Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Discipline of Dying

Over the past year (or maybe even longer) I've been working on writing here and there when I have the spare time. The end goal: a new book on the Sovereignty of God. I'm excited to announce that it's nearly complete, but that's not really the point of my post today. Today, I share an excerpt fresh off the press.

For about 3 months now, there has been a chapter left hanging. Incomplete. Wrapped in an enigma I not only failed to solve (which is never my aim) but I could not even begin to explore it. The chapter was on Moral Imperative, and the question: in view of God's absolute sovereignty, why even try?

Finally, it hit me (I think, at least. I'll let the comments on this post be the judge as to whether it makes the final cut). The reality is that we do not try. We die. But, lest that seem a mere platitude of escapism, do not forget that when we die we do. There is no trying in God's law, there is only doing. Be perfect. Be holy.

I wish that believers everywhere would find far less comfort in the limited success of their efforts to obey. Instead, when faced daily with the realities of our iniquity, we ought to learn the discipline of dying to self—self-motivation, self-sufficiency, self-reliance—and living in Christ's power. We ought to "carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body" (2 Corinthians 4:10).

When we believe the lie that we, as Christian people, are somehow empowered now to live perfect lives, the reality of our present life lived in a dead carcass not yet regenerated will ultimately lead to disparity and defeat. We are, even after confessing Christ and receiving the Spirit, defeated by the moral imperatives of Scripture. And here, once again, in our present weakness we find strength only in God's power—His absolute sovereignty to work in and through us.

We know the folly of believing that one can earn salvation without the atonement of the cross. We are helpless but for His mercy. How much more foolish, then, after one's acceptance of Christ's atonement to go on in the Christian life pursuing moral imperative by our own will? How blinded have we become to take the same imperative which once drove us to our knees at the foot of the cross and later attempt its perfection within ourselves. No, the truth of the Gospel is that we must continually return to the cross, "to proclaim the Lord's death until he comes" (1 Corinthians 11:26) so as to confess with the Apostle Paul that "I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me" (1 Corinthians 15:10).

The Spirit's work in sanctification is not unlike His work in justification. Whereas we find righteousness through the imperatives of Scripture only when we die by the Law and receive Christ's imputed righteousness, so too does the Spirit sanctify us by the same imperatives which continually teach us to depend on Him for life. A deep thirst for Scripture is instilled in God's elect as a provision of God with the chief purpose that we find there not instruction for how to now succeed as Christians, but a perpetual conviction that we must "die every day" (1 Corinthians 15:31).

That is the discipline of dying. Scripture drives us to our knees begging for God's mercy more than once in the Christian life. Life by the Spirit begins in utter dependence on God and therein it must also continue.

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  • I appreciate your thoughts as usual! But one place I always have trouble is man's part in God's sovereignty. I don't see where we can resort to being puppets on a string as being God's image bearers. In our weakness, I agree that we are totally dependent on God's power and His absolute sovereignty in our lives in order to be holy, perfect. But are you saying that that sovereignty comes when we are willing to die daily - continually? If so, what does man contribute?

    While the spirit has been made new the flesh is still fallen and prone to destruction. So while the potential for perfection is present with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, it isn't going to happen here and now because restoration is not complete. But one day when ALL things are made new, we will do what we were created to do in bearing God's image with perfection. "Doing" is what's needed now and "being" is what's coming?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At September 11, 2009 at 7:42 AM  

  • Thanks for your reply. I appreciate your thoughts. But, on this topic, I couldn't disagree more ;-)

    You stated we are totally dependent on His sovereignty in our lives in order to be perfect... which is of course my point. And then you ask this question "If so, what does man contribute?"

    Ponder that question for a moment. What do we contribute? What do we contribute to God's work in the world? What do we contribute to His glory, even when He is being glorified in and through us? Nothing. We bring nothing to the table.

    So, how do we as Christians glorify God? I want to zero-in on this statement of yours: "So while the potential for perfection is present with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit..." Does the Holy Spirit assist us in our efforts to be holy? That's not the picture I get from Scripture. Who is regenerating us? God is... not us with some assistance from the Spirit. Who will He regenerate us to be like? Himself (i.e. Christ), not a better version of ourselves. The Christian life is not about becoming a better you. It's about no longer being you and letting God completely regenerate (re-create, re-do, start over and rebuild) us into a new creation made in the image of His Son.

    "I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me." (Galatians 2:19)

    My proposition is that "dying" in this way is a spiritual discipline just as prayer, meditation, Bible study, worship, etc.

    I think we have the picture of creation being all good, man coming in and muddying it up badly, and then God coming back to "restore" it. But, in fact, Scripture doesn't speak of God "restoring" creation. (He'll restore David's throne, Israel's glory, and a few other items, but it never speaks of creation as a whole this way). It speaks of God making a new creation. God created everything good, man didn't muddy it up, we totally destroyed it beyond a simple patch or fix. God added the Law so the trespass would increase, demanding a death penalty from all mankind. He then sent His Son to be that death penalty. And when His Son returns, He is going to destroy totally and start over with a new Heavens, new Earth, new Jerusalem, etc. All who by faith have already died and been made new are citizens in that new creation. All who have not died and been made new, will be swept away with the rest of the destroyed creation.

    So, if we take that macro-idea of all of creation and apply it to ourselves, God is not wiping off some dust, fixing a few broken parts, and then saying, "there, good as new!" He asks us to die, put aside our own selves, and He will make us into mini-Christs (literal translation of "Christian").

    Is that a puppet? You tell me. In the new creation, you won't sin. Why not? Are you a puppet there? Don't you have choice?

    By Blogger Unknown, At September 11, 2009 at 7:46 AM  

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