Life or Death
I had another dream this morning that seemed to be going somewhere extremely significant until I woke up so much that its natural flow was interrupted. As usual there were a lot of extraneous details that seemed quite confusing to the awake mind, but near the end of the dream a profound truth about God was beginning to emerge that was very exciting to me and I didn't want to let it get away from me. In fact, I would really like it to grow and become the all-consuming passion of my life.
Somehow in my dream I ended up walking along with one of the leading natives who had been converted in the story of ee-taow, a compelling video that we watched recently. However, at this point in his life this man had since been exposed to civilization much more and had chosen to turn away from his passion for Jesus and get involved with the modern culture and pleasures of this world. His interest in the gospel had cooled considerably, but I could detect some of the honesty still in his heart that had been there originally. I knew this background partly because the original missionary explained to me what this native was now doing.
For some reason I decided to engage this man in a few questions about life and about God. I didn't know exactly where the questions would take us, but I felt prompted to begin asking him questions about how he felt about God and what his perception of the gospel was in his mind. I really wish I could remember the questions I asked him now because the direction the questions took us began to quickly expose the inherent problems that the typical presentation of the gospel builds into people's thinking.
Almost every presentation of the gospel message is based on an assumption that Jesus came to die to appease an angry God and save us from God killing us for our sins. I can't believe that lie anymore, but at the same time I am seeking to really comprehend and clarify what the real truth is about the gospel as seen from heaven's perspective. In the line of questions that I was asking this man in my dream, this truth about God was beginning to emerge rather quickly to both him and to myself as I sought to expose and undermine mistaken ideas about God without directly attacking them. I was getting him to reason through the logic, or rather some of the illogic, of what he had come to believe about God. In doing so the real truth about the feelings of the Father for him were beginning to dawn on him and I could see that he was reconsidering the course of his life.
What was also happening was more clarity about how a tainted presentation of the gospel portraying the Father as the one to be afraid of creates a weak foundation for long-term stability in the Christian life. Viewing God as one to be afraid of, the one who is waiting to rain down fire and brimstone on those who offend Him, may initially bring about dramatic conversions and seem to advance the cause of God. Indeed God may use these presentations to bring about many good conversions and cause people to turn to Him through fear initially. But if the underlying falsehood in this presentation is not addressed and replaced with the real truth about God, we are setting ourselves and others up for the delusions of Satan and counterfeit Christianity to blind us to the true danger to our souls.
As I thought about this more, the text came to my mind from Romans about the wages of sin. As I looked it up and went back to view the context it became even more clear to me what this passage is really saying.
Therefore what benefit were you then deriving from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the outcome of those things is death. But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:21-23)
I am starting to wonder if maybe God intended to not give me the fuller insight about this truth in my dream because He wanted me to explore it much deeper in a more conscious state so that it would be more firmly rooted in my mind. This is in my opinion possibly the most important subject than can ever be studied and I am desperate to grasp this real truth at a much deeper level than I have ever before understood it. I also want my heart to really take hold of it and let this truth transform the way I relate to others, especially those who trigger me or mistreat me. But I sense that first of all I have to have a clearer view of how God reacts to my treatment of Him before I can reflect His ways and characteristics to other people in my life.
The idea in this verse that death comes from sin and not from God was a breakthrough truth for me many years ago. But the depth of that understanding still has not fully sunk into my own heart. I keep having to come back and revisit it and try to convince myself that it is really true because my natural heart simply does not believe it due to the way I was raised.
This morning when I first began to think about this verse again a new insight suddenly emerged. The answer is built right into this last verse in a way I have not noticed before and also helps to explain the true definition of sin.
Death is a direct result of sin – whatever sin is. And I must be very careful to not jump to the typical conclusions about what sin is until I allow the Bible to explain it. But in this verse it is actually explained rather clearly if one is willing to look at it objectively. For in this verse it also says that eternal life – the opposite of death – is a free gift of God.
Now the problem almost always occurs right at this point because of the assumptions that most of us have about the definitions of the words and the way religion has been taught to us in our past. Because we believe lies about God inherited from Adam and Eve and they have been infused into our thinking by the father of all lies, we assume that the death resulting from sin is something imposed on us by God at some point in our lives. Yes, we may admit that somehow we ended up deserving it because of the bad things we did in our earthly life (another sin definition assumption). But the problem with that line of reasoning is that now we are forced to view the Father and the Son differently. Or if you are a Muslim you simply lump all the conflicting ideas into the same God. Either way you end up with some real logical and heart-based incongruities.
