“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep so that he may gain what he will never lose.”
—Journals of Jim Elliott
Dying is easier when you’re already dead.
Laying down your life is the price of friendship (1 John 3:16) and Jesus, who should know, told His disciples there is no greater measuring stick of love than this (John 15:13). Our churches do not need more good deeds but her congregants need better dying. Watchman Nee saw this as the crying need of his day: “What is lacking today is not a better living but a better dying! We need to die a good death, a thorough death.”
There are two people the Lord has put in my life who die for me every day. Without complaining, without delaying, they minister to my needs, my very private physical needs, each and every day they walk this earth. I am blessed with a son who does things for his father no son should ever be asked to do and a wife who regularly counts her life as nothing for my own personal comfort.
Why would they inconvenience their own lives for me? Duty? Not hardly. They do it for Love. When it comes to my needs they unquestioningly and repeatedly crucify their own. No greater love…
What would make a pastor with death threats on his head, stay in his country where the danger is great even though he has been given a way of escape? What would make him say, “I cannot leave my people. I will stay and suffer martyrdom, if that is what Christ calls me to.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer was, in fact, executed even though he was already dead.
Dead to self. Dead to sin. Dead to praise. Dead to criticism. Dead to the world. Dead.
Why would a Colombian pastor, seized by Marxist guerrillas and bound with ropes, pray for his captors and love them? With neck garroted by a coarse rope and tied to wrists behind his back, the slightest movements would be met with searing pain from sharp sticks intertwined in the rope, tearing at his wrists, arms and neck. Still, this remarkable man could lay on the cold ground in this condition and say to his guards, “God is desperately in love with you.” What, pray tell, would make a man do that?
Quite simply, the man was already dead. It’s not that his life, comfort, condition and convenience were not important, it’s that they didn’t exist! Christ is this man’s life and he is showing by such love that he is abandoned wholly to the desires of his Master.
Hudson Taylor, founder of the China Inland Mission in the 1800s said in later years, “I never made a sacrifice.” If you read his biography, you wonder how he could say such a thing! He never asked for money, chose to live poor among the poor for the sake of the gospel of the kingdom, was persecuted, shunned and mocked by those who chose not to understand such a life and still gave up his last dollar to others when he himself had no hope of a next meal. It is clear from his words that he learned to live in such a realm where spiritual blessings were so real and lasting that GIVING UP really means RECEIVING. Where dying really means resurrection life.
Sacrifice? Not to him. Not hardly. He saw it as investment in an eternal bull market where the return endlessly outweighs the initial commitment.
Why would an American woman, captured and terrorized by the Taliban in Afghanistan, return to the mission field after her release and risk her life again by building and strengthening churches in another hot zone of persecution for “infidels”? Heather Mercer is a dead woman walking. Dead, perhaps, but very much alive to Christ.
When you take inventory of all that we give our lives to and what we sacrifice them for, even many of our exploits being for good, when it comes down to the brazen facts, we see that there is not much life in our living after all.
The aged apostle wrote to the church at Colosse, “Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as DEAD…” (Col. 3:5, NASB), or more literally, “put to death!” In writing, Paul used a telling tense of the verb to illustrate how necessary this act is for the believer in Christ. The command comes as an aorist active imperative.
- Aorist: DO IT DEFINITELY (with result as your aim)
- Active: DO IT DECISIVELY (as an act of your will)
- Imperative: DO IT DELIBERATELY (without hesitation)
There is only one solution for our flesh: death. It cannot be tamed, reformed, supressed or controlled. When my exterminator comes, I don’t want him to simply drive the little bugs into an unused part of the house or to the basement where they won’t crawl on me! No, I want the little buggers to DIE!
We cannot make the flesh (our lusts and passions) our prisoner of war. Take no prisoners! Get rid of Agag! Slay the bleating sheep! The only solution for the flesh is to kill it, to slay it utterly, to “make no provision” for it (Romans 13:14)!
“If you minimize the seriousness of sin in the life of a Christian, you don’t know what conversion to Christ means. Conversion means death—not just decision FOR Jesus, but death WITH Jesus.”
We’ve heard of the “lust” of the flesh, but what other disguises can the flesh wear?
- the “will” of the flesh (John 1:13) which is an inner drive to promote self
- the “mind” of the flesh (Colossians 2:8) speaks of self-revelation and self-confidence
- the “wisdom” of the flesh (2 Cor. 1:12) is the boasting of knowledge but not in a truth lived out; much pontification but no transformation
- the “worship” of the flesh (Col. 2:23); the NASB calls it ‘self-made religion’ and is literally ‘will-worship’, the creation of our own standard of devotion and the ‘working up’ of our own passion
The Holy Spirit dwells in us to make war against the flesh, not to improve it. We must give the Spirit permission to take each attitude, temperament and work of the flesh to the Cross and be done with it. No playing around.
Flesh can be self-righteous or unrighteous in nature. When either comes up in us, we are to say, “Holy Spirit, I know my flesh has been crucified with Christ (Col. 3:3) and I agree with that declaration and I now ask that you apply the death of Christ to this matter, that my experience will show that I, too, have been crucified with Christ!”
We don’t need better living, folks. We need better dying. And the Holy Spirit is constantly warring against the flesh in us as He points out to us our failings in walking in resurrection life. This is called conviction, not condemnation, and the Spirit is constantly taking us to the Cross as the only remedy for self.
“You have been crucified,” He says. “Leave this work of the flesh there. It belongs there. It has already been put there by Christ. Walk from here in victory!”