To Live We Must First Die
Have you ever had a thought pound away at your mind so persistently that you believed it would never go away? I have been thinking about the incarnation of Christ. The whole concept is totally incomprehensible. Contemplating the reality of God becoming human so that he might save filthy, depraved, unworthy, stench-filled, morally corrupt human souls by the shedding of his precious blood is a fathomless mystery.
The Prince of God left the splendor of his eternal dwelling and clothed himself with humanity, took up temporary residence in the womb of a very young woman who finally gave birth to him in a stall made for sheep and donkeys. The Christ child was laid in a manger filled with straw and his first breath was filled with the offensive aroma of manure.
Why did he do it? He came to live the life of a human and his coming was filled with love and purpose. He came to reveal to us what the holiness of God looks like in a human life. His coming provided the only ray of hope in a world darkened by the sins of unbelief and disobedience. He lived the life he lived in order that he might die the death that he died. He died the death that he died so that we might have an opportunity to live the life that he lived. Through the impartation of the Comforter he promised to send, we can live Christ-like lives. We can be Christians.
I went to the garage a few weeks ago and retrieved some seeds I saved from last year. I wheeled out my tiller and worked the soil in my small garden and then planted the seeds. In just a few days I saw sprouts begin to grow. And I wondered as I do every year, how does it happen? Those seeds lay in my garage all year and never sprouted. There have been reports of seeds having been found that were over 800 years old. These seeds were planted and they sprouted and grew and produced fruit. Scientists know what happens when a seed germinates but they are unsure why it happens. When a seed is placed in the fertile soil it will germinate and it will grow.
Paul contemplated the mystery of the seed when he wrote to the Corinthians: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.” (1 Corinthians 3:6-7) Who can explain this miracle of life? The best explanation is simply that the Author of life demonstrates his gift of life through the germination of the seed and the growth that follows. Men must bow their heads in humility as they contemplate what God can do and what they cannot do.
Christ came to live the life he lived to qualify him for the death he died.
The child born in a barn was finally nailed to a Roman cross. His body was then gently removed and buried in a tomb and like a seed buried in the ground. Christ experienced the miracle of life, the resurrection. This miracle is the basis for our salvation. Those of us who are followers of Christ share in the same hope Paul expressed to the Philippians: “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:10-11).
But there is an earlier resurrection that Christians must not overlook. Some Christians can live their entire lives in a state of dormancy like seeds on a shelf. If they are never buried they will never experience germination or a resurrection. They will never know the fullness of growth and life. The journey has just begun when Christ responds to our repentance and forgives us.
God wills that we continue on the path that leads towards the abundant life but this life is preceded by death and burial. The sanctification of our souls requires that we die to our own selfish desires and bury our own ambitions and bow in total submission to God. Then the miracle happens. The burial of our seeds of selfishness is the prerequisite to a resurrection into a life of holiness and growth.
The new life that we experience is the life of Christ indwelling within us. Many believe the deception that salvation is available by simply offering mental assent to a list of doctrines. Even Satan and his imps believe that Christ is the divine Son of God. The acceptance of his divinity doesn’t save them. It fills them with dreaded fear. God wants more than a verbal admission of his divine nature. He wants us to wholly experience salvation.
Simply having knowledge of God does not change behavior.
A radical change in behavior comes when we have experienced the indwelling Christ. When we are filled with his love we learn to love him properly. We are motivated to please him, not because we want to be rewarded with heaven or escape a horrendous hell, but because of our love for him. We don’t want to hurt him.
Just as this experience is not based on an exercise of the mind, neither is it based on an accumulation of good works. If we believe that we should be granted entrance into heaven based on good behavior, why would we not stand before God in judgment and refuse the benefits provided by the shed blood of Christ and demand that we be judged by the law of God? Would we dare lay our righteousness, our filthy rags, (Isaiah 64:6) alongside the righteousness of Christ and demand we be weighed in the balance of his justice? Of course we would not.
If we have had our eyes opened (John 9:10) we would never dare to do such a foolish thing. Some have “eyes to see but they do not see” (Ezekiel 12:2). Those who do see understand that our only righteousness is in Christ Jesus.