Unless the Lord builds the house,
those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
the watchman stays awake in vain.
Often the Christian will exhort the other and say, “Die to yourself! Die to your passions. Die to the world and live with Christ.” It is important to note that this exhortation and encouragement intends to move the person to conversion, to move him or her closer to He who redeems and saves. In this exhortation, the exhorter implies that God must make the first move; that, if any fruit is to be borne, God must “build the house,” God must live within us. This is what is meant by this death of self.
However, we often exhort one another to die to ourselves. What good can my sacrifice of myself give to myself? Doesn’t that seem repetitive? It seems circular and as though it is lacking direction. Our worship and sacrifice should be directed to God, not ourselves (that’s called idolatry). St. Paul himself appealed to the Romans in writing, “I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Rom 12:1-2). This death of self is not a death to myself. Yes, you are totally involved because it’s your death, but you cannot save yourself. What you can do is turn to God in worship, private and communal, prayer time and liturgy time.
This death of self is not given to the one who dies. It is given to Christ. For us who have died, our life is hid with Christ in God (Col 3:3). See then that the person who experiences a death of self will “leave all things through affection and will … and let all things be as though not” (Spiritual Canticle, 1.6). This spiritual sacrifice or offering of the contrite heart (Ps 51) is for the Lord Jesus, not for you or me.
Use another word to talk about this death of self. Baptism comes from a Greek word that means immersion. Those who are baptized into Christ are immersed into his death and into his life. How can one contribute to this immersion, to this baptism? By giving to Jesus your own life, your own death. Sure, you may not have died in your baptism. However, you did. How else could you have risen to new life? The experience of this death must be ordered and given to Jesus, so that he may unite our sufferings to his. This is why we have live in Christ. Yes, we live for him and even because of him. To say we die to the Lord, though, means we also live in him.
Give the death of your inordinate passions to God, not yourself. You’ll probably be tempted to ‘resurrect’ them if you keep them to yourself. Any sacrifice, mortification, pruning, discipline, or prayer should be offered to God, first for his own glory and second for our salvation.
None of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and the living.