The Astonishing Joy of Dying to Self

Crucifying the Flesh

Grantley Morris


Why Jesus Tells Every Christian:

Deny Yourself, Take up Your Cross Daily, and Follow Me


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This is currently just a draft. Last updated March 28, 2020

My goal is to provide fresh thoughts on an age-old problem that plagues us, whether we realize it or not, or have low or high self-esteem. Dying to self as is far from being afflicted by an inferiority complex as it is from being an egomaniac. In fact, the cure for both is to die to self.

Denying yourself, crucifying the flesh, or taking up your cross, sounds like something anyone would recoil from, and yet it is actually as thrilling as leaving behind the life of a grub to become a butterfly. This gateway to an incomparably superior life is so basic and essential to the Christian life that God, in his Word, uses a variety of different expressions for it, including being crucified with Christ, losing your life, and putting to death, or mortifying, the old man.

Each term sounds as repulsive as cancer, and yet it is actually the very opposite. It is like enabling a person to thrive by killing cancer cells that have so insidiously attached themselves to us as to seem an inseparable part of us. What it is killing is not only debilitating us, but is sentencing us to a slow and miserable death.

We are focusing on the missing key to matchless joy, peace and love. Challenging, but thrilling and fulfilling, it’s the beginning of the ultimate spiritual adventure. It’s like finally being released from an oppressive prison cell into a vast, new world, sparking with possibilities.

But I will not lie to you: it’s peculiarly scary. We have been in oppressive confinement for so long that many of us find ourselves frightened to leave the familiar behind and step outside. Doing so, however, is no optional extra.

Dying to self, denying yourself, losing yourself, totally surrendering to God – or whatever term you prefer – is essential for drawing near to a breathtakingly exciting, holy God. It is the very heart of authentic Christianity. In fact, it is essential for salvation.

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The Enemy Within

What the Bible calls our flesh is the part of us that feels right, and yet always gets things wrong.

In spy terminology, the flesh is the mole inside us – the turncoat who pretends to be our greatest friend and ally, when it is actually continually selling us out and sabotaging everything we do.

I think it safe to presume that the fleshly (or carnal) side of us should have been, next to God our highest source of comfort, support and encouragement. Tragically, however, what would have been so exquisitely precious and beautiful was turned by the Deceiver before we were even born and, instead of remaining on our side, it is his ally.

Whenever we are hurt, feel isolated, or are tempted to feel sorry for ourselves, this double-agent callously draws near with fake warmth, and pretends to console us. While maliciously claiming to care about us, and understand us, like no one else can, it is actually scheming to isolate us even more, and to dupe us into feeling we cannot live without its insidious, corrupting influence.

There is appalling truth in the saying that we are our own worst enemy, and it is all because of the flesh – the part of us we inherited not directly from God, but from ancestors who broke the sacred bond we were meant to have with him. God, however, longs to rescue us. In fact, he is reaching out to you right now.

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Already Died to Self?

My heart goes out to people who are so crippled by low self-esteem that they hate themselves. I once foolishly thought that dying to self, or crucifying the flesh, offers these dear people no benefits. In reality, it liberates and empowers them as much as anyone else. Let’s see why.

As we proceed with this webpage, we will gain an increasingly clearer view of what dying to self involves. Let’s begin, however, with the discovery that although no one who had died to self is egotistical, it does not mean beating oneself up, or being tortured by low self-esteem.

When it comes to dying to self, I had once supposed that people oppressed by low self-esteem had already arrived – perhaps even overshot their destination. As a Christian who has died is freed from suffering, however, a person who has died to self is freed from self. In contrast, to suffer from low self-esteem is to be tormented by self.

Among other things, denying oneself involves relinquishing control of our self-esteem so that God can sort it out. For as long as we remain in charge, a distorted self-esteem is almost inevitable. And torturously low self-esteem is as far from God’s best as a dangerously over-inflated ego.

Self-consciousness is a tragedy that not only torments; it makes an otherwise competent person error-prone and inhibited. It leads to self-doubt and, before long, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. People plagued with it could have reached amazing heights, if only they could forget themselves – lose themselves in something bigger than themselves. I’m reminded of Jesus’ words: “whoever will lose his life for my sake will find it,” (Matthew 16:25).

In the natural, forgetting about ourselves – what the Bible sometimes calls dying to self – fulfills us by freeing us to soar to our full potential. Spiritually, it does even more: it swings opens the door to the divine. More than the spiritual equivalent of allowing life-giving fresh air and sunshine to pour into a suffocatingly oppressive life, it allows partnership with Almighty God. Thus empowered, we surpass natural abilities.

Some self-obsessed people might think themselves wonderful, but it is equally possible for people who consider themselves lower than a cockroach to obsess about themselves. Either way, they find themselves in solitary confinement; trapped in the dark dungeon of obsessively thinking about themselves, or their grief, or their fear, or their resentment, or their . . .

Regardless of whether you kept thinking about how superior you are or how inferior you are, you would still be turned in on yourself; continually focused on yourself. That would make your world – and the resources available to you – oppressively small.

To have any hope of successfully navigating through life, it is vital that we take our eyes off ourselves. Imagine twisting your car’s rear-view mirror and continually looking at yourself in it, rather than looking at the road. Regardless of whether you keep gazing in the mirror to admire yourself or to criticize yourself, trying to drive that way would not only prevent you from going far, it would make you a danger to yourself and to everyone around you.

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Dying to self is not done by yourself. It is not a lonely, isolating experience, but the height of companionship because it occurs in exquisite partnership with Christ. It is the beginning of a thrilling new life bursting with endless possibilities through spiritual union with him. By being crucified with Christ you are simultaneously raised, empowered and glorified with our resurrected Lord. It is not merely dying to the inferior, but coming alive to the divine.