Our typical beliefs about sin and punishments and death nearly always are dependent on a belief in an offended God who is upset that we broke His rules and is waiting to punish us with pain and/or death in the end, depending on what version of religion you endorse. But that view of a bi-polar kind of God is not in this text. If we look carefully at this verse without reading into it our own false assumptions about the words, we will begin to see something radically different about God and about sin.
This verse says that God is in the business of offering us a gift. The essence of that gift – a free gift by the way – is life, eternal life by clear explanation right here in the verse. If we allow Jesus Himself to define what eternal life is (John 17:3) we will also realize that it is not so much about time as it is about relationship. But that is another line I am not exploring at the moment. What I want to clarify is that God is here described only as the one who is offering us a gift and that the content of that gift is only life. The death here has nothing to do with something God does to us either now or in the future.
If I allow this verse to define its own terms I begin to see some very interesting and compelling truths. If God is offering me eternal life in His Son Jesus Christ, then what is implied next? Here God is, offering me a gift and that gift is life. The strong implication of someone offering a gift is that there is a condition that someone else must accept it in order to experience that gift. It means that in order for the gift to be enjoyed it has to first be accepted and embraced as was intended by the one offering it. If I accept God's offer of life then by default I am not going to experience death as long as I stay with the gift which is in Jesus.
But now how do I go about accepting that gift and how does death fit into this very succinct presentation of the gospel? What is death anyway?
Death, like so many other negative things in our experience, is simply the absence of something opposite.
Darkness is not something, it is simply the absence of light which is something.
Silence is not something but is the absence of sound which is something.
Cold is not really something but is the absence of heat which is something. And interestingly all of these 'somethings' can be measured as vibrations or frequencies. But again that is another line of very fascinating contemplation I am not pursuing at the moment.
So, death is the absence of life, not something imposed on us by God. If, as this verse explicitly states, God is only in the business of offering life, then for death to occur it must be implied that I refuse to embrace the gift being offered by the Source of all life. If I turn away from the Source of life and the gift that this Source offers to me, the natural result is that there is going to be an absence of that life which by definition is called death.
Now here is the real punchline that cannot be missed and lies at the core of exposing so many lies about God that have crept into our ideas about the gospel. Eternal death is something that happens to me naturally as a result of my choosing to reject life, not something imposed on me by an offended God who gets angry because I didn't do things His way. And by extension we can also see much more clearly the true definition of sin in this verse. For if to experience life we simply need to embrace living 'in Christ' (whatever that means) then to live apart from Christ and refuse the gift of present and future life offered to us by God is the very reality that defines the word 'sin'.
Sin is a choice, in fact a series or pattern of choices, to turn away from life. God continues to offer life and God never changes. God does not at some future time run out of patience and get angry because I spurned His offer of life. That is all part of the lies of God's enemy to keep me from being able to trust Him. God always has and always will be the only source of life for anyone everywhere. And God will always generously be offering that life to all who are willing to accept it. There will never come a time when God will cease to offer life. That needs to get very settled in my thinking in order to address many of the lies about God and religion that permeates my confused heart.
But death results when we refuse God's offer of life so long that we literally destroy our own capacity to receive it. This again is not something God does to us arbitrarily but is a natural result of repeated choices to pull away from the legitimate channels of life that God has provided for us. As we develop habits of turning away from life and seeking to find it in sources other than that provided for us by God, we harden our hearts against Him, distort our perceptions of Him and finally permanently scar ourselves so thoroughly that it becomes impossible for us to ever be able to live in Christ. We so ruin our original design in the image of God that we take on the image of Satan and lose our ability to respond effectively to love just as he has done. We no longer can receive and give love the way God designed us to do and at that point we destine ourselves for an eventual experience of total death.
