Death is not the end. That’s the message of the gospel, the good news. The paradigm of death followed by resurrection was true of Jesus’ life on earth. And it’s true for our experience as well – both in the here-and-now, and in the eternal sense. Even while we are still on earth, we can experience the life of Jesus.
The world’s way of thinking falls into the ditch on either side of this truth. On the one hand some would have you believe that our experience is little more than “life sucks, and then you die.” The best we can hope for is to find a worthy addiction that’s not too destructive to numb the futility and suffering. In the church this can look like elevating suffering to an end in itself, as though the more pain you experience the holier you must be. That’s a gross distortion of the truth.
And on the other hand some try to jump so quickly over the suffering and only focus on the resurrection that much is lost. Life becomes an exercise in motivation, achievement, or pleasure. In the church this looks like expecting immediate relief or healing or blessing every time you pray “right.” The journey, the valley, the pain is a measure of your lack of faith. The value and experience of lament is lost.
Last time we talked about what it means to enter into the death of Jesus in every dimension of our experience. (see Romans 6:1-11) We truly do – must – experience that death.
But that’s not the end of the story. So what does then experiencing the life of Jesus, resurrection life, look like?
Think of what we know of the early followers of Jesus. None of them would have for a moment believed Jesus was calling them to a life of ease. But neither was it a life of rules and regulations and religion. Read Acts or the following letters in the New Testament. You get the feeling that never had these early Christians been and felt more Fully Alive!
This kind of life they were now experiencing was a conundrum to those looking on. The early Christians certainly experienced great trouble. Many lost status, jobs, property, family, even their lives. There were even plenty of human squabbles among them. It wasn’t easy to work through their developing understanding of “God in Three Persons,” or what it meant to live as one new family regardless of Jew or Gentile, male or female, slave or free. Never had such a movement or community existed before, where gender, skin color, or ethnicity meant nothing.
And often they didn’t get it right right away. (Many times we still don’t.)
But there was something about these followers of Jesus that was irresistible. The “rivers of living water” seemed to be flowing from the inside of them, and would not be stopped. (See John 7:38)
Life for Body, Mind, and Soul
Jesus promised that for those who followed Him, “though he die, yet shall he live.” We often gloss over that too quickly and spiritualize it away.
As far as bodies, notice how Paul talks about the life of Jesus being experienced in our “mortal” (fleshly, human) bodies: “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)
And again: “always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 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 4:10-11)
Even our physical bodies are enlivened through following Jesus.
And certainly our minds and spirits are made alive: “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 2:5) “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.” (2 Corinthians 4:16)
The life of Jesus is not only for eternity; it’s also for the here and now. It doesn’t look like what the world may expect “life” to look like. It doesn’t mean lack of trouble or absence of real suffering. But there’s an alive quality to one who truly is following Jesus regardless of the circumstances.
Getting to Life After Death
It’s a rare Christian who experiences all the life that Jesus truly has available for us, even here and now. And remember that this kind of life only follows death. This kind of life is not for one’s own “kicks.” As with the resurrection Jesus experienced, it was not for Himself. The death you experience, and the life that follows as a result of God’s intervention, is always for something bigger than yourself.
Here are a few of the ways that can work itself out in areas of your life.
- Sin, addiction, bondage. Death means no glossing over what you’ve done and where you are. You acknowledge it in all its ugliness and destructiveness, and bring it all to Jesus, hiding nothing. In His presence forgiveness and freedom come, and you are truly enabled to walk the often difficult journey forward.
- Past trauma. Death means “going there.” You examine your story, refusing to ignore your wounds, experiencing the death that such trauma has brought. And then inviting Jesus into the middle of that trauma brings healing, growth, and meaning right out of the middle of it all, usually over a period of time.
- Relationships. Death means giving up the hopes that your spouse, children, friends, parents, others would bring you the life you hoped for. You also die to needing to live by yourself, on your own terms. And then life comes as you begin to learn what true connection and service is. Not codependency, but mutuality and true love.
- Meaning, Purpose. Death means letting go of the status, dreams, or achievement you may have imagined would bring you life. You let it go. And that makes room for the true fulfillment that comes through being part of God’s bigger purpose.
Such death-to-life resurrection stories are God’s specialty. And they usually develop over years, not days.
So, what have you been holding onto so tightly that you refuse to let it die? Where are you refusing to enter into the “death of Jesus” part of the experience?
Let me encourage you to open your hands and let it go, even before you know what resurrection will look like.
And the resurrection life that you can experience as a result will truly be miraculous.
Your Turn: Have you found yourself mired in suffering for its own sake? Have you allowed the life of Jesus to truly penetrate your experience? Leave a comment below.
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- Suffering is not for its own sake. There is resurrection that follows death. That was the paradigm in Jesus’ life, and it is what each follower of Jesus can experience now, in every area. Tweet that.
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