Whether we feel inferior or superior, self keeps us from seeing beyond ourselves. It blinds us to the divine. With self out of the way, we can not only see God like never before, we can finally begin to see as God sees. Among the countless wonders this opens to us is that God sees through eyes of infinite love. He delights in our individuality – our uniqueness. No matter how many children parents have, love makes each child irreplaceable. By innumerable measures, a baby’s abilities are inferior to an adult’s. If anything, however, that simply makes the baby even more adorable in a parent’s love-filled eyes. Moreover, love makes parents take exquisite delight in, for example, their baby’s first step or first word or ‘cute’ expression; quite unmoved by the obvious fact that literally billions of people on this planet can do better. In many ways, love is blind to the entire concept of inferiority.

And there is another side to the divine perspective opened to us by dying to self: the Almighty is the great leveler. Whether you feel inferior or superior to another human, any differences between the two of you are infinitesimal, relative to how superior God is. What God can do through the least of us is exceedingly beyond what the greatest of us could do without him.

Tragically, people with appalling self-esteem usually think they have no alternative to being sentenced to live in their own tiny world in something akin to solitary confinement. They might interact with people, but only on a superficial level. They suppose no one would genuinely want them, with the possible exception of someone with evil intent. But there is someone who is astonishingly good and selfless and loving; someone totally trustworthy, who thinks the world of them, and is utterly devoted to their well-being. And he happens to be the smartest and richest and most important person in the universe. No fairytale seems so unbelievable. Nevertheless, it is the raw truth.

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Open the Floodgates to Out-of-this-World Blessings

To help us better understand God’s nature, Jesus posed this question: would you give your child a snake if he asked for a fish (Luke 11:11)? Now let me pose a question: what if your five-year-old asked for a deadly snake to play with?

We might not be so foolish as to seek God for heroin or prostitutes. Nevertheless, we can still frustrate both him and ourselves, by seeking the Holy One for things that indulge the selfish, sinful side of us. Our dilemma is that God is too good and too loving to give us the delicious poisons, booby-trapped trinkets and ego trips that end up ruining us, and yet our flesh craves.

Not realizing the heart and wisdom of God, many of us get bitterly disappointed with him – some even abandon him – because he fails to deliver what we mistakenly think he should. We easily, for example, get suckered in by over-zealous preachers appealing to our fleshly cravings by ripping verses out of their holy context, and peddling promises without divine authorization. Doing this things might be appalling, but despite our passion and sincerity, who among us never slips up? Surely, most who misrepresent Christ have no idea they are straying from his message, and are as confused by the flesh as any of us (Comment).

God’s blessings are infinitely superior to what our flesh hankers for. They are worth having like nothing in this world, and they bring eternal benefits. Self, however, plugs the spout through which divine blessings flow.

The flesh – our worst enemy who masquerades as our best friend – blocks God and his astonishing gifts. It recoils from a holy God; fearing God and his goodness, like a shivering child afraid of the sun’s warmth. It craves things God does not want us to have, and it shrinks from what God wants for us. And our pride wants us to be dependent upon no one – especially a superior being.

The flesh is sure it knows better than God, and can do better at protecting us and giving us a good time. It gets things so confused that it cannot trust the one who gave his all for us; the one who sustains the entire universe; the one who not only gave us life but keeps us living moment by moment. At most, it wants God only as its slave, and never as the one in charge.

As a result, the astonishing blessings God has for us are backed up; either unable to reach us at all or, for many of the rest of us, able only to trickle to us through a tiny hole in the otherwise impenetrable barrier our flesh builds. The more we deny our flesh, the more that tiny opening widens, and the more of God and his stupendous blessings can flow into us.

To get the attention of non-Christians and new Christians, the Lord sometimes circumvents this by resorting to a special act of grace that gets a blessing through to us by an abnormal means that cannot be maintained for long. The only consistent means of delivery is through the opening that so easily gets plugged by self.

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How Basic to Christianity is This?

Dying to self, crucifying the flesh, or whatever you wish to call it, is not just for the spiritual elite. It is essential to abiding in Christ. Consider, for example, how emphatic this is:

    Galatians 5:24 Those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and lusts.

    Romans 8:9 But you are not in [or, as several versions put it, controlled or ruled by] the flesh but in the Spirit, if . . . the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if any man doesn’t have the Spirit of Christ, he is not his.

    Romans 8:13 For if you live after the flesh, you must die; but if  by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.

    (Emphasis mine.)

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We have mentioned a variety of different biblical expressions that all refer to the same spiritual experience as dying to self. (My favorite is being crucified with Christ. It helps fix our gaze on the critical importance of both what our Lord achieved on the cross, and spiritual intimacy with our glorious Savior.) In addition, the Bible uses a number of other terms whose meaning, though a little broader, includes this experience. A brief peep at these broader terms will highlight just how essential dying to self is being a genuine Christian.

I should forewarn, however, that the mere sight of some of the biblical terms could make your flesh cringe. I had planned to name each term in a heading as we come to it. That would be logical, aid reading and be slightly better visually. Nevertheless, even though the terms frequently occur in the Bible, I am concerned that the mere sight of them might needlessly alarm some sensitive readers, and even deter a few from reading further. Let’s never forget, however, that our flesh – the part of us that keeps seeking to undermine us and rob us of indescribable blessings – is Satan’s mole, programmed to dupe us. It is manipulated by dark forces in a devilish ploy to panic us into scurrying like a cockroach fleeing the light. Let’s not fall prey to malicious forces that would delight in hoodwinking us and keeping us under their power.

