Sometimes doing what God wants us to do can be excruciatingly painful! It's painful because dying to self--denying ourselves what we want when it's contrary to the Spirit of God--is just hard. Yet our other option, living "self-will run riot", is completely unacceptable. Daily, hourly, our flesh conflicts and wars with the Holy Spirit. Should we avoid the pain of dying to ourselves and give in to our desires which are contrary to the will of God or should we die a painful death to our sinful natures and live for Christ?
We are born selfish creatures that are naturally inclined to satisfy the desires of our flesh. Our sinful nature focuses on pleasure, happiness and seeking self-gratification. No wonder self-denial is painful. It goes against our very core!
Sin is pleasurable. A long list of some enjoyable fleshly pleasures includes "sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like" (Galatians 5:19-21) Yet even in the midst of pursuing illicit pleasures such as these, we experience darkness and the misery of being outside God's will.
A dear friend vividly demonstrates dying to self with a poignant gesture--she closes her fist around an invisible knife and brings it to her chest, illustrating the act of being convicted by the Word of God. "For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart," Hebrews .
Paul explains the relationship of self-gratification to death, and self-denial to life: "For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God." (Romans 8:13-14)
We are at war within ourselves. We are in constant conflict between our sinful nature's desire to gratify the desires of the flesh, and our born-again spirit's desire to walk with the Spirit of God. None conveys our struggle better than the Apostle Paul does when he cried out, "I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it," Romans -20. Living in and by His power, Christ wins the war in our souls. He rescues us from this body of death and gives us spiritual life.
Belonging to Christ, we have crucified the sinful nature and are called to live in step with the Spirit. If we are being controlled by our sinful nature, we cannot please God. (Romans 8:9). Not only can we not please God, but also living in conscious, willful sin brings spiritual bondage and death. The good news is that when we surrender our will to the Holy Spirit, we put the death our sinful nature and gain spiritual life.
Walking in obedience to God brings great rewards which include an unhindered relationship and communion with our Father. In right relationship with Him, the fruits of the Spirit can then be produced in us. "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit." (Galatians 5:22-25)
Even though dying to our will when it conflicts with God's will is painful, when we surrender to God, we win. When we give in to our flesh, we are slaves--in bondage to sin and death. By dying, we gain life. In the end, the life of freedom in the Spirit is so very much more satisfying than giving in to the desires of our sinful natures!