If I were to have a stab at picking out one theme which seems to have pervaded the whole world over the last few years, it would be the morbid subject of death and dying.
As a country we seem to swing from widespread droughts to repeated floods. Indeed, the emphasis is either on everything dying from lack of water—grass, shrubs, trees, crops and with farmers having to go to drastic measures to reduce their livestock they can no longer feed— or on everything dying because of too much water—with the washing away of the topsoil and the ruining of crops.
In addition, on our television news we seem to be constantly bombarded by reminders of our mortality. From the latest fatal accident on the road—and the continuing road toll—to bush fires and the latest murder.
And if all that is not enough, then there is also the talk of the financial problems of the world, the fighting in the world, and the latest news on epidemics and pandemics.
As a consequence, it can seem that we are constantly stuck on the one theme: of bad news of death and destruction.
Which is probably why, today, we should ask ourselves, the question: ‘Where can we turn to for some good news? Where can we turn to for something positive and uplifting?’
Well, I’m going to suggest that we can find it in the bible. However, I’m also going to suggest that if we want good news, then we really can’t separate it from the bad news. Because our worldwide experience of bad news—of death and dying—is a major theme in the bible. In a sense, it reflects life— the life we experience. But there’s a difference between the death and dying we experience daily in our news bulletins, and the death and dying which is very much part of our Christian faith. And we need to pick it.
And I want to illustrate what I mean by referring to this passage from John’s Gospel.
B. DYING AND LIVING
1. The Importance of Dying – Jesus (John 12:24)
Because in John’s gospel we can read some words of Jesus about the necessity of death. And I repeat them: ‘Truly truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it will remain a single grain . . .’
So, according to this first part of Jesus’ saying, life is not possible without death. And that is a general truth about life which every farmer can attest. Crops can’t grow unless seeds are buried (or planted) first, and they cease to be the seeds that they were.
However, Jesus continued, ‘But if it dies, it will bear much fruit.’ In other words, there’s a reason why things die—and it doesn’t always have to be doom and gloom.
2. The Importance of Dying – Us (John 12:25)
Similarly, talking specifically about people—and that includes us—Jesus continued, ‘Anyone who loves his life will lose it . . .’
But again, it’s not all doom and gloom either, because he then continued to say ‘. . . and anyone who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.’
In other words, Jesus didn’t just speak about the necessity of his own death, so that people could have life, but that death and dying, particularly when it relates to dying to this life so that we can live for the next, should be part and parcel of everyone’s experience.
Just like the seed, then, we too need to die, be buried, drown—or whatever other expression we’d like to use—in order that God’s crop may grow in us. And holding on to this life—refusing to be planted—will only mean that we remain a useless, unproductive seed. And we all know what happens to them.
3. The Importance of Living (John 12:26)
But why all this empathises on death and dying? Well Jesus continued: ‘If anyone wishes to serve me, let him follow. For where I am, my servant will be there also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honour him.’
The outcome of dying is so that we can be servants of Christ. If we don’t die, we cannot follow Jesus. If we don’t die, we cannot be his servants. If we don’t die, we cannot have a personal relationship with him. And if we don’t die, our Father cannot honour us or give us the gift of eternal life.
So, as I said at the beginning, with all the doom and gloom of this world, with all its emphasis on death and dying, if we thought we could escape the theme of death and dying by looking to the bible to get good news—and good news only—then we would be quite wrong. Because one of the major themes in the bible is about death and dying.
However, I did say that the bible was different. And the difference is that whereas in this world we’re used to talking about living, and then dying, in that order—we live our lives, and then hopefully at a good age, we die—in the bible the concepts of living and dying are the other way around. Indeed, we need to die to this world, so that we may live. And that is the good news.
So, what does all this ‘dying so that we can live’ mean? What does it mean for us, in practical terms? Well, it appears to me, that in Christian terms there are three basic things we need to look at. And the order in which they come needs to be strictly adhered to.
1. Dying to Sin –Living for Christ (Justification) (Romans 6:8-10)
And the first relates to the primary issue of faith.
The apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans wrote: ‘So if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him. For we know that Christ has been raised from the dead, never to die again. Death no longer lords it over him. For the death that he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life that he lives, he lives to God.’
Now that might seem, at first hearing, like a bit of religious gobbledegook, and it probably is. But what Paul was trying to get at was the importance of having a Christian faith.
