Ego, Identity, and the Cross: Jesus’s Teachings on Dying to Self in Light of Modern Psychology


dying to self


Matthew 16:24 “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

I love God and I love psychology, so I do enjoy studying the connections between spirituality and the human mind, exploring how beliefs and emotions shape our psychological well-being and behavior.  Today, I’d love to discuss the ego, our identity, and Jesus’s teachings on dying to self.

Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

This verse reminds us that true discipleship requires us to surrender our own will and desires and instead follow the path set by Jesus. Essentially, it’s a call to prioritize God’s will above our own (our egoic desires) and to live a life of sacrificial love for others.

An interesting side note is that this concept of dying to self can also be found in other religious texts, such as the Bhagavad Gita in Hinduism and the teachings of Buddha in Buddhism. In both cases, the message is clear – by letting go of our own selfish desires and attachments, we can find God’s true peace and enlightenment.

What Does Dying To Self Mean?

Dying to self is a concept in Christianity that is often emphasized through the teachings of Jesus. Basically, it means letting go of our own worldly desires, ambitions, and selfishness in order to fully surrender to God’s will.

If we look at the life of Jesus, He exemplified this selfless attitude throughout His life and ministry, ultimately culminating in his sacrificial death on the cross. By dying to self, or our carnal nature, we open ourselves up to a deeper relationship with God and a greater capacity to love and serve others. It is not an easy path, but it is one that leads to more fulfillment and purpose. Embracing the concept of dying to self allows us to experience the transformative power of God’s love in our lives.

dying to self

The Connection Between Ego, Identity, And The Cross

In the context of a modern psychological perspective, the connection between ego, identity, and the cross is a fascinating concept to explore. The ego, which represents our sense of self and individuality, often seeks to protect and promote our worldly identity.

However, when we talk about dying to self, we are referring to the idea of surrendering our ego and letting go of our attachment to our worldly identity. This concept mirrors the teachings of the cross, where Jesus encourages us to deny ourselves (our ego identity) and take up our cross (not easy to carry a cross).

By doing so, we are able to transcend our ego-driven desires and cultivate a deeper understanding of our true, spiritual identity – one that is rooted in love, compassion, and connection with others. By embracing this perspective, we enjoy more personal growth, self-discovery, and a greater sense of purpose in life.

Understanding Ego and Identity

In psychology, the ego can be described as the sense of self or your perception of your own identity. It tends to be the “I” that we speak of most of the time. It plays a significant role in shaping who we are as individuals. Our ego is formed through various experiences, beliefs, and societal influences beginning in childhood. It is the part of us that seeks recognition, validation, and protection.

The ego identity is not the real you. It’s also called the false self, mortal self, or carnal nature.

While having a healthy ego is important for self-confidence and assertiveness as we navigate planet Earth as a human, a strong or inflated ego can have psychological consequences.

A strong or inflated ego often leads to a sense of superiority, entitlement, and arrogance. I’m sure you know people with big egos. They tend to prioritize their own needs and desires over others, leading to strained relationships and a lack of empathy. They may struggle with accepting criticism or admitting their mistakes, as their ego is heavily invested in maintaining a perfect image. This can hinder personal growth and prevent them from learning and developing important life skills.

On the other hand, a strong ego can also be a source of motivation and resilience. It can serve as a driving force for individuals to achieve their goals and overcome challenges. When balanced with humility and self-awareness, a strong ego can foster confidence and assertiveness in pursuing your passions and dreams.

In the concept of identity, the ego is just one component. Identity encompasses various aspects such as our values, beliefs, interests, and roles in society. It is not solely defined by the ego but also influenced by our relationships, cultural background, and personal experiences. Understanding and embracing our identity allows us to have a sense of purpose and belonging in the world.

Dying to self refers to the process of letting go of our egos and surrendering to something greater than ourselves. It involves shedding our attachment to our own desires and recognizing the interconnectedness of all beings, because in God, we are all one.

While it may sound daunting, dying to self can actually lead to a more fulfilled and meaningful life. By releasing our egos, or recognizing that we are not really the false construct of the ego, we become open to new experiences, perspectives, and connections with others. It allows us to truly understand ourselves and others on a deeper level, fostering compassion and empathy.

Jesus’s Teachings on Dying to Self

Examine key biblical passages where Jesus discusses the idea of “dying to self.”

Again, in Matthew 16:24, Jesus is calling us to set aside our own agenda and instead prioritize His teachings and example. He is inviting us to die to our own worldly or fleshly desires and instead embrace a life of selflessness and sacrifice. He is inviting us to live a more spiritual life.

