Dying to the old self is a life-long journey of actualizing through faith and obedience what Jesus accomplished at the cross and made available through the power of the Holy Spirit. We put off the old self in order to put on the new self. Dying to the old self is not the goal. Living to Christ is. Just by living to Christ, our old self is displaced. When we keep our focus on living to Christ something of the old self consequently dies, we forget ourselves. This forgetting of ourselves is a form of dying to the old self.
"Therefore, if you have been raised with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Keep thinking about things above, not things on the earth, for you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God." (Colossians 3:1-3)
This Colossians passage points out another reason why the goal is living to Christ and not dying to self. Because of Christ, we have already died. We have already died (in a sense, the most important part any dying to be done has already been accomplished for us), and we already have life hidden in Christ (in a sense, the most important part of any living to be done has already been accomplished for us), yet we must continue dying to (putting off, denying) the old self in order to continue living in Christ (I think this is what people call "sanctification").
Now, we may wish that dying to the old self was like coming to a place of total surrender to Jesus and allowing him to slay the old sinful self with one terrible thrust of some kind of death-to-the-old-self sword. Instead, dying to the old self is part of a lifelong journey. A journey where there are many sword strokes rather than a single fatal sword thrust. Desire, knowledge and discipline are not enough. We need the ongoing, life-giving activity of many sword strokes - from the revealed word of God.
And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Ephesians 6:17)
For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any double-edged sword, piercing even to the point of dividing soul from spirit, and joints from marrow; it is able to judge the desires and thoughts of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)
But even the activity of the living revealed word of God is not enough. We must participate in this dividing of ourselves... from death in its many forms. We will participate when we understand what the Spirit is doing, so that it seems right and good to us to join with the Spirit in this denial of the old self. To deny the old self is not something we do in "blind" faith. It is done from a faith that understands what is revealed; from a faith that is supported by rigorous thinking. We are constantly to test God's will so as to approve God's will. Can you believe it, the God of the universe wants us to approve his will?
Our incompletely renewed minds may deny it, but no matter how much we struggle against it, we will remain conformed to this world unless we approve God's will. We come to the key point at which we choose to deny our old selves or not. We can test God's will in order to judge it according to our sense of right and wrong - to sit in judgment over the righteousness of God's righteousness. Or we can test God's will so as to approve it, as being good and well-pleasing and perfect:
"No one has greater love than this that one lays down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I no longer call you slaves, because the slave does not understand what his master is doing. But I have called you friends, because I have revealed to you everything I heard from my Father." (John 15:13-15)
Do not be conformed to this present world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may test and approve what is the will of God what is good and well-pleasing and perfect. (Romans 12:2)
I am richly blessed in my marriage. I have two grown children. I am semi-retired. I have been a computer programmer, systems analyst, househusband and homeschool teacher. I love to walk, talk and eat, and write short articles about devoting our lives to Jesus.
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