A couple of days ago I said that death is the key to life. To growth. To personal transformation. You might want to read that post before this one. But I ended my last entry with a question: What does this death entail?

1. First, it’s not a once for all, carte blanche kind of deal. It’s a process. Jesus says we’re supposed to take up our cross daily and follow him, true (Matthew 16:24-26)—but while all crosses end up at Golgotha, they don’t get there immediately. Even then, crucifixion isn’t lethal injection or death by firing squad. Christ suffered for hours before succumbing to death. Crucifixion is a process, not an end in itself. Our sins may not die overnight—or at least, getting to the point of death may take a long time. This isn’t an excuse for lack of progress, just a statement of the kind of commitment necessary to follow through until the end, whatever that may be.

2. Crucifixion is painful. This is the worst kind of understatement, but we live in an era where pop stars wear crosses to be in vogue and we have a romanticized view of the cross. It’s an abstract and nostalgic concept, not an instrument of death. But to take up Christ’s cross is to bear its weight, to endure pain and suffering, and yes, to die. Make no mistake, killing sin or dying to it will hurt.

Peter said, “Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin” (I Peter 4:1). The author of Hebrews reminds believers to “run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the glory of God. Consider him who endured much opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood…” (Hebrews 12:1-4). Wow.

3. Using this Christ and cross-centred view of Christian growth, the writer goes on to say that God the Father is actually trying to bring us to the point of death, through his loving discipline—where, as Christ knows, we can be set free to enjoy “a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11).

4. Several words and phrases seem to be used almost interchangeably with the death the Bible speaks of: Brokenness, humbling, pruning, and even repentance. We don’t just die to sin in general, though this is where it begins—we also die to each sin as God raises it as an issue. We “die a thousand deaths” if need be, knowing that each death brings with it a resurrection as we walk in Christ. What must die? Pride. Lies that we believe. Habits. Attitudes. Selfishness. Make a list, and keep going! Dying includes actions like “throwing off,” rejecting, renouncing, confessing, bowing, letting go, and giving up. It often includes emotional distress, weeping, shock, grief, regret, remorse, guilt, shame, and even humiliation. It’s not that God is humiliating us, or shaming us—it’s that he is letting the wages of sin run their course.

5. It’s not enough to accept this reality. God invites us to cooperate with his Spirit, to do our part to speed up the process. James writes, “Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up” (James 4:9,10). This doesn’t mean we initiate our own life change. Never, never, never. We open ourselves up to God, praying like David, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23,24). In other words, we learn to ask God for his diagnosis and respond to his work, already in progress.

I’m sure there’s more that God will teach me, and I’ll try to remember to pass it on as it comes.