Another important passage where Jesus talks about dying to self is found in John 12:24. Here, He says,

“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.”

This analogy beautifully illustrates the transformative power of dying to self. Just as a seed must be buried in the ground and die in order to grow into a fruitful plant, so too must we let go of our own self-centeredness and allow God to work in and through us. When we surrender our own desires and submit to God’s plan for our lives, we can experience true growth and bear much fruit in our relationships, ministries, and impact on the world.

Sure, dying to self may not be an easy concept to grasp or put into practice. It requires humility, trust, and a willingness to let go of our own desires. However, the rewards of living a life surrendered to God are immeasurable. As we follow Jesus’ example and embrace the idea of dying to self, we can experience a deeper connection with God, discover our true purpose, such as be light and love in the world, and make a lasting impact on those around us.

dying to self

Challenging The Ego-Driven Nature Of Humanity

Jesus encouraged his followers to let go of their selfish desires and put others before themselves. This goes against the natural inclination of the human ego, which always seeks to satisfy its own needs and desires first. I don’t know about you, but I have days when I just want to gratify my own wants and needs and not think about others. I want to be selfish and just binge watch Netflix or something. That’s my egoic nature, or worldly nature.

But by teaching the importance of selflessness and sacrificing one’s own desires for the greater good, Jesus challenges us to overcome our ego-driven nature.

In a world that often promotes self-centeredness and individualism, Jesus’s teachings provide a refreshing perspective. He calls us to love our neighbors as ourselves and to serve others with humility and compassion. This stands in stark contrast to the ego-driven mindset that constantly seeks personal gain and recognition. Jesus’s teachings remind us that true fulfillment and happiness come from focusing on the needs of others rather than solely on our own desires.

By challenging the ego-driven nature of humanity, Jesus’s teachings offer a path towards genuine transformation and spiritual growth. Dying to self requires us to let go of our own ego-driven desires and instead seek to align ourselves with God’s will. This process can be challenging and uncomfortable, as it often means letting go of our own agenda and surrendering control. (And surrendering control for me is not that easy.) However, by embracing this mindset, we can experience a profound sense of freedom and liberation from the limitations of our ego.

Self-Denial And Its Link To Spiritual Growth

Dying to self may not be an easy concept to grasp, but it holds a powerful transformative message that can lead to immense spiritual growth. I don’t know about you, but I have a huge desire to become more spiritual and less ego-driven. I want to become more united with God and less united with my selfish, ego identity.

Self-denial is all about letting go of our own desires, ego, and selfishness in order to align ourselves with a higher purpose. It may seem counterintuitive at first, but when we learn to die to ourselves, we open up space for something greater to enter our lives, such as the Holy Spirit. By surrendering our need for control and worldly attachments, we create room for spiritual growth and a deeper connection with the divine. It is through self-denial or ego identity that we find true freedom, peace, and fulfillment in our journey towards spiritual enlightenment.

Psychological Theories Align With Jesus’s Teachings About Transcending The Ego

When we study Jesus’s concept of “dying to self,” we find a parallel with psychological theories on transcending the ego. Jesus encouraged his followers to let go of their own selfish desires and surrender to a higher purpose. Similarly, psychological theories such as Maslow’s self-actualization and Carl Jung’s process of individuation, including the use of shadow work, call for individuals to transcend their ego-centered existence and connect with a greater sense of meaning and purpose.

By aligning Jesus’s teachings with psychological theories, we can see that both paths lead to a deeper understanding of ourselves and a more fulfilling life. Let us embrace the challenge of dying to self and embark on a journey towards self-transcendence.

The Cross as a Symbol of Transformation

The cross holds immense symbolic significance in Christianity, representing the ultimate sacrifice and love of Jesus Christ. It serves as a powerful reminder of His crucifixion, death, and resurrection. The cross is a symbol of hope, redemption, and forgiveness for believers around the world. It also represents the concept of “dying to self,” which is an essential aspect of the Christian faith.

Again, dying to self means surrendering our own desires, ego, and worldly attachments in order to fully devote ourselves to God’s will. The cross serves as a daily reminder for Christians to let go of their own selfish ambitions and align their lives with the teachings of Christ. It is a symbol of transformation and spiritual rebirth, urging believers to live a life of selflessness and love for others. Just as Jesus willingly gave up his life on the cross for the greater good, we too must be willing to let go of our ego’s need for control and embrace a new way of being.


