What Does Dying to Yourself in Marriage Really Mean?
- Jennifer Slattery JenniferSlatteryLivesOutLoud.com
- 2017 4 May
We all long for intimacy. To find and stay connected with that one person who knows us fully and loves us deeply. But our natural tendency is toward selfishness and pride, traits that weaken relational bonds and lead to distrust and isolation. Dying to ourselves, however, enables forgiveness, helps us demonstrate the fruits of the Spirit, and leads to a strong and thriving marriage.
Sixteen years ago, self-love nearly shattered my marriage and drove me and my husband to a divorce lawyer’s office. Privately, we both cried out to God, asking for His help.
He answered, and He showed us, if we wanted to save our marriage, we’d need to die to ourselves, relinquishing our pride and selfishness so that He could live unhindered through us.
Consider Jesus’ words, spoken shortly before His death, in Luke 9:23: “Whoever wants to be My disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow Me” (NIV).
When most of us think of the cross, we think of God’s incredible love, mercy, and grace. Perhaps we consider God’s gift of salvation and lives transformed. And while the cross does present a vivid picture of all those things, the disciples, to whom Jesus was speaking, probably envisioned something more gruesome. The cross they knew was an instrument of torture upon which only the most depraved criminals were executed.
But Jesus flipped this when “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21 NIV). In other words, the cross represents what wasn’t deserved. Jesus, who was blameless, endured the punishment we deserved, to give us the grace we didn’t.
Now, as His followers, He calls us to emulate Him and lay aside what we think we might deserve in order to offer love, mercy, and grace to our spouse.
My pride tells me to focus on myself—my wants, feelings, and desires. Left unchecked, it isn’t long before I begin to feel entitled, deprived, and embittered. When I remember, however, that I deserved death but instead was given the gift of life, my sense of entitlement dies, giving rise to love generously.
Dying to oneself frees us to forgive.
According to Mark Ashton, Senior Pastor of Christ Community Church, Dying to oneself enables the believer to forgive freely. “If you are already ‘dead,’ then there is nothing to lose, nothing to trample on, nothing to protect,” he says. “You can let go of your ego and set the prisoner free. The irony is that when you do, you find that the prisoner of unforgiveness was you all along.”
It is one’s pride that leads them to hold on to an offense and to work it until bitterness takes root. But children of God are to be known by their love. When we die to ourselves, we crucify our pride and open our hearts to the healing, reconciling, and restoring love of God.
Dying to oneself fosters the fruits of the spirit.
In Galatians chapter 5, Paul provides two contrasting images, one is the man consumed by self and the other is the one yielded to the Holy Spirit. Self-love, or feeding the flesh, Paul says, leads to all sorts of relationship-destroying behaviors like strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambitions, envy and “anything similar.” (Galatians 5:19-21.) Divorce courts throughout America are filled with individuals who live this way.
Those yielded to the Holy Spirit, however, live lives characterized by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, and self-control, and these behaviors have the opposite effect on marriage. Where envy separates, love joins. Where strife demoralizes, joy inspires. Where outbursts of anger wound, patience and kindness heal.
In marriage, death to self leads to life, the kind God intended when He said, in Genesis 2:24, that the two would become one.
According to Kimi Miller, Associate Pastor of Lifegate Women of Lifegate Church in Omaha, Nebraska, when we die to ourselves, it’s easier to shift our focus from “me” to “we.” “I think too many times we hear that marriage is 50/50,” Kimi says. “I read a book once about the 100/0 principle. The idea behind this principle is that we love others with 100% of ourselves—never expecting anything in return.”
This is how Jesus loves us. He gave of Himself completely, to the point of death, in order that we might live.
“When I love 100 percent with 0 percent expectation, I’m never let down,” Kimi says. “I’m free to love, because I choose to, not because I feel like it’s my duty or obligation.”
Apart from Christ, we are incapable of consistently offering this kind of generous, sacrificial love. But when we die to ourselves, laying our will aside, and yield to God’s Spirit, His love begins to flow through us.
For example, when Kimi feels frustrated or angry with her spouse, she turns to God in prayer. “I’ve often had to say, ‘Lord, I need you to love him through me right now, because I’m not even sure I like him!’” During these times, contemplating God’s great love for herself helps. “I remember how difficult a person I can be, but God still loves me. And He forgives me. How can I not do the same for the man I vowed to spend my life with?”
Dying to oneself fosters marital intimacy.
According to Pastor Mark, “When you are dead, humility and submission come much easier. There is no will to power. There is no claiming of rights. There is no need to control.” He says this enables us to demonstrate the submission commanded in Ephesians chapter five. As we die to ourselves, Mark says, “[Our] agenda becomes lifting the other person up, focusing on their needs, and showing them that they are loved. When [we] behave that way, intimacy skyrockets.”
Self-love is the root of pride and bitterness, and it’s the antonym to marital intimacy. But when we die to ourselves and yield to the Holy Spirit, God’s unifying, healing, and restoring love flows unhindered through us, leading to a strong and thriving marriage.
Editor, Novelist, and speaker Jennifer Slattery has a passion for helping women discover, embrace, and live out who they are in Christ. As the founder of Wholly Loved Ministries, (http://whollyloved.com) she and her team put on events at hosting churches designed to help women rest in their true worth and live with maximum impact. She has five novels out with New Hope Publishers and is the managing and acquisitions editor of Guiding Light Women’s Fiction, an imprint with Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas. When not writing, reading, or editing, Jennifer loves going on mall dates with her adult daughter and coffee dates with her hilariously fun husband. Visit with Jennifer online at JenniferSlatteryLivesOutLoud.com and connect with her on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/JenSlatte.
Photo credit: ©Thinkstock/Yasin Emir Akbas