At the risk of sounding obesely morbid, God and I have been talking about death a lot lately.
Where do I begin? Well, as a Christian, I’m consumed with personal transformation. As a pastor, I’m consumed with understanding that process so I can help facilitate it, or at least guide people well in the midst of it. And just this past week, I believe God showed me an astounding but disturbing key.
We all know that the penalty of our sins is forgiven through the death (and resurrection) of Jesus. There was no other way. What we forget, or maybe have never been taught, is that the power of sin must be dealt with the very same way, through death. The difference is that our forgiveness stems entirely from Christ’s work (HIS death); whereas our freedom comes in partnership with Christ, as we die along WITH him and are then raised with him.
See Romans 6 and the first part of 7, where Paul describes how “by dying to what bound us,” we are freed from the power of sin. Look up a random New Testament passage about personal transformation, and chances are the imagery describes death, crucifixion, etc. No amount of daily devotions, prayer, fasting, worship, confession, or anything else can overcome the power of sin in our lives. Only death will do. The path of salvation doesn’t become obsolete once we’re “in.” We don’t leave it behind for a different path. On the contrary, it becomes the path of daily transformation.
Work with me: “The wages of sin is death,” Paul says (Rom. 6:23). “Is death,” not “was death.” Both Sin’s payout and Jesus’ gift are laid out as present tense realities. This is big. Sin ALWAYS leads to death. No exceptions. But what the Spirit of God showed me recently blew my mind: Sin always leads to death, and Jesus’ death and resurrection doesn’t change that fact!
Let that sink in: Sin always leads to death, and the cross doesn’t change that fact. What Jesus changed forever is the nature of death, so that the “victory” and “sting” are now gone for his true followers. In particular, death is no longer a dead end, but a doorway to resurrection and personal change. Simply put, Jesus’ perfect work on the cross has rendered death redemptive.
Before we knew Christ, death meant the end because the only thing that could die was the real us. Now that we have a new self, the old self can die without hurting the real us.
But here’s the real kicker, folks, and we’d better get our heads around it: Not only DOES sin lead to death, it MUST lead to death, or the redemptive part won’t kick in. We must allow the sin we so regrettably commit to do it’s deadly work in us, because if I want to change, something has to die. Much of our lack of personal transformation stems from our endless quest to cheat death, to keep it at bay, to sin without reaping the consequences. To sin without dying for it.
“Unless you lose your life, you will not find it,” Jesus says, but we don’t believe him. Not really. But since sin entered the world, the inevitable death sin brings has been God’s chosen instrument, and will continue to be so until death itself is thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 20). When the final transformation has been completed and we become like Jesus, having seen him face to face.
The real question is, what is this “death” describing? We’ll get into that tomorrow.