The hell-bent side of us gets everything horribly wrong, but is disturbingly persuasive. It panics and unthinkingly rejects what is safe and good. It mistakenly thinks it is protecting us, when it is actually robbing us and exposing us to great danger.

We so easily misunderstand the implications of some of these terms that I think it better to ease ourselves into them by first breaking down some of the common misconceptions in a few sentences before exposing ourselves to them.

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The first term I’d like us to examine often groundlessly makes us our flesh wince, even though it occurs often in the Old Testament, and over sixty times in the New (Key Examples). Whilst not exactly identical, it overlaps considerably the terms we have been seeking to understand.

The term we will examine simply involves embracing the truth that sets us free. What could be more exciting and fulfilling? In the Greek, the word means literally to change your mind. It involves a whole new mindset, which includes dying to self. What we shrink from, however, is that it involves admitting we were wrong. Our flesh/pride hates that. It is astonishing what people would foolishly prefer to suffer than to admit, even to themselves, that they have been wrong.

It also involves saying we are sorry, or even being briefly sorry. We detest that, no matter how much joy it leads to. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted,” proclaimed our wise Leader (Matthew 5:4).

The term we are peeping at is repentance. It is not as well understood as it should be that repentance is essential for salvation. Being a heart attitude, it does not involve works, nor the ability to deliver ourselves from sins, but simply acknowledging that even our favorite sin is unacceptable, and our being willing to part with it forever.

God wants our love. To be genuine, love cannot be forced, nor induced by something akin to drugs or hypnotism. Moreover, love and morality are almost identical (Romans 13:10; Galatians 5:14). As much as a righteous God longs to forgive us, how can he, if we have sins we insist do not need forgiving? If someone sees the error of his ways and intends to never offend again, it might be morally acceptable to pardon his reckless driving that almost killed people. Even if you had the legal right to do so, however, pardoning a friend when you know he fully intends to keep offending, would be immoral. To let him continue to drive irresponsibly with impunity would make you a partner in his crime when he ends up killing other road users.

How can our Savior save us from any sin we refuse to leave? The sin we love and try to excuse is as deadly as all the sins we hate. Would it be acceptable for someone who claims to love you, to force himself on you, and imprison you for life because he is sure he can ‘save you from yourself’? Would it be heaven, if it were filled with people who would rob, rape or kill you, except they have been forcibly lobotomized, or they know their thoughts are monitored and they would be electrocuted the instant they stepped out of line? God is no monster. And because of that, repentance is essential for us to be with him forever.

The Lord of the universe wants our heart, and for that to be meaningful, it has to be given voluntarily. He is willing to give us a new heart (Ezekiel 36:26). We just have to be willing to receive it.

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People plagued by low self-esteem are barely coping as it is. To be brought any lower could literally make them suicidal. Even people who act confident and are continually boasting of their achievements might be doing so in a desperate battle against secret fears of being inadequate. If humility were what it seems at first glance to be, many would skedaddle at the mere mention of the word. But what if humility is not at all about bringing these people lower?

What if what the Bible refers to is like mining – ridding yourself of tons of dirt and rock so that you end up will gold worth hundreds of millions of dollars? A landowner who fears that the natural appearance of his property is his only asset, would detest ruining it. Everyone who takes the risk, however, discovers it’s the smartest thing he could ever do.

Everything we have comes from Creator God. That gives him every right to be a taker, and he does indeed ask for everything. All who do as he asks, however, merely end up trading the inferior for the priceless.

Obviously, both humility and dying to self, involve not considering oneself wiser, or of higher morals than the Supreme Being. In fact, wouldn’t it not only be offensive to God, but the ultimate in arrogance to think the Perfect One is wrong, and that our understanding is greater than his? Despite our flesh’s protest, however, concluding that God’s opinion is right and ours is wrong, could actually be the best good news ever. Let’s see how.

If, for example, you fear you might be unlovable, incapable or unforgivable, that’s not your Savior’s opinion of you. In this case, humbling yourself simply involves realizing that such fears about yourself, no matter how strong and convincing, are contrary to God’s truth, and therefore groundless. That’s exciting!

If the terrifyingly holy Lord forgives you, who are you to not forgive yourself? Dare you in anyway imply that you have higher moral standards than the God of Perfection? If the most important person in the universe loves you so much that he is available to you 24/7, who are you to declare yourself unlovable? If the Almighty Lord of the universe dwells in you, how can you possibly be inadequate? If there is nothing the all-powerful Lord cannot do, there is nothing he cannot do through you.

Let’s approach this from different direction. What if, in God’s eyes, humbling ourselves is not about beating ourselves up for our failings, but letting the Lord of Glory be beaten for those failings? Have you considered how humbling it is to conclude that the only way to fix ourselves is to let an innocent volunteer to be beaten to death for our blunders? Indescribable wonders, however, await those willing to take that path.

Consider these Scriptures:

    Job 5:11  . . . he sets up on high those who are low, those who mourn are exalted to safety.

    Proverbs 29:23 A man’s pride brings him low, but one of lowly spirit gains honor.

    Matthew 18:4 Whoever therefore humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.

    Luke 18:14  . . . everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.

    Philippians 2:8-9  . . . he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, yes, the death of the cross. Therefore God . . . highly exalted him . . .

    (Emphasis mine.)

    More Such Scriptures.

God wants us to be humble, not to put us down, but to raise us up? That seems nonsensical until we discover that only the humble can be raised up and entrusted with spiritual riches without it destroying them. You will become increasingly convinced of this as you read further.

Before doing so, however, let’s get one thing clear: if we have ever imagined God is being arrogant, intolerant, or impatient, it is because we have failed to understand his heart, and what is at stake. The less our spiritual ignorance, the greater our realization that none of us is nearly as selfless, nor as long-suffering, as God. For a little more on this, see Is God Egotistical?

