What It Takes to Die to Self

by Ephrem Smith

Dying to the things of this world that contaminate our hearts begins with realizing that we don’t have it in our own power to love the way God desires us to love. We must live daily in the reality of God’s steadfast love for us. God showers us daily with an amazing love and grace that we don’t deserve. It is out of the overflow of God’s love upon us that we are empowered to love other people. When we experience God’s reconciliation in our hearts, we die to the ways of the world and begin to live into a ministry of reconciling relationships that characterizes the Kingdom of God.

At the intersection of my thinking and my feelings are the decisions that I make. What do I have to die to in order for my daily decisions to be more and more in line with the mission of God in the world? To go to this level of Christian formation will require reflecting back on the behavior and decisions of the previous day, week, or month—a self-audit of how I have lived my life.

For many, this is difficult. This type of reflection without a solid foundation in God’s love can bring about considerable guilt and shame. People all too easily beat themselves up for ways in which they have behaved outside of God’s will and truth for their lives.

God’s right-side-up Kingdom isn’t powered by guilt and shame. It’s God’s kindness, after all, that leads to repentance (Romans 2:4). Right-side-up living is steeped in God’s grace.

Having grace as our foundation allows us to see our self-audits as an opportunity to seek God for continued change and transformation.We move forward in living as mature Christians by learning and committing ourselves to allow God to work in and through us. I have found that intentionally putting time aside to reflect with God on the decisions I have made over the past month or year is helpful. Prayer walks have been very helpful for me in this area. As I’m walking I reflect on decisions that I wish I could do over. I think about things I said that I wish I could take back. As I think on these things, I thank God for his grace and mercy. I realize how God was with me even when I was making decisions out of anxiety, anger, or hurt. Having done this over time, I am now at a place where I sense God’s love, forgiveness, and power. Because I sense this on the inside of myself, I really believe that this is the Holy Spirit working on me. God is doing soul surgery through the Holy Spirit, killing guilt and shame and reviving me with love.

Some people are overtaken by guilt and shame when they reflect on bad decisions they’ve made. This causes them to retreat into isolation instead of seeking moments of intimacy with God in our vulnerability. In isolation we can find ourselves throwing a pity party for ourselves or angrily justifying even more of our bad decisions. When we blame others in order to justify ourselves and our actions, we are in essence committing idolatry—sacrificing someone else for our own ends. Aligning our decision making with God comes about through intentional intimacy with God, not through isolation and idolatry.

The more we allow God’s love to kill those parts of our decision making process that are not about him, the more consistently our decision making aligns with God’s mission. But the self-audit isn’t just negative. Through this process, we also are given the opportunity to see how we arrived at good decisions. On my prayer walks I don’t just reflect on bad decisions I’ve made. I use the time to thank God for those decisions I made that allowed me to participate in his mission. This is a practical way of experiencing my own decreasing, so that God might increase in my life (John 3:30).

You’ve been reading from Killing Us Softly by Efrem Smith (Navpress). Efrem is president of World Impact.