Understanding how that final death is going to come about depends very much on having a correct picture of God. I have addressed that at length on a blog and continue to seek to understand it better. But it is clear to me that death is not something God imposes on the lost but is something that occurs when the presence of God comes into close proximity to the resistance of rebels. It is like the classical conundrum we used to talk about as children. What happens when an irresistible force encounters an immovable object? Now I know the answer: it is death.
You see, in the experience of hell, God is not lashing out in anger at people who refused to obey Him sufficiently. Hell is what all of us begin to experience every time we resist the irresistible force of God's passionate love for us. But when our resistance becomes so deeply embedded in our heart that it turns us into an immovable object, then when the irresistible power of God's passion sweeps the world, our incompatibility to respond with love in return will cause us to experience the burning of the wicked instead of the flaming glory of the saved. The fire of God is no different toward either side, only the results that are seen which are inherent and natural, results of the choices that each person made in relation to this offer of life by a loving Father.
As seen in this Romans 6 passage, the benefit of responding to God's offer of life is sanctification. That word simply means that we are transformed from the inside (Romans 12:1) by experiencing and responding to the love that God pours into and through us. Our attitudes are changed, our perspectives are different, our motives are transformed, our spirit softens, everything about us begins to reflect the beauty and glory of God's perfect character. None of that can be seen occurring naturally in the life of a sinner as Paul notes here.
The outcome of our choice as to how to relate to God's offer of life is even more dramatic. The last verse sums it up completely: either we will experience death (the absence of life) or we will experience eternal life which, according to Jesus, begins as soon as we begin to embrace His love for us. Neither of these things are imposed upon us by God; they are simply the natural outworking of the choices that we are making in relation to the offer of Himself that God is making to us all the time.
When I have this view of life and death firmly in place, it now becomes much easier to unravel the confusion surrounding the true purpose of the cross of Jesus. Because God was not the one killing Jesus on the cross to appease His wrath against sinners, it can start to be seen that the cross was really a demonstration of the wrath that fills our own hearts and shows what we would do as sinners to God if we could ever get our hands on Him personally. The enmity that sin has put into our hearts against God will always result in resistance to love. And Jesus, the very embodiment of love, came to reveal what sinners will act like when love gets too close to them.
When we think we would not have acted the same way that those people back then acted, we only reveal our own deep delusion as to the effect that sin has on our own perceptions of reality. Sin is so deceitful that we can't even sense how much we hate God until something comes along to expose the wickedness of our own hearts. But when we begin to see our own hopeless condition and sense how much we resist God's love for us and resent Him, we are beginning to get to the place where we can respond to God's offer of life to us. And how does that take place?
Romans 2:4-5 tells us how repentance comes about and who's wrath is really the problem. Being 'in Christ' means that we are starting to believe that God is good and kind just like Jesus revealed when He was here on earth. Believing that God is really good means that we have to let go of our religious lies about God that are so deeply woven throughout nearly all of our beliefs and teachings (real repentance). It also involves viewing God the Father and the Son as exactly the same in reference to how they feel about us and seeing that the problem of wrath is on our side of the fence, not on God's side.
That is not to say that God does not get very angry. God's wrath is immensely real and intense. But His is the wrath of a loving parent in agony over the lies of a stranger that has caused a child to turn away their heart from them because they believe false reports about the parent. It is not a wrath directed at the child but at the lies that have caused the rift and that block meaningful relationship between a parent and their offspring. The wrath of God is against the lies and the pain and the terrible consequences of sin, not against the beings created in His image who were designed to live in loving relationship with Him.
Ultimately sinners become so identified thoroughly with the lies they believe about God that the wrath that falls on those lies also falls on them. Then their beliefs about a wrathful, vengeful God who is angry with people seem totally vindicated and they actually experience what they believe to be true about God. The ultimate outcome of these false views of God is the torture that everyone who resists the truth about God experience when His love and passion are fully revealed in the day of Judgment.
On the other side, all those who have chosen to let go of those lies and to believe the truth as it is in Jesus will also experience what they have come to see about God. Because they believe that God's wrath is really a misunderstood word for His passionate love, when that passion is fully exposed on Judgment day (which itself means the day of full revealing), they too will experience the full results of the fire of God. But as plainly spelled out in Isaiah 33, the same fire that consumes and destroys the wicked who resist His love will ignite and set ablaze in glory all those who have embraced the truth about Him.
The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.