The Lord of all wants us to die to self, not so that he can dominate us, but to save us from ourselves. We might seem to get away with it for a while but, ultimately, we either die to self, or self-destruct.

Humbling oneself is most definitely not about seeking to be exalted (see Selfish Ambition & Other Scriptures). Nevertheless, exaltation is where it leads. Let’s not forget, however, that this is primarily manifested, not in this life, but in the next – just as it was for our crucified Lord.

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We have noted that it is the height of arrogance to reject God’s opinion of us and choose to believe lies about oneself, no matter how much those lies might seem to ring true. We can expect the flesh, however, to keep screaming condemning lies at us, and backing them up with deceitfully convincing feelings. That’s the very nature of the flesh. It is at war with the God of truth (Scriptures). And that’s precisely why it is so liberating and empowering to ‘die’ to this part of us – that is, to cease living as if its lies were true. We were once slaves of our flesh’s lies, but when a slave dies, he is no longer obligated to obey his cruel master, no matter how much the former master keeps barking orders.

‘Dying’ is an important part of the equation. A dead slave is finally free from a sadistic master, but only the living can enjoy the benefits. That’s why spiritual union with Christ involves not only being crucified with him, but resurrecting with him to a brand new life. Here’s something to shout from the rooftops: we serve a risen Lord!

    Romans 6: 11, 13  . . . consider yourselves . . . to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ . . . present yourselves to God as alive from the dead . . .

    Colossians 2:12, 20; 3:1 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith . . . you died with Christ . . . you were raised together with Christ . . .

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In Jesus’ famous parable, we are rightly moved by the father seeing his wayward son from afar, running to him, kissing him, girding him with the best robe, putting a ring on a finger and shoes on his feet, killing the fatted calf, and celebrating with music and dancing. Let’s not forget, however, that it began with the prodigal’s repentance – his humiliating return as an utter failure, with his prepared speech, “Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight. I am no more worthy to be called your son. Make me as one of your hired servants,” (Luke 15:18-19, 21).

We are mistaken if we suppose we can enjoy the loving forgiveness and honor that was lavished upon the prodigal, without having the prodigal’s attitude. If we think we can ingratiate ourselves with God, while still trying to conceal or justify our rebellion or foolishness and claiming our ‘rights,’ we have misunderstood the parable, the heart of God, the human heart, and salvation itself.

It takes so little to receive so much from the God of love and truth. The entry point, however, is the willingness to face the truth: that we have totally blown it and deserve absolutely nothing from God, and that no matter how much we do for God afterwards, we remain as utterly dependent upon his undeserved grace as any other fallen creature.

God’s goal is never our humiliation but our empowerment. As I will further explain below, truth empowers us – including the truth of our sinfulness and continual dependence upon our Savior.

Humility – dying to the urge to exalt oneself – opens the floodgate to stupendous blessings. And only humility can keep it open.

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Even in Christian circles, pride is so common that, despite the stark difference between faith and arrogance, we often seem to confuse them. The two people most praised by Jesus for their faith considered themselves unworthy. The centurion did not even think himself worthy to have Jesus enter his house (Matthew 8:8-10). The Canaanite woman considered herself a dog (Matthew 15:27-28).

Closely related, is confusing faith with self-confidence, even though confidence in oneself is virtually the opposite of confidence in Christ. Just as no one can serve two masters – God and money, for example, (Luke 16:13) – neither can our faith be both in Christ and in ourselves. Disturbingly many of us squander our puny faith by putting some of it in our good living, faithful service, spiritual heritage, biblical knowledge, prayer life, natural ability, or whatever, instead of exclusively in God’s loving mercy, extended to us through Christ.

The most amazing person in the universe loves each of us stupendously. We have every right to revel in this for all eternity. Such is our blind arrogance, however, that we often forget that this is a manifestation of the enormity of divine love and grace, not because of anything intrinsically desirable about us.

Us serving God, is the Almighty, at appalling cost to his reputation, letting us spoil his perfection.

We get even the simplest things wrongs. We don’t even know how to ask God for things, and he has to keep intervening to sort it out (Romans 8:26). No matter what we attempt, he could have done it better without us. The Lord grants us the undeserved privilege of serving him, and involvement in matters of eternal significance – huge responsibilities – solely because of his mind-boggling love. What we do in partnership with God is of staggering importance, but only because God grants us the undeserved privilege.

Whenever we lose consciousness of ourselves and focus on our Lord, astonishing things can result. Refocus on ourselves, however, and it all falls apart. It is like someone afraid of heights doing well until he looks down. To revert to looking at ourselves or drawing attention to ourselves is so enticing, especially if, until recently, it has been our normal way of living. Thankfully, after any slip, we can realize our mistake and redirect our gaze to Jesus.

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Does Almighty God tenderly allow our weaknesses to limit him, or is his sovereignty such that he forces himself on us regardless? We need go no further than Mark 6:5-6 (Matthew 13:58 is similar) for at least a partial answer. Jesus could do few miracles in his home district because of their unbelief.

Love wants not domination, but cooperation. In addition, love exalts the loved one’s long-term well-being above its own wishes, and it also carefully considers all the ramifications of every action. As affirmed in Psalm 103:13-14, like the perfect parent he is, the Almighty always remains acutely aware of our weaknesses and carefully weights the implications of everything he does. A lesser being would use brute force, but not the God we are privileged to serve.

Since humility is the focus of this section, let’s attempt to gain an inkling of how much we can frustrate God’s plans, forcing him to withhold immense blessings he longs for us to enjoy, simply because such blessings would trigger our pride, with catastrophic implications for us. When our eyes are opened in heaven, something likely to stagger us is how much we missed out on in this life solely because of our inability to remain humble, had we been more blessed.

