the Spirit. While the upheaval and shaking isn’t pleasant it is to awaken us to what God is up to.
God is love and love is always for others. We are instructed to “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for you own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” You see as long as we are stuck in self-for-self mode we are in darkness thinking everything is about me, my needs and what I want. When things don’t seem to be going our way the frustration, disappointment, envy, jealousy etc. that result from living a blind, selfish and deceived life move us to cry out for deliverance. Although this may not be the prettiest, or most comfortable, way it does seem to be the only way that works for us.
The Apostle Paul replayed for us how the light came to him in Romans seven telling us, “For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate…” You see we all come to the truth the same way and that’s by being beaten up by the lie first. Paul had to try and try to make himself what he thought God wanted until the reality of his inability finally came home to him. Once he was truly tired of living under the delusion of being independent he cried out “Who will deliver me?”
The first chapter of 2 Corinthians explains a little more. After Paul told the Corinthians of how much he had suffered, on their behalf, and how it is all for them, he tells them why. He said, “We do not want you to be unaware brethren, of our affliction which came to us in Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life; indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead…” Bang! There it is! All of our troubles and trials are specifically designed so we might LEARN TO NOT TRUST IN OURSELVES! Once we begin to trust in God rather than ourselves we start to see how everything we have been through really is for others.
We no longer ask “why is this happening to me?” We ask “How is this for others?” “What am I going to do now?” is replaced with “God, what are you up to?” We begin to see ourselves in a completely new way and start to understand everything in our life is ingredients for God to cook up something great for someone else.
The Law was given so the transgression would increase. If that sounds crazy read Romans 5:20. The fact is mankind is sinful from birth, and unless God shows us this we will go on living life as if everything is okay. Thank goodness God loves us too much to leave us in our sin. That is why he gave us his Law. Without it we couldn’t know our sinfulness or our need for a savior. In Romans 7 we read where Paul says, “I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, you shall not covet. But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produce in me coveting of every king; for apart from the Law sin was dead.”
If we are never confronted with the fact we are lawbreakers we will never come to Christ to get things right. This is why God gave us his Law, as the Galatians letter tells us, “It is our schoolmaster to lead us to Christ.” God never thought we could keep the Law but it was given to show us we can’t. This sounds strange to those that are still seeing themselves as independent, thinking they can do good and avoid evil on their own. It is usually only after an extended period of trying and failing that one comes to see and then admit their inability to do what God commands.
Elsewhere the Law is compared to a mirror and was given to show us our own reflection. It is meant to reveal to us what we truly are. Imagine you get up in the morning, go to the bathroom mirror and what do you see? Wow! Look at that hair, that face and those teeth. Now that you see the truth about yourself what are you going to do about it? Are you going to take the mirror down from the wall and brush your hair with it? Why of course not you’re going to find the hairbrush aren’t you? You see the mirror isn’t there to fix your hair problem it is there to show you that there is a hair problem and you need to go to the hairbrush to get it straightened out.
Of course part of what we discover in Romans 7 is the Law itself isn’t bad or even our real problem. It is the only way we can ever come to know our problem though, so it is a good thing even though we don’t like what we see in it. We see a sinful person that has no ability to change. We see a person in desperate need to be rescued from the endless cycle of trying and failing to keep or obey the Law. The good news is, like Paul says, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” He is the answer to our dilemma. He can introduce a new law in us that supercedes the outer Law. In Romans 8 it says, “The Law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the Law of sin and death.”
Once we come to the place we see our inability to keep the Law and we are wore out from trying and failing we finally look to Christ. We look to him and say, “Save Me!” We open the way for him to come in and take over, so he does. The Spirit of God takes up residence within us, and he now lives his perfect Law out through us. “For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh.” God fulfills his own Law in and through us because he is the only one who can. We simply let him to be who he is in and through us.
Written by Louie