The concept of “dying to self” emphasizes the need to let go of old beliefs and patterns in order to make room for personal growth. By shedding these layers of the false self, we can open up to new possibilities and embrace a more authentic version of ourselves. This process of self-transcendence and transformation mirrors psychological concepts, as it involves a deep exploration of the subconscious mind and an intentional effort to break free from societal expectations. It is through this journey that we can truly discover our true potential and find fulfillment in their lives.

Benefits of Dying To Self

Letting go of the ego and embracing the concept of “dying to self” can bring about remarkable transformations in our lives. When we release our need to always be right or in control, we create space for improved relationships. Who doesn’t want better relationships, right?

By setting aside our ego, we become more open to understanding others’ perspectives and are able to truly listen and empathize. This fosters deeper connections and a sense of harmony in our interactions with loved ones, colleagues, and even strangers.

Not only does letting go of the ego enhance our relationships, but it also reduces stress. When we constantly seek validation and put our ego above all else, we subject ourselves to unnecessary pressure and anxiety. However, by relinquishing the need to prove ourselves and accepting that we are enough just as we are, we free ourselves from the burden of constant comparison and judgment. And ohhhh, this feels so good, as it leads to a sense of inner peace and tranquility, no longer feeling the need to constantly strive for external validation.

Challenges and Resistance

Shedding layers of the ego can be a challenging task, as it requires us to confront and overcome various psychological barriers and resistance to change. It can take many years or a lifetime. One common barrier is the fear of losing our identity or sense of self. Our ego often provides us with a false sense of security and control, making it difficult to detach ourselves from it.

When my kids were young, my identity was mostly associated with being a mother, so when the kids left, my world was rattled. I had lost that part of my identity and I didn’t handle it very well. I struggled to find my sense of purpose outside of motherhood, and the transition left me feeling lost. It was a challenging yet transformative period that ultimately pushed me to rediscover and redefine who I am as an individual.

Fear of Vulnerability

Another barrier to letting go of our ego is the fear of vulnerability. Our ego often shields us from feeling exposed or judged by others. However, Jesus teaches us that true strength comes from vulnerability and humility. By acknowledging our weaknesses and seeking help from others, we can grow and transform.

Psychological principles also provide valuable insights on how to navigate these challenges. One such principle is self-awareness. By becoming aware of our ego’s patterns and tendencies, we can begin to detach ourselves from its grip. This is why I love shadow work so much, because it helps us become more self-aware of both the false self and the true, spiritual self.

Mindfulness practices can also help us observe our thoughts and emotions without judgment, allowing us to let go of ego-driven reactions.

Integration of Wisdom: Practical Steps

To integrate the wisdom of dying to self into daily life, we can start by cultivating selflessness. This can be done by consciously seeking opportunities to serve others, whether it’s through acts of kindness, volunteering, or simply being there for someone in need. By prioritizing the needs of others, we begin to shift our focus away from ourselves and develop a greater sense of empathy and compassion.

In addition to selflessness, fostering humility is another crucial aspect of integrating the wisdom of dying to self. Humility allows us to acknowledge that we are not the center of the universe and that we are all interconnected. It helps us let go of our need for recognition and praise, and instead focus on being humble and grateful for what we have. Practicing gratitude daily and recognizing our own limitations can help us cultivate humility and embrace the wisdom of dying to self.

Lastly, personal growth is an essential part of integrating the wisdom of dying to self into daily life. This involves a commitment to continuous learning and self-improvement. Engaging in activities that challenge us, seeking feedback from others, and being open to new experiences are all actionable strategies for fostering personal growth. By constantly striving to become better versions of ourselves, we not only enhance our own lives but also contribute positively to the world around us.


The teachings of Jesus have always been a source of inspiration and guidance for millions of people around the world. The teachings of psychology offer the same. At first glance, the concept of dying to self may seem like a daunting and even morbid concept. However, when we delve deeper into its meaning, we realize that it is actually a call to let go of our ego-driven desires and attachments. It’s a call to get into the psyche, in particular the shadow side of the psyche, to heal and surrender our selfish desires and embrace a selfless mindset.

Exploring the concept of dying to self can be a transformative journey. It requires us to reflect on our own thoughts, behaviors, and motivations. It encourages us to let go of negative patterns and beliefs that no longer serve us. By doing so, we create space for new perspectives and opportunities to emerge.

So, I encourage you to explore the concept of dying to self as a means to enhance your psychological well-being and spiritual journey. Dive into the teachings of Jesus and discover how they can intersect with modern psychology to offer valuable insights for personal growth and self-discovery. Embrace the idea of letting go of your ego-driven desires and attachments, and watch as your life transforms in ways you never thought possible.

Sending big love your way,


dominica applegate





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