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We should fear pride more than cancer. It seems, for example, that Lucifer was once a magnificent heavenly being in a privileged position with the Most High, but pride brought him down (Scriptures).

Pride goes before a fall, affirms Proverbs 16:18 (Related Scriptures). And under the Spirit’s anointing Paul wrote, “Therefore let him who thinks he stands be careful that he doesn’t fall,” (1 Corinthians 10:12). If that latter quote does not make your heart thump, you have either forgotten the context, or are so drunk with pride that you are in a stupor.

Those words are Paul’s conclusion to Christians after listing all the thousands of Israelites struck dead in various incidents in the wilderness because they thought it safe to treat divine things casually (1 Corinthians 10:6-11). Paul reminds his readers of those who died because they grumbled about God’s actions (1 Corinthians 10:10) and said that although this happened centuries before, God did it not only to warn people back then but to Christians living under the New Covenant (1 Corinthians 10:6, 11).

The Apostle points out that all those suffering those fates did so despite having had profound spiritual experiences, which he likens to spectacular experiences Christians have (Scripture). No one – not even Paul – reaches the point of immunity. Instead, the apostle said such things as, “I beat my body and bring it into submission, lest by any means, after I have preached to others, I myself should be rejected” (1 Corinthians 9:27).

Self-confidence can be deadly. We shall see shortly how it is the opposite of Christlikeness. Those who worship God in Spirit put no confidence in the flesh (Philippians 3:3-4, 7).

Pride is a disgusting drug that makes us ugly and foolish. This hideous, habit-forming delusion stupefies us so alarmingly that it makes us display our shame to the entire world. Sooner or later – pray that it is not later – we will sober up, and be appalled at the years we have squandered, and all the damage we have caused.

Imagine a butcher so high on drugs that he believes he can help people by performing brain surgery on them, and proceeds to do so. That is virtually what pride does to Christians. It deludes us into believing we are far spiritually more capable than we are, and it drives us to give people around us what we presume to be helpful advice, when it actually harms them greatly.

Job’s devout friends selflessly ministered to him, generously giving their friend the benefit of all their godly wisdom and counsel; having no idea that their every ‘comforting’ word was not only wounding a man of God, but making the Lord increasingly angry with them (Job 42:7-8). Ironically, not only are we in grave danger of making the same mistake with the people we seek to comfort, many Christians today prove it by attacking Job, accusing him of sin or spiritual failure, despite God declaring Job blameless (Job 1:1, 8; 2:3; 42:7).

Take to heart how in Jesus’ day the religious elite drew upon their vast knowledge of God and his Word to expose as a dangerous heretic a vagabond who happened to the Messiah for whom they had been praying all their lives. Despite being absolutely certain they were far more holy and devoted to God than their ancestors who had rejected prophets of God who had foretold the Messiah’s coming, they confidently opposed and maligned that very Messiah when he stood before them.

Proud of our special relationship with God and the infallibility we think it brings, we are as certain that we are better than the spiritual leaders who killed their Messiah as they were certain they were better than those who killed the prophets. Ironically, just like them, , we are in grave danger of using our supposed discernment to despise, slander and reject people , without having the slightest clue that, like Job, God regards as heroes those they mistreat, even if the severity of their trials has left them looking weak and misguided.

Whether you realize it or not, someone you know could be teetering on the precipice of spiritual disaster. If so, that makes you not superior, but equally vulnerable. How you respond (by ignoring him, abandoning him, acting like a know-all, or whatever) could push him over the edge – and you with him.

Why could it be spiritually calamitous for you? If part of Christ’s body suffers, we all do, says 1 Corinthians 12:26. More than this, if by your standoffishness or a comment you presumed to be godly was actually more from the flesh than the Spirit, causes someone to fall, you will be held accountable. Keep prayerfully reading these words until the dire seriousness of the situation chills you:

    Mark 9:42-44 Whoever will cause one of these little ones who believe in me to stumble, it would be better for him if he were thrown into the sea with a millstone hung around his neck. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed, rather than having your two hands to go into Gehenna, into the unquenchable fire, ‘where their worm doesn’t die, and the fire is not quenched.’

Literally hundreds of people around in the world have privately confided with me the utter devastation they have suffered by being on the receiving end of supposedly helpful advice from well-meaning believers with an over-inflated opinion of their abilities. Most offenders are totally oblivious to the damage they have caused, and blissfully unaware of the alarming extent to which they will one day be held accountable. I shudder to think how guilty I, too, have been, without ever knowing it.

Bursting within me for nearly all my life has been an almost overwhelming yearning to instruct people spiritually. And most of the opportunities I have craved have been blocked. Decades ago, the Lord highlighted to me a Scripture that grieved, frustrated and sometimes came close to infuriating me:

    James 3:1-2 Let not many of you be teachers, my brothers, knowing that we will receive heavier judgment. For we all stumble in many things. . . .

Although I have been conscious for decades of this personal word from God, I still do not think I have been adequately thankful for blocked opportunities. Most people would say I have an appallingly low self-esteem. Despite this, and far fewer opportunities than I have craved, I almost certainly have little conception of the damage caused by my inflated opinion of abilities.

For far too many of us, there is but a fragile veneer of humility keeping us from spiritual disaster. The stronger we grow in humility, the more we can be trusted with spiritual treasure.

For a hint of how our susceptibility to pride restricts our Lord, consider Gideon. His under-equipped army of a mere 32,000 was hopelessly outnumbered by forces so vast they are simply said to be “like locusts for multitude; and their camels [a significant strategic advantage] were without number, as the sand which is on the seashore for multitude,” (Judges 7:12). One gets the impression the Hebrews couldn’t cope with their numbers mathematically, let alone militarily! And yet, astounding as it sounds, the Lord had a problem: Gideon’s army was too large.