Those who put their faith and trust in Jesus—those who have decided to put their lives, their future salvation in the hands of God, who believe that what Jesus has done is sufficient for their salvation—these are people who have died, so that they might have life.
In practical terms, Paul saw this, as a one-off event. And some people can pinpoint a date and time to their conversion experience—an event that stands out as the time that they accepted God into their lives. However, for others, the point of their conversion is not that clear.
But regardless, what is important is the realisation that you have decided to put all your past behind you, with all your faults, loves and desires. And you have committed yourself totally to Jesus, for making you eligible for admission into heaven, and to seek a closer, and ongoing, walk with God.
Jesus’s death has ensured salvation, and his resurrection has ensured every believer’s resurrection to eternal life. As a consequence, anyone who dies to themselves, by putting away the old and embracing the salvation wrought by Jesus Christ, can now live as disciples of Christ—and be guaranteed a place in eternity.
2. Dying to Sins. Living for Christ (Sanctification) (Colossians 3:2)
But, having made that initial one-off commitment, is that it?
No! The second point, regarding the need to die so that we can live, relates to everyday life.
And as a consequence of having already accepted Jesus as our saviour, the apostle Paul wrote to the church at Colossae: ‘Focus your minds on the things above, not on the things that are on the earth. For you have died and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.’
Now the need to continue our new walk with God on a daily basis is a very important part of being a believer. To not do so, however, doesn’t make one unsaved (because we are saved through faith), but it does rather reflect on our gratitude, and the seriousness by which we take our faith.
Paul’s argument, therefore, is that a person who has become a Christian has already experienced a radical change of spiritual environment at their conversion. And this should them be reflected in their whole way of life from that day on. A Christian should have new aims in life, away from the usual human ambitions of this world. A Christian should start to see things from a heavenly perspective and should become dominated by the pattern of life seen in the example of Jesus himself. A Christian’s aims should be to grow in holiness, depth of prayer, and become more advanced in the use of their spiritual gifts. And, in the face of the constant battle with temptation, the Christian should resist reverting to past ways and for what many people might consider an ordinary life. The believer should not only try to resist such evil thoughts, but positively set his thoughts on the things of God.
3. Being Prepared to Die for Christ (Philippians 1:21)
And the third point, regarding the need to die so that we can live, is a bit of a paradox. Because it relates to the depth of our Christian commitment.
Words from the Apostle Paul, this time to the church at Philippi: ‘For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.’
Paul was in prison, and his future was looking very gloomy. Indeed, he didn’t know how long he had left to live. Yet as far as he was concerned, he was in a win-win situation. If he continued to live, he could continue to tell people about Jesus. However, if he was executed—if he was put to death for the sake of the gospel—then he would be with his beloved Jesus, his saviour.
In other words, Paul had counted up all that was most valuable to him, and he considered that being with Christ was more valuable than anything else in the world. As a consequence, he had nothing to lose— he could not help but to come out in front.
Having died spiritually, so that he could accept Jesus as his Lord and saviour, the kind of dying (or commitment) that Paul was describing, was the all-out, no holds barred, total devotion to God. But with the assurance, that no matter what, in the end, a believer will end up with their saviour.
When we are talking about dying, so that we can live, then, it is very important to consider the lengths we are prepared to go to for the sake of the gospel. Because putting our lives on the line for Jesus—being prepared to die for God—is something that should be part of every believer’s experience.
On the subject of death and dying, therefore, when we are talking about the gospel, we are talking about good news. The Christian faith is not about living, and then dying, but it is about dying, in order that we can live.
And if we do that, if we get that right, we too like Paul will be in a win-win situation—a situation in which we cannot lose. If we continue to live, then we will be free to do God’s work in the world. But, if we physically die, then we know we will be with our Lord and saviour.
And with all the doom and gloom of this world that has to be good news.
So, in our doom and gloom filled world, there is hope. There is something we can very much look forward to.
However, we need to take those three steps in order to have that reason for living—for the joy of hope abounding in our lives.
Those three steps again:
Firstly, we have to die to ourselves, and to our sins, so that we gain life in Jesus Christ. Secondly, as a consequence, we need to die daily, so that we can become more like him. And thirdly, we need to die to ourselves, so that we can have that level of commitment, so that whether we physically die or not we can rest in the knowledge that we are either working for Christ or being with him.
Posted: 3rd December 2021
© 2021, Brian A Curtis