Death is not just the end of life—it is the returning of life to its Creator. Therefore, death is not a loss but a fulfillment. All the laying down of all the pieces of our lives is but a rehearsal for that moment.
No wonder Paul says, “[W]e would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). Sometimes we just want to jump to the end. Even for a coward like myself, the idea of martyrdom seems noble, even romantic. But if we’re not willing to die to ourselves right now, it’s a fairly safe bet that we wouldn’t lay down our physical lives if we were ever called to do so. On the other hand, when we lay down every claim we have to our lives—which, after all, has been the thrust of all of these columns—we’re free to be used of God in any way He chooses, up to and including martyrdom. And no matter what God calls us to actually do at that point, our obedience will not seem spectacular to us, but normal.
More than likely, what we’ll be called to—and are already called to—is to die anew every day, to crucify the flesh day by day and moment by moment. Not only that, but to live that death outwardly, so that we can “let [our] light shine before others, so that they may see [our] good works and give glory to [our] Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). Even here on earth, there is a life beyond all this dying. First John 3:16-18 gives us a glimpse into both dying to self and what our lives should look like beyond that death:
“By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.”
Before we head to the finish line—and at the same time, see how far we’ve already come—let’s spend one more day in the Sermon on the Mount. Remember that Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them…For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:17, 20), and that He then proceeds to break it down for us throughout the rest of that chapter—anger, lust, divorce, oaths, retribution, loving others. “You have heard it said… but I say…” All of it is about dying to ourselves, rather than clinging to our lives (especially by outwardly conforming to the law).
Our only hope is in Jesus, and following where he leads. “For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:14). And the way that leads to life leads through death to ourselves—and by giving our life for others. Paul puts it even more bluntly:
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life…
Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace….
For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living (Romans 6:3-4, 12-14; 14:7-9).
We lay the entirety of our lives down, as Jesus did, because of the hope of new life—eternal, incorruptible, irreversible, and communal. Even in us right now, He is both Lord of the dead and of the living. Eternal life starts now. Let us get on with dying, so that “we too might walk in newness of life.”
Lay It Down Today
I’m leaving today’s assignment(s) rather open. The first piece is between you and God; the second is a longer-term challenge that I hope you’ll accept.
First, spend some time dwelling on our passages from Romans. How is God calling you to be “instruments for righteousness”? What still needs to die for you to fulfill that calling? Where do you need to trust God and just walk, regardless of the consequences? Where do you need to accept that “you are not under law but under grace” and get on with it? Spend some time praying about this. Ask God (“and you shall receive”) to give you the clarity and courage to “walk in newness of life.”
By the way, congratulations (I hope, if you’ve been following along here) on spending time in the Sermon on the Mount. I assume you’ve already been challenged pretty hard by Jesus’ message. Here’s my additional challenge: Commit to memorizing the entire Sermon on the Mount. Give yourself a chance to do this, even if you think you can’t. See how God might use it. At the very least, take on the Beatitudes, and then move on to some other small passages.
I’m just about done with this assignment myself. It hasn’t been easy; in fact, it’s taken three and a half months. But I can tell you that it’s been a convicting, difficult, yet steadily transforming experience. You’ll spend time wrestling with Jesus’ words in ways that you wouldn’t have otherwise.
In fact, you can spend a lifetime dealing with everything Jesus says here—and if you’re smart, you will. For “[e]veryone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock” (Matthew 7:24-25). Seriously consider this challenge, and then do what you think is best. And good luck!