“The people who are with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand, lest Israel brag against me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me.’ ” he told Gideon (Judges 7:2). This inadequate army was then whittled down to less than one-third of its original size, and still it was too large! Surely they knew only an act of God could give them victory against such odds. But their current sobriety was not the issue. It’s after a victory that pride-intoxicated minds begin to imagine foolish things. More than 99% of that meagre band were sent packing before it was finally pathetic enough for the Lord to use it (Judges 7:7). For another example, see Centuries Earlier . . .

The great apostle labelled himself as the chief of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15), “the least of the apostles,” “not worthy to be called an apostle” (1 Corinthians 15:9), “less than the least of all God’s people” (Ephesians 3:8, Weymouth New Testament – NIV is almost identical), and as “like an aborted fetus”. Even so, we read:

    2 Corinthians 12:7  . . . so that I would not become arrogant, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to trouble me – so that I would not become arrogant. (NET Bible)

Note the repetition of “so that I would not become arrogant,” (most manuscripts) to emphasize the reason for the affliction. Whatever the exact nature of this “thorn in the flesh,” it was so distressing that the apostle prayed three times for its removal, and he ceased only when he discovered that it was necessary to keep him from becoming conceited.

So dangerous is pride that this drastic action was necessary to keep Paul spiritually safe. That either sends chills through you, or you have not grasped the significance. It highlights just how spiritually dangerous pride is – even to very godly people. And let’s not imagine that average people are immune from pride.

For a fresh look at this spiritual phenomenon, consider Charles Spurgeon. This exceptionally gifted, highly esteemed Nineteenth Century preacher suffered such devastating bouts of depression and illness that he is said to have tendered his resignation from his phenomenal ministry thirty-two times in thirty-nine years. Like Paul’s affliction, it seems appropriate to label this torment a messenger from Satan. Might, also like Paul, it be that this affliction was needed to protect him from pride?

Relative to God, the most knowledgeable and spiritually aware of us knows next to nothing. Most of us, however, are either know-nothings acting like know-alls, or would quickly become so if God were to bless us.

Look at what pride did to this godly king:

    2 Chronicles 26:3-5, 8, 16 Uzziah was sixteen years old when he began to reign . . . He did that which was right in the Lord’s eyes . . . He set himself to seek God  . . . God made him prosper. . . . His name spread abroad even to the entrance of Egypt; for he grew exceedingly strong. . . . But when he was strong, his heart was lifted up, so that he did corruptly, and he trespassed against the Lord his God . . .

Then there’s Nebuchadnezzar, powerful ruler of the Babylonian empire, proudly thinking he had achieved great things, and suddenly divinely struck with insanity for years, until finally emerging with an awareness of how insignificant he was, relative to God (Daniel 4:30-36). Or consider Herod accepting praise that belongs to God alone, and being divinely stuck dead (Acts 12:22-23).

“I am rich, and . . . have need of nothing” thought the Laodicean Christians, arrogantly blinded to the fact that God saw them as “wretched . . ., miserable, poor, blind, and naked,” and teetering on the edge of spiritual annihilation (Revelation 3:17-19, cf. Revelation 2:5).

We approach spiritual matters like people ignorantly tinkering with some contraption; having no idea it is a nuclear warhead. We dare not dismiss as irrelevant God recording in his Word that people were struck dead for treating the ark of the covenant casually (1 Samuel 6:19; 2 Samuel 6:6-7) and, centuries earlier, Aarons’ sons were supernaturally killed for making an offering not authorized by God (Leviticus 10:1-3). Need I mention Ananias and Sapphira, who were also divinely stuck dead (Acts 5:9-11)? And what about the Corinthians who partook of communion “in a way unworthy of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 11:27) and ended up “weak and sickly, and not a few sleep" (1 Corinthians 11:30 – disturbingly, in the rest of the letter, “sleep” means literally dead – 1 Corinthians 15:6, 18, 20, 51, 1 Corinthians 7:39, [same word in the Greek]).

As already hinted, the critical issue is not merely our current humility, but what would happen if the Lord were to do something special to, or through, us. Most likely, we are even now, too filled with pride and self-confidence to have any idea how poorly we would handle such a situation. And when pride puts us in grave spiritual danger, what is a God of love meant to do?

Paul’s “thorn” was necessarily unpleasant but, understanding it was protecting him from pride, he treasured it as a manifestation of divine grace (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). Would we, however, have had Paul’s good sense not to resent God for him doing everything necessary to keep us from pride? If not, even this way of curbing the spiritual catastrophe of pride would turn into disaster. So if we would have any vulnerability to pride in the event of being especially blessed, God’s love could compel him to withhold those blessings from us. Otherwise, special revelation, or success, or spiritual giftings would end up being a curse to us, rather than the blessing the Lord would have liked them to have been.

Pride and self feed at the same pig trough. Add to this the fact that pride can keep us spiritually impoverished. Combined, these two truths should at least slightly deepen your understanding of how vital it is to make dying daily to self an ingrained habit. The more dying to self becomes a way of life for us, the more likely it is for it to be safe for our loving Lord to pour out spiritual blessings on us. Otherwise, those blessings would end up inflating our pride and so ruining us.

* * *

Let’s try another angle. Non-Christians typically see the Christians they know, not as kind and approachable, but as arrogant and self-righteous. (Given the blindness most of us have to our own failings, unbelievers are more likely to see our faults than we can.) How many are in grave spiritual danger because the Christians they know do not give the impression of being kind and approachable, but arrogant and self-righteous? Isn’t God’s love so immense that he wants no one to perish (Scriptures), and he expects us to love even our enemies? How, then, do you think you might feel on Judgment Day, standing before a God of such intensity, and learning that your snobbish self-righteousness has kept people from coming to their only Savior?

