The Death Confusion
by Jonathan Bailey
“Truly, truly an hour is coming and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For just as the Father has life in Himself, even so He gave to the Son also to have life in Himself.”
“Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.”
Death can be a confusing topic in the scriptures. There are times when you will read, “take up your cross and follow me,” and “I have come that they may have life, have it abundantly.” It is almost like we have a bi-polar Jesus. How are we to make sense of these statements of dying and living with Jesus? Lets look at a few more sample texts: Jesus says “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die.” The truth of the matter is there is a very deep thread of life and death that runs through the entire scripture, and the closer we walk with Jesus the more and more He will reveal this to us. The question that remains is how do we live or have life, and how do we die, or participate in death all at once? Because what Jesus is telling us is true; we must live and we must die. Another question is what lives and what dies? And it is at this point that we begin to discover more of who we are and what Jesus requires of us. So lets begin the messy work of looking at ourselves and trying to make sense of all this death confusion.
We are dead. Jesus and His disciples confirm this in their letters. Not physically dead, but dead to God. By saying we are dead we mean we have no life with God. We have life with the world (which includes other human beings), but not with God. The reason we are dead, is because we orient our lives around ourselves. We are constantly looking inward to what we want, desire, lust, dream, etc… We are captured into pleasing every desire that makes it known in our body and our surrounding social arena. The disciple Paul gives us this helpful statement; “Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry. (Colossians 3:5)” Paul gives us this list of inward pulls and calls it all idolatry. What’s the idol? You and me. This is what it means to be dead to God. Sure we acknowledge him, but He is someone who can help us get where we need to go. He is our cosmic Middleman, if we want something we go to Him and hopefully he can pull some strings and deliver (this is not always a bad thing). So deadness to God is simply a normal life of selfishness. Of course, when I say selfishness I don’t mean “cry-baby” selfish (although there may be some of that), but very respectful, adult selfishness. It does not manifest itself in loud outburst or whining, but inside our minds as we plot to get our way. It is highly calculated.
This dead condition is what is commonly called sin in the scriptures: sin means simply to miss the mark. Its like you were shooting an arrow out of a bow at a target. Except the problem is your bow is twisted and contorted, so when you release the arrow it comes flying out in a totally errant direction. No matter how many times you shoot it just wont go straight. So for practical purposes we could say the bow is dead to God, no matter how many times it tries to hit the target it simply has no hope. Sin is the manifestation of deadness to God. The disciple Paul continues in his letter to the disciples at Colossi, “For it is because of these things that the wrath of God has come upon the sons of disobedience; and in them you also once walked, when you were living in them. But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you have laid aside the old self with its evil practices…(Colossians 3:6-9)” So because of this idolatry (self-worship) or selfishness we commit sins and act disobediently to help us maintain our state of self-worship. What happens when we are angry? Our will is crossed. For example, you are driving on the highway and someone in a flashy sports car cuts you off in order to make a quick exit. Doesn’t that just tick you off? But why? Why are we angry? It is simply because our will was crossed. Something just happened to us that we didn’t want to happen to us. That is the bottom line. So anger begins to simmer, its not boiling over yet. But as we go throughout the day little or big things just like that happen and by the time we get back on the highway to head home from work we are ready to blow. And it all stems from people who are wanting to get their way all the time. Does that make sense? We are dead to God, but alive to the world. This the sole reason, countries go to war, people kill each other, drunk drivers get behind the wheel, drug addicts continue to use drugs, teens ridicule someone who is different from themselves, children will not share their toys, and toddlers lie about eating cookies.
Now, this whole inwardly focused life is what the scripture refers to as self. So the common phrase you have probably heard of is, death-to-self. This is a perfectly good phrase, as long as we are all aware that we are not talking about physical death, but we are talking about the death (crucifixion) of our idolater. Maybe we can just call it our me-idol? Now, lets pause for a minute and talk about physical death.
We are all going to die. This is our human common denominator. It is one of the very few certainties in our world. Physical death is something we all live with, I doubt there are very many people who have not spent considerable amounts of time in their life-time thinking about, how, when, or the way they would prefer to die. As I grew up talking randomly with people about this (mostly my guy friends) we always discussed our desire to die old and in our sleep. That is the safest and most pain free. But why?