Die to Yourself: Biblical Truth vs. False Teaching

The concept of “dying to yourself” is a profound and central theme in Christian discipleship. It involves self-denial, humility, and a willingness to put aside personal desires for the sake of following Christ.

However, this concept has been misinterpreted and misused by some, leading to harmful practices. A notable example is found in the teachings of Robert Shinn, as depicted in the Netflix documentary “Dancing for the Devil: The 7M TikTok Cult.”

The moment I watched this documentary, I felt like I needed to write a blog post to clarify the true biblical meaning of “dying to yourself” by examining key scripture passages and contrasting them with Shinn’s false teachings.

False Notions of “Dying to Yourself”

In “Dancing for the Devil,” former members of Robert Shinn’s Shekinah Church and 7M Films describe how Shinn manipulated the concept of “dying to yourself” to exert control over his followers. Shinn’s interpretation emphasized extreme self-sacrifice and isolation from loved ones.

In episode 1 “Die to Yourself”, you can hear pastor Robert Shinn in a recorded audio saying, “You’re not Jesus’ disciples until you’ve died to your loved ones.”

He taught members that they had to die to their family to “save them”.

He goes on to say, “anybody and anyone that reminds you of yourself, you gotta die to it.”

Followers were encouraged to suppress their desires, cut ties with family, and conform strictly to the group’s rules and appearance standards. This distorted teaching not only led to psychological and emotional harm but also diverted from the true message of the gospel.

Shinn’s version of “dying to yourself” became a tool for manipulation, fostering an environment where personal autonomy was surrendered to the leader’s control. This misuse of scripture highlights the dangers of taking Biblical concepts out of context and applying them in ways that serve human agendas rather than divine truth.

Biblical Meaning of “Dying to Yourself”

The Bible’s teaching on “dying to yourself” is deeply rooted in the call to follow Christ wholeheartedly. It involves a genuine transformation where one’s old self, characterized by sin and selfish desires, is replaced by a new life in Christ.

This transformation is not about extreme self-denial or isolation but about living a life that reflects Christ’s love, humility, and obedience.

Luke 9:23

“Then he said to them all: ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.’”

This verse captures the essence of discipleship. Jesus calls His followers to deny themselves, which means putting God’s will above personal desires.

Taking up our cross daily signifies a continuous commitment to live according to Christ’s teachings, even when it involves sacrifice. This form of self-denial is about prioritizing spiritual growth and aligning one’s life with God’s purposes.

Study Bible Commentary on Luke 9:23

“Lordship of Christ – to follow Christ faithfully, the Christian disciple must give up self-interest and die to the sin of disobedience (Romans 6:17). Failure to follow Christ in daily obedience reveals that Christ is not Lord. Such failure is sin.” – Source: CSB Disciple’s Study Bible

Galatians 2:20

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

This is my favorite scripture. It’s one I’ve memorized because of the power in the verse. When we are crucified with Christ and place our faith in Him, we live in Him. In the Kingdom. It doesn’t mean we are fully perfect (yet) but it means we are being perfected in sanctification until we will one day be glorified in Him.

In this verse, Paul describes the profound change that occurs when one becomes a believer. Being “crucified with Christ” means that the old self, dominated by sin, has been put to death. Now, Christ lives within the believer, guiding their actions and decisions.

Living by faith in Christ involves trusting in His love and sacrifice, which empowers believers to live in a way that honors Him.

“If I am to love like Jesus loved, my ravenous craving for a trouble-free life must die. My need for an uninterrupted schedule must die. My demand that frustrations and interferences get out of my way must die. We simply cannot love the way Jesus loved until we die to self.”

John Piper

Discipleship and Sanctification

Luke 14:33

“In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.”

This verse underscores the cost of discipleship. Jesus is not advocating for literal poverty but rather for a willingness to prioritize Him above all else. True discipleship involves a readiness to relinquish anything that hinders one’s relationship with Christ.

This could be material possessions, personal ambitions, or relationships that lead one away from God’s will. It’s about recognizing the supreme value of following Jesus.

Galatians 5:24-25

“Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.”

Paul speaks about the ongoing process of sanctification for believers. Crucifying the flesh means actively resisting sinful desires and habits. Living by the Spirit involves being attentive to the Holy Spirit’s guidance, allowing Him to shape one’s thoughts, actions, and character. This daily surrender to the Spirit’s leading results in a life that reflects Christ’s virtues and values.

“I have now concentrated all my prayers into one… that I may die to self, and live wholly to Him.”

Charles Spurgeon

Additional Relevant Verses

In addition to the previously discussed verses, there are several other scriptures that provide deeper insight into the biblical concept of “dying to yourself.”

Romans 12:1-2

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

Paul calls believers to present themselves as living sacrifices, which means dedicating every aspect of their lives to God’s service. This involves a continual process of transformation through the renewal of the mind, aligning one’s thoughts and actions with God’s will.

Rather than conforming to worldly values, believers are to seek God’s purpose in all things, demonstrating a true and proper form of worship.

Philippians 3:7-8

“But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ.”

Paul reflects on his past achievements and considers them worthless compared to the value of knowing Christ. This verse illustrates the principle of prioritizing Christ above all worldly gains and achievements. The pursuit of knowing Christ and being found in Him surpasses any earthly success, emphasizing that true fulfillment is found in a relationship with Jesus.

Practical Application for Believers

Understanding the biblical meaning of “dying to yourself” is crucial, but applying this principle in daily life is where true transformation occurs. Here are some practical ways we can live out this teaching:

Prioritizing Spiritual Growth

  • Daily Devotion and Prayer: Setting aside time each day for reading the Bible and prayer helps believers stay connected to God and seek His guidance.
  • Fellowship with Other Believers: Engaging in a community of faith provides encouragement, accountability, and opportunities to grow together in Christ.

Balancing Self-Denial with Healthy Relationships

  • Healthy Boundaries: While self-denial involves putting others’ needs first, it is also important to maintain healthy boundaries to prevent burnout and maintain well-being.
  • Serving Others: Look for ways to serve family, friends, and community members, reflecting Christ’s love through acts of kindness and service.

Embracing the Guidance of the Holy Spirit

  • Listening to the Spirit: Being attentive to the promptings of the Holy Spirit and allowing Him to guide decisions and actions.
  • Resisting Sinful Desires: Actively working to overcome sinful habits and attitudes, relying on the Holy Spirit’s power to lead a life that honors God.

Living Out the Transformational Change

  • Witnessing to Others: Sharing the gospel and one’s personal testimony with others, demonstrating the change that Christ has made in one’s life.
  • Pursuing Holiness: Striving to live a life that reflects God’s holiness, avoiding behaviors and attitudes that are contrary to His will.

Final Thoughts

The concept of “dying to yourself” is a vital aspect of Christian discipleship, calling believers to live a life of self-denial, humility, and obedience to Christ. While false teachings, such as those propagated by Robert Shinn, distort this biblical principle, the true meaning is found in scripture.

By understanding and applying verses like Luke 9:23, Galatians 2:20, and others, believers can experience the transformative power of living for Christ. This journey involves daily commitment, spiritual growth, and a reliance on the Holy Spirit, ultimately leading to a life that glorifies God and reflects His love to the world.