Death That Leads to Life
It is important to remember that at the end of Lent stands a tomb. From the moment he was born, Jesus was marching to his death. He had to be willing to suffer and die in order for redemption to be accomplished and applied. Death was his job description. Death was his destiny. But death was not his defeat, because death was not the end of the story of the Messiah Jesus. What looked like the ultimate victory of evil over good, what looked like a crushing defeat and a sad end to the redemptive story, was, in reality, the greatest victory of divine power and grace that the world had ever seen. The Messiah had come. In his perfectly righteous life, he had conquered sin, but that was not enough. The hope of humanity hung on the question of whether or not he had the power to defeat the ultimate enemy, death. The empty tomb was a glorious answer to that question. The empty tomb is a promise that God will never leave his redemptive work half done. He will complete everything that needs to be done for his chosen children to experience the full range of the blessings of his grace.
What I am going to say next may surprise you; it may even discourage you. But I will explain the importance of this surprising statement. At the end of Lent is your death, as well. During this season, more than any other, we focus on and contemplate the shocking, cruel death of the only perfect person who ever lived. We meditate on his willingness to die, on the essentiality of that death, and on its benefit to all who put their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. Death is the motif of this season of remembrance. It is the motif not just because of the death of Jesus, but because, during this season, we hear again another call to die. Death is required of every follower of the Lord Jesus Christ. Knowing the full range of the benefits of the new life that the resurrection of Jesus promises us requires that we too die. In the gospel we come to understand that death is the inescapable pathway to life. Consider these passages:
And [Jesus] said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)
For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. (Mark 8:35)
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. (John 12:24)
And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. (Matt. 10:38)
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Gal. 2:20)
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 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. (Rom. 6:1–4)
He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. (1 Pet. 2:24)
I protest, brothers, by my pride in you, which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die every day! (1 Cor. 15:31)
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. (Rom. 12:1)
The gospel offers you something that nothing and no one else can offer: life. But in offering life, the gospel calls you to die. That death is both an event and a process. By God’s redeeming plan we are united with Christ in his death and resurrection. In that way your moment of belief is a death and a resurrection. But there is more. Now that you are united with Christ, you are called to a very specific surrender, that is, dying to self. You simply cannot understand the gospel without this call to follow Christ in his death.
The gospel offers you something that nothing and no one else can offer: life. But in offering life, the gospel calls you to die.
We are called to die to sin. We are called to die to that life where we did what we wanted to do, when we wanted to do it, and how we wanted to do it. We are called to die to setting our own rules and living however we please. We are called to die to our rulership of our own lives. We are called to let go of our self-appointed sovereignty, living as if we’re the only master that we need, and to surrender ourselves and all we have to another master. We are called to die to our desires for our own comfort, pleasure, and glory and give ourselves to seek the glory of the King and the success of his kingdom. We are called to die to our own righteousness and find our hope, help, and comfort in the righteousness of Jesus given over to our account. This death that I have just described is a process of daily scanning our lives to see where things still live in us that should not live, then praying for the strength to die once again.
Like the death of Jesus, this death is not a defeat, but a huge and glorious victory. For everywhere you die, you will be resurrected to new life in that area. It is the continuing resurrection/ transformation/liberation work of sanctifying grace. So this season, how about scanning your heart and life? How about looking for those places where you still need to die to self? How about crying out for the willingness to take up your cross and follow Jesus in his death? How about celebrating the fact that dying to self is never a defeat, but another step in the ongoing victories of grace that can be yours because you have been united with Jesus in his death and resurrection?
Lent calls you to die, and that is a very good thing!
This article is adapted from Journey to the Cross: A 40-Day Lenten Devotional by Paul David Tripp.
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