Am I Really Supposed To Die to Myself?

by Dr. Alison Cook September 5, 2022
“He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God …” John 1:11-12 (NIV)

For years, there has been a silent message most of us have been taught. The message is that in order to be a woman of faith, you must die to yourself.

This message has been passed down in various forms, such as:

  • You should always be nice.
  • You should only think of others.
  • It’s always wrong to focus on yourself.

It’s often portrayed as biblical since Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves” (Luke 9:23, NIV). But these words have been misconstrued to encourage millions of women to:

  • Destroy their health.
  • Stay in abusive relationships.
  • Bury their God-given talents.
  • Sit by while friends walk all over them.

You may not know that you’ve internalized this toxic interpretation of Jesus’ words. You just know that you’re exhausted, hurting and overwhelmed.

I’ve been there. As a young woman, I wanted to serve others, and I thought my job was to die to myself by saying “yes” to everyone around me. This worked for a while … until I completely burnt out. And I’ve observed a similar pattern in the lives of thousands of women I’ve counseled.

This kind of self-rejection is not what Jesus meant.

When talking to His disciples, Jesus used a metaphor to describe the process of dying to yourself:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24, ESV).

Consider this: The grain of wheat represents your old ways of relating — the pleasing or performing for others, the ways you’ve learned to hide. Those ways worked for a time, but they no longer serve you or anyone. Dying to yourself means letting go of what’s not working so that you can become even more fruitful. 

We have to change. We have to die to old ways. And it’s hard! It might even feel like a loss initially. After all, these ways served us in the past. But to become a truer version of ourselves, we have to release them. It’s the only way to grow.

This idea of fruitfulness through faith is echoed in other Bible passages. Here’s more from the Apostle John:

“He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God …” (John 1:11-12).

What does it mean to become a child of God? It means, among other things, to continually “put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life” (Ephesians 4:22, ESV). This doesn’t happen just once in our lives, but we are to practice this every day.

I love how Eugene Peterson’s The Message paraphrases John 1:11-12:

“But whoever did want him, who believed he was who he claimed and would do what he said, He made to be their true selves, their child-of-God selves.”

In our culture today, being true to ourselves often means self-love without Christ and without transformation. But according to Scripture, our “true self” reflects the image of God, and He empowers the best of who we are to live out the virtues of Christ.

When you follow Jesus, you become more of your true self.

We know from Jesus’ words that the process can feel like death, like you’re losing all that you’ve known. Letting go of old ways can be painful. But here’s the promise: You are dying to old ways in order to become the brave, light-bearing woman God made.

This process isn’t a rigid form of self-denial. Instead, what if dying to yourself means dying to these destructive tendencies?

  • Pleasing someone as a way to get love.
  • Feeling shame and self-hatred.
  • Burying painful emotions, like sadness, loneliness or anger.
  • Perfecting yourself to earn approval.
  • Playing small so others won’t be threatened by you.
  • Believing that you don’t matter and that your life does not have value.

What if dying to yourself means dying to the lie that God does not want more for you?

What if dying to yourself means coming alive to what brings out the best of you?

This is what I believe it means to grow in emotional and spiritual health. It means dying to toxic patterns of relating to yourself and others. And it means saying “yes” to the Good Shepherd as He leads you on this journey of becoming your truest self.

Lord, help me notice old ways of relating to others that don’t reflect the best of me. Help me become more of my true self, the woman You want me to be. In Jesus' Name, Amen.


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Psalm 139:14, “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” (NIV)

Read Psalm 139:1-16.

Have you struggled with “die to yourself” messages? How might God be inviting you to see yourself as He does?

© 2022 by Dr. Alison Cook. All rights reserved.

Proverbs 31 Ministries thanks Thomas Nelson Publishers and Dr. Alison Cook for their sponsorship of today’s devotion.

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