Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Dying in Christ

"The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Corinthians 15:56–57)

Death is the curse visited upon the human race for the sin of Adam, but in Christ, death is swallowed up in victory (1 Corinthians 15:54–55). Death is the appropriate punishment for sin because death destroys sin. In a sense, then, death is welcome because we agree that sin must be destroyed. The question is, Will we ourselves die when death comes, because we are in sin, or will we in our death triumph over death, participating in the judgment upon sin that death brings?

To unpack that question, let us consider the calling of Jesus Christ. He was called to come into the world, called to suffer, and called to die for our sins. In union with Him, we are also sent into the world, we are called to suffer from time to time, and we are also called to die (though not for the sins of the world). The Christian’s death is his last good work. It is his last experience in this world of the privilege of living in union with Christ and of participating in His work of bringing in the kingdom. It is his last work of witness before the watching world.

After Jesus suffered spiritual death (the wrath of God) upon the cross, we read that He exclaimed, “It is finished,” and gave up His spirit to God (John 19:30). His physical death was a sign of the completion of His work. He had run the good race and had finished the course (2 Timothy 4:7). In the same way, our physical death is not a sign of God’s judgment upon us but a sign that we have finished our course. As the old Lutheran hymn puts it, “Jesus lives, and death is now but my entrance into glory.”

The unbeliever dies under the curse of death. Death destroys the unbeliever who is still united to sin. Death, for him, is an entrance into a “death” of everlasting torment and separation from God. The believer, however, dies triumphing over death. Just as the believer’s suffering is a work of conquest by which he participates in the ongoing application of Christ’s finished work in this world, so the believer’s death is a sign of triumph. By dying, the believer destroys the last vestige of death’s hold upon him. His physical death is the last time he will ever experience any of death’s power.

Understanding death as a triumph should comfort us. It should soothe our grief at the loss of a loved one and calm our own fear of death. Pray that any grieving friend or relative may feel this comfort and rest in the truth that death is swallowed up in victory.