If you were to ask me fifteen years ago what I thought it meant to die to self, I would have answered – with severe guilt and self-doubt – it was giving up anything you enjoyed. I never followed through on that definition, mind you, but I certainly agonized over it often enough.
It was a pretty arbitrary sacrifice – no reason to it except I figured God didn’t want me to be happy – especially with interests that were considered “uncool.” (Huh, fancy that.) Since then, I’ve come to learn that dying to self is far less agonizing – but it requires much more.
In the way I thought I should “die,” I focused too strongly on following the rules; there was no time for asking GOD what He desired of me. It was a weird reverse of choosing to spiritually rebel: Instead of taking the reigns by doing anything I wanted, I was taking the reigns in what I thought I should surrender. Same result, really.
But a couple months ago one of the pastors at my church preached on the parable of the wheat seed: “Very truly I tell you, 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.” (John 12:24) He explained dying to self as joyous, something I hadn’t considered. The verse does seem to point in that direction. On dying, the seed doesn’t wither away. It FLOURISHES and multiplies in blessings.
Dying to self, I think, is less about what you need to give up in life. That’s certainly part of it, but to truly, fruitfully surrender, you only have to say, “I’m willing to do anything for You, Lord, because You did everything for me.”
This must first include anything Scriptural, so don’t go thinking I mean you can do any ol’ thing until the heavens part and a choir of angels descends to tell you differently. But a death of self doesn’t have to mean you give up your personality and become a grayed-out shell. God gifted us with the ability to move, create, imagine, and entertain. I have since understood I can enjoy a video game and appreciate its story without compromising my faith (imagine that).
In TRUE surrender before Christ, you must be prepared for far more personal change. Be prepared to see your pride chiseled down as you face humbling circumstances. Be prepared to learn patience when you frantically demand action from God, and He answers with His own timing. Be prepared to allow Him to work in your life “as is” instead of wishing He’d fix what you think is broken.
You should always bring your interests before Him, too. Perhaps you don’t need to surrender them, but are they coming between you and Jesus? Are you using them for His glory or in spite of it? Do you feel convicted by the way they’re negatively changing your character? Dying to self means recognizing what we enjoy and love is, ultimately, in God’s possession – not ours.
It sounds arduous, but I can honestly say I have never felt more free. I think it’s because I seek God’s strength in this surrender instead of trying to perform my own death rites.
So yes, this death doesn’t have to mean giving up your obscure (to some) passions, but it does mean fostering a relationship with Christ that is willing to surrender so much more. Feel free to pick up the controller, but also know when He says to put it down.