How many of us have tender compassion towards Muslims, witches and homeless alcoholics? Or do we look down on certain people, like the Pharisee did on the tax collector? According to Jesus, only the despised one was sufficiently aware of his failings to be accepted by the holy Lord (Luke 18:11-14).

As much as crimes like sadism and child molestation disgust us, we should be even more horrified by our own sins because we are personally responsible for them.

Arrogance blinds us to spiritual reality, the most basic of which is that the one thing we have ever deserved is an eternity in hell from the moment of our first sin. Anything else is the undeserved mercy of God. If most of us keep losing awareness of even this elementary truth, how can we be trusted with anything greater?

* * *

Having touched lightly on the danger of pride, it would be ridiculous not to point out that this is just one of a formidable array of possibilities with which our flesh could develop a suicidal attraction. There are so many that when naming the works of the flesh in Galatians 5:19-21, for instance, it is not attempting an exhaustive list but giving examples. This is clearly seen by it being one of several times the Bible provides a list of sins, any one of which could exclude us from the kingdom of God. Each list is quite different (Proof).

As mentioned, I believe we will be shocked and grieved to learn all we missed out on, and how little we were able to do for God, because our fleshly vulnerability forced our Savior to severely limit what he could do in and through us during this life, lest we self-destruct by perverting his blessings into an opportunity to indulge one or more fleshly weaknesses.

Power corrupts. It need not, but it is inevitable – unless we crucify our flesh daily.

Terrifyingly vast numbers of apparent Christians have confused avoiding God’s wrath with a temporary reprieve in the hope that they will quickly come to their senses and change their ways.:

    2 Peter 3:9-10 The Lord is not slow concerning his promise, as some count slowness; but he is patient with us, not wishing that anyone should perish, but that all should come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night . . .

Confusing what will happen on Judgment Day with God temporarily delaying judgment is the most appalling mistake anyone could ever make.

    Romans 2:1-5 You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. . . . So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance? But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. (NIV)

Don’t imagine God’s love will spare you. The exact opposite is true. God-sized love fuels God-sized wrath. If you have ever been angered at someone hurting a person you love, your anger is infinitesimal compared with God’s anger when people hurt his loved ones. Add to this the fact that God loves everyone with divine intensity, and that our sins hurt people, either directly or by setting a bad example.

As an illustration of how appallingly weak and deluded our flesh is at guessing at how we would cope if granted what it craves, consider the vast numbers of people who think it would be good to be given millions of dollars. Contrast this with the experiences of all the people whose lives were ruined by winning lotteries. For those interested, I have collected the tragic stories of sixteen lottery winners. You will find a link at the end of this webpage.

Not surprisingly, the Lord had to warn the Israelites that blessing them materially could be their downfall (Scriptures).

People differ as to which particular sins infatuate them. Typically, there are certain sins we could fairly happily live without, but often one or two have so ensnared us as to make us wonder if we could live without them. We might even consider trading an arm or an eye for them.

Our greatest danger is not the sins we hate but the one we love. What should alarm us far more than the sins that disturb us is the sins we excuse – and, even more so, the sins we are blind to.

I would detest doing it, but I could write entire books on this subject. My insights would be pathetic, however, relative to what the holy Lord could expose.

A sin that is so appallingly rife among most of today’s Christians that it often seems to be openly flouted, is one that the tithe-giving religious were guilty of in Jesus’ day – the love of money. Jesus attacked this strongly, as does the rest of the New Testament, with Paul, for example, calling it a root of all evil. It is far too big a subject to discuss here, but you will find a link at the end of this webpage. I seriously considered providing a list a key Scriptures, but even that would be a lot of reading for you. I suggest visiting the link and seeing all the Scriptures there after completing this webpage.

For just one other of a vast number of possible examples, consider lust. The Ten Commandments lists as a grievous sin going no further than coveting someone else’s marriage partner, and Jesus declared that to look lustfully at a woman it to have already committed adultery in one’s heart (Matthew 5:28). If the object of one’s look is married and a willing participant, it is a sin against his or her marriage partner. That is just the beginning of possible offenses, however. To derive sexual excitement from someone who does not want you to, is rape. Equally, to flout one’s sexuality by dressing in a way that gives sexual excitement to someone who does not want it, is also rape. For a child to be sexually aroused by the way one dresses, is child molestation. If both parties are mature, unmarried and willingly participants, it’s as grievous as a one-night stand. And each of these offenses is as vile in God’s holy eyes as any other sexual offense, such as prostitution or homosexual sin. As far as our guilt before God is concerned, the only difference between any of them is whether we have committed them. Once we are snared by a particular sin, our tendency to be excuse it and be hypocritical about it goes into overdrive.

God hates sin. It is one thing for him to have mercy on those desperate to break free from a sin; it is quite another to imagine he will have mercy on those happy to remain in their favorite sin. And it is going to yet another extreme to imagine he will have mercy on those so hypocritical as to have talked themselves into considering their own pet sin acceptable, while arrogantly thinking themselves more righteous than those committing certain other sins. As James 2:10-11 points out, by breaking any of God’s law, we render ourselves guilty of breaking God’s law, regardless of which one it is that we break. It goes on to say that those who show no mercy shall receive judgment without mercy (James 2:13).

Many of us are as smart as lawbreakers lobbying for a harsher penalty for breaking the law. Thinking ourselves better than someone else is yet another manifestation of the flesh that we must die to for us to have Christ’s life.

