The Courageous Christian (7)
“And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it.” Matthew 10.38, 39
“Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.” Mark 8.34, 35
The fear of death
During 2020 the world became continuously aware of the uncertainty of life and the imminence of death. The worldwide pandemic that shut down nations and snuffed out millions of lives was a grim reminder for many people of something they don’t need reminding about: we’re all going to die.
The writer of the book of Hebrews explained that the fear of death is a common human affliction. The fear of death is a kind of bondage (Heb. 2.15) that robs people of the freedom of perfect peace and joy. Just about the time things seem to be getting better, or our lives are making progress toward happiness, something happens to remind us that death can claim us at any time. The pandemic was a big, constant, and for many people, threatening elephant in the room.
The fear of dying can make people cautious, wary, and tentative. For people in some parts of the world, the real possibility of dying – through political murder – causes them to hold back on what they might say or do, for fear of invoking the wrath of the powers-that-be.
The writer of Hebrews cites this common human condition in the context of saying that Jesus has come to deliver us from this fear. He came to “release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.” That doesn’t mean He has taken away the reality of death. As the writer says elsewhere, “it is appointed for men to die once” (Heb. 9.27). Except for that generation alive when Jesus returns (1 Thess. 4.17), we’re all going to go the way of all flesh.
But what Jesus does is take away the fear of death. Death has no permanent hold on those who believe in Jesus Christ and have been called to His Kingdom and glory. Indeed, dying, according to the Christian worldview, is an important part of how we must live. Christians don’t fear dying; they don’t shrink from it. Rather, they recognize dying as an everyday aspect of life.
But they still must seek the courage of the Lord to face it.
The dying life
The Christian life is an exercise in preparing to die. Indeed, the entirety of the Christian life can be thought of as one continuous dying to self, one daily taking-up of our own cross and carrying it with us on a journey beyond the grave into the glory of our Lord Jesus’ Presence. You could say that we Christians are dying to live, and living to die.
But what does this mean?
First, we must die unto the Lord every day. Paul describes this as presenting ourselves as “living sacrifices” unto the Lord (Rom. 12.1, 2). Our desire is to be pleasing to God, to be used for His purposes, and to be an offering whereby others may come into contact with the grace of God. We are not our own; we have been bought with a price, the price of Jesus’ own sacrifice for our sins (1 Cor. 6.20). We are to glorify God with our bodies, and to do that, we must offer our bodies unto the Lord daily and throughout the day, dying to ourselves so that we might live to Him. Our bodies are not our own. Our time is not our own. All that we are and have has come to us from the Lord, and we are but stewards of His gifts and agents of His grace. We cannot fulfill that calling without offering ourselves to the Lord every day and all day long.
This means, second, that we need to be at least as concerned about the needs and interests of others as about our own (Phil. 2.4), even to the point of esteeming others as better and more important than we are (Phil. 2.3). We can only do this by looking continually to Jesus, seeing how He set aside certain divine prerogatives to come among us, live, suffer, die, and rise again (Phil. 2.5-11). As we enter into Jesus’ life we will, like Jesus, be willing to die to our own preferences and priorities whenever the needs of others require that we do so.
We must also take up our own burden of self-denial and suffering each day, dying to our comforts, convenience, and even safety in order to identify with Jesus in His life, death, and resurrection. For many Christians throughout the centuries, this has meant giving up their earthly lives, rather than deny Jesus in any way. It could come to that for any one of us, and we need to be ready in our minds should such a situation arise.
Jesus has liberated us from the fear of death. We say with the apostle Paul, “O death, where is your sting?” (1 Cor. 15.55). We live to die – to our selfish desires and fears – so that dying, we may live in Jesus and His resurrection.
The promise of life
The Christian has already passed from death to life. We have received the gift of eternal life, and that began the moment Jesus sent His Spirit into our hearts with the gift of faith. We are alive in Jesus forevermore. Death has no permanent claim on us. We are alive in Jesus, alive forever, and the fear of death need not cause us to hold back in following Him wherever He may lead.
Do you have the courage to die? Today? The Spirit of God can give you the courage to take the initiative in serving others, bearing witness for Jesus, and enduring whatever you must to hold fast to your confession of faith in Him. And as He encourages you, look for other believers to encourage in the call to die to themselves and to live for Christ.
Dying to live is the secret to fullness of life in Christ. We don’t need to be afraid of death. The Encourager of the Lord can give us – and through us, others – the daily courage at many levels to deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow Jesus in glorifying God with our bodies.
1. Why did Jesus liken the Christian life to bearing a cross?
2. What does it mean to offer yourself to God as a living sacrifice?
3. Why do we need courage to die to self and to live for others? How can prayer help us to gain that courage?
Next steps – Transformation: In prayer, bring before the Lord all the ways you fear dying to yourself. Offer them to Him, then plan to take up your cross for Jesus in all these areas today.
T. M. Moore
At the website
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.