“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
“The last enemy to be destroyed is death...Death is swallowed up in victory.” – 1 Corinthians 15:26, 54
"The greater the sin, the greater the mercy, the deeper the death and the brighter the rebirth.” - C. S. Lewis
"This story...has the very taste of primary truth." - J. R. R. Tolkien

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Death and Resurrection, Part IV

…And yet even this is not the full extent of death and resurrection. It is a reality here and now in our lives, as we talk and eat and sleep and work. The second way we participate in death and resurrection is through the sanctification of the Holy Spirit, who changes us more and more in to Christ’s likeness, even in this life.

Through the transforming grace and power of the Spirit, we die to ourselves and are raised to new life in Christ. Because we (humanity as a whole) sinned, we (as individuals) are born into sin and bound to sin by our sinful nature (Ephesians 2:1). We cannot please or obey God, or become like Christ, of our own strength (Romans 8:8). But through the Spirit, given as a gift purchased on the cross, we can change. We can die to our sinful nature and be freed from the prison that is pride – freed from a life where we revolve around ourselves. In Christ we are enabled to see the filth of our sinfulness (we are “worms of the dust” in the words of Jonathan Edwards) and the beauty of God’s holiness, and therefore to see the beauty of what God did on the cross in transferring his righteousness to us, washing away our dirt and making us white as snow. And thus we can be freed from the death of sin and made into creatures who live in Christ, knowing him for who he is and living with gratitude and love for him. Paul puts it this: “For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. 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.” (Galatians 2:19-20).* No longer are we trapped in sin and pride – we are enabled to forget ourselves and see God and all that is outside of ourselves. This theme of death to self and new life in Christ is central in all of Paul’s letters. Here are a few relevant NT passages:

  • “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his…For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him…So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” – Romans 6:5ff
  • “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” – Romans 8:11
  • “For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.” – 2 Corinthians 4:11
  • “…one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” - 2 Corinthians 5:14-15
  • “God…because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ.” – Ephesians 2:4
  • “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” – Galatians 6:14
  • “…that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” – Philippians 3:11

It is a gradual and ongoing process in our lives. Over time the Spirit (and it is no work of our own, but fully a work of God through his Spirit in us) enables us and frees us from our natural, fallen ways. We are made into new people (Ephesians 4:22-24) as the Spirit brings us to life in Christ and a towards a deeper knowledge of and resemblence of him...

*This participation in Christ’s death and resurrection in our own lives is the reality that is symbolized or pictured in baptism. The descent into the water images our death with Christ, and our resurrection to new life in Christ is pictured in the coming out of the water (see Romans 6:3-4, Colossians 2:12). Communion, too, is connected to death and resurrection. The body of Christ, as a community, remembers his sacrifice in giving himself for us on the cross. We participate in this just as we follow Christ in our lives.

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