We mentioned how we could miss a profound spiritual experience because of a susceptibility to pride, but any fleshly weakness could equally hold us back. Would, for example, we be so sordid as to pervert a sacred experience into a little money spinner (book sales, paid appearance, etc.), or to grab a little fame, or to tout ourselves as a cut above average Christians?

For many of us, simply having a big mouth would be enough to disqualify us. Paul, for example, heard things no one was permitted to repeat (2 Corinthians 12:4), and so did John (Revelation 10:4). Would we have sufficient self-control for God to trust us with such revelation?

And carefully ponder the implications of this:

    Matthew 7:21-23 Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will tell me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, in your name cast out demons, and in your name do many mighty works?’ Then I will tell them, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you who work iniquity.’ (Emphasis mine.)

* * *

None of us can live long without being let down by someone we had trusted. Our flesh screams that God cannot be so utterly different as to be totally trustworthy.

The stunning truth is that there is no one not only as capable, but as remotely warm, safe, selfless, dependable and devoted to us as God. Alongside him, the most amazing human is a fickle, bungling idiot who frequently misunderstands us, will inevitably let us down, and cannot possibly be with us whenever needed, 24/7 for the rest of eternity.

Total surrender to this astonishing being is the most privileged, beautiful, liberating, empowering and fulfilling experience possible. It is being filled not only with divine love, wisdom, power, goodness and perfection, but with God himself – the most wonderful, fascinating and exciting person in the universe. It is being made whole, like nothing else could possibly achieve. We were literally made for union with the divine. Yielding completely to God is so utterly beyond comparison that it is frustrating to the extreme trying to describe it.

I had considered saying it is vaguely like someone with knotted muscles, so tense and suspicious that he is always on hyperalert, finally yielding to the exquisitely safe, gentle, healing expertise of a masseuse of impeccable integrity. I cannot imagine myself relaxing in such a situation, however.

I have a couple of other attempts to compare it with something we can imagine. Even they fail, however, since everything is trivial when compared with being yielded to our prefect and infinitely superior Lord. Nonetheless, here are my inadequate attempts.

    [*] It is like a little girl taking a paint brush and surrendering to a famous artist who tenderly envelopes her hand with his, and suddenly she is producing priceless masterpieces.

    [*] It is like yielding to an airplane, and enjoying the thrill of soaring heavenward in a matter that should be humanly impossible.

Right now, we are blind to the future, and even to most of what is happening around us. We crash through life, stumbling and groping like clumsy idiots when the lights go off in a room filled with priceless, irreplaceable breakables. Since, however, it our choice whether or not we stand still and call for help, we will be held accountable for all the damage we cause.

On Judgment Day, and beyond, when mystery’s fog evaporates and all is revealed, we will see with pristine clarity that choosing to nestle into the very heart of God’s will has always been the safest, coziest place in the universe.

Make no mistake about it, however: at times, without the exquisite benefits of understanding the implications and alternatives, God’s will can seem the most terrifying, confusing and painful option. Nevertheless, it always turns out to be the one thing you will endlessly celebrate having chosen to do. No matter how enormous the cost, it is always the smartest, most joyous and fulfilling thing we could ever have done.

Yes, in the short term, obeying God might be scary, dreary, even agonizing. Anyone truly understanding the nature of God’s will, however, delights in it as much as stumbling upon a life-giving oasis when dying of thirst in a desert. Obeying God might sometimes be confusing, taxing, even distressing. Nevertheless, nothing matches it. It is purpose in a meaningless universe; love in a loveless world; a never-to-repeated opportunity for glory. No matter how much it glitters, any alternative leaves us languishing on life’s scrapheap.

Pushing aside the grave eternal consequences, to fall from God’s will is to waste your life and condemn yourself to being a misplaced puzzle piece trying to fit where you do not belong. But far more is at stake. Life is filled with choices that have unknown eternal implications, soaring way beyond even life or death in importance. That makes snuggling into the perfection of God’s will not only the greatest conceivable source of peace, but the highest of privileges.

* * *

Total submission to God is far more basic to spiritual life than is commonly realized. The disciples called Jesus their Lord – their master (e.g. John 13:13 and Luke 5:5; 8:24, etc). Paul, Timothy, Peter and Jude each called themselves not merely Jesus’ servant, but his slave (Scriptures). They were servants in the sense of never having to be forced to obey, but slaves in the sense of being his and, obeying him unquestioningly, no matter how much it might clash with their preferences and comfort. They could delight in this because they understood the goodness and integrity of God. Anyone recognizing how infinitely superior the Almighty is to any human, and how he is always right, eagerly becomes his slave. On the other extreme, from the perspective of the loving kindness Christ lavishes on us, and that he honors us with the privilege of participating in work that is of critical importance to him, we are his highly trusted partners.

Writing to Christians, Paul said, you are not your own, you were bought with a price (Corinthians 6:19 – 1 Corinthians 7:23 is similar). Everyone back then was familiar with slavery, and knew he was saying that they are Jesus’ slaves – that he owns them.

Here are some Scriptures to take very seriously:

    Matthew 7:21-22 Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the kingdom of heaven—only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day, many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many powerful deeds in your name?’

    Matthew 6:24 No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. . . .

    John 15:10 If you obey my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. (Emphasis mine.)

* * *

What’s Going On?

We are well over half way through. The final page, however, contains vital information, including deepening our understanding of the flesh (our fallen nature) and exposing instances when the flesh is so deceptive that it seems holy. It will also explain why dying to self is not a one-off event but an on-going process, and why, this side of eternity, the holy Lord has chosen to totally eradicate the fleshly side of even the most devout Christians. Importantly, it includes a sober analysis of the cost of dying to self.

Next: FINAL PAGE


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16 Tragic Lottery Winner Stories

God & Money

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