What is meant by 'dying to self'? How are Christians supposed to die to self?

The exact phrase "dying to self" is not found in the Bible, but there are many verses which refer to self-denial and the death of the flesh. The Apostle Paul said this of himself: "I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me" (Galatians 2:20). And of believers, he said "For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory" (Colossians 3:3-5).

At the moment of salvation, the old person who we once were dies, and we become a "new creation" (2 Corinthians 5:17). We are also at that point indwelt by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13; Romans 8:9; Ephesians 1:13-14), and we are "in Christ." Dying to self is the continual denial of the flesh that occurs over a believer's lifetime, and the continual agreement with the Holy Spirit. Only a "new creation" will choose daily to die to self, to selfish desires and selfish will. The old man cannot obey God, nor does he want to (Ephesians 4:17-32; Romans 7). Every person is born sinful, because we all belong to the line of Adam and we all carry the curse (Romans 5:12-14). But when we believe in Jesus, that sinful self is crucified with Christ, so that we are set free from the curse (Romans 6:6-7). After the death of the old self, we exist in a state of both life and death: our old, sinful self dies, and the life we continue to live is described as "hidden with Christ in God" (Colossians 3:2-5), because our true life is now eternal life, and "the life [we] now live in the body" is lived for the sake of Christ and the gospel, rather than for our own sake (Galatians 2:20 NIV).

Dying to self does not mean we become emotionless, or attempt to serve the church in ways that do not suit our natural God-given talent or temperament. Neither does it mean we redouble our efforts to obey the law, or punish ourselves in an effort to become more spiritual. Paul reminds the Colossians of this, saying "If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— 'Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch' (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh" (Colossians 2:20-23). Dying to self is not about what we are not allowed to do, it is about what we are now freed to do in Christ. Before faith in Christ, every person is a slave to their self-effort towards salvation. After faith in Christ, we are safe and all that self-effort dies so that we can live a productive life, free from fear, doing beautiful things for God that will manifest for us eventually in His eternal kingdom and result in the salvation of others. This is what Paul means by "your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory" (Colossians 3:2-5). It means that all our efforts on this earth will not be futile, but instead will have heavenly, eternal and lasting effect (1 Corinthians 3:10-13).

Jesus said "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me" (Matthew 16:24; Luke 9:23). Several times, He said the following: "For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it" (Mark 8:35). We must deny our impulse to appease God in our own strength, and instead trust the cross and follow Christ. He must lead, and we must daily recognize His leadership and our dependence. We must stop attempting to save ourselves and others in our own strength, and instead trust that His way is sufficient. We must be willing to give up our fleshly desires and instead follow Christ, trusting Him with our earthly lives and our eternal security.

Related Truth:

What does it mean to take up your cross and follow Jesus?

What is it to abide in Christ? What does it mean to abide in Christ?

How can I come to really know God?

How important is spiritual growth in Christian life?

Christian discipleship - What is it?

Return to:
Truth about the Christian Life

Subscribe to the CompellingTruth.org Newsletter:

Preferred Bible Version:

CompellingTruth.org is part of Got Questions Ministries

For answers to your Bible questions, please visit