JESUS DIED; NOW WE LIVE
Written by Doug Ponder on February 17, 2013
Hard to Say “Goodbye”
Imagine that you were standing there with the rest of the Christians who lived in Caesarea, listening to Agabus’ prophetic warning. Paul was going to be imprisoned if he continued on to Jerusalem. “We can’t let that happen,” they must’ve thought to themselves. “Paul is too precious to us. He is too good a friend. His gifts are too important to be taken away so soon. Please, Paul. Think of yourself. Think of your friends. Think of the church.”
Paul probably did think of all those things. But he also thought about Jesus. For Paul, Jesus made life worth living. He cared about his friends. He cared about his own life. But he really cared about Jesus. Jesus was the one who put the rest of life into proper perspective. This is how Paul said it when comparing Jesus to the rest of the world: “I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him” (Phil. 3:8-9a).
The One Who Came to Die
Paul wasn’t exaggerating. The good news that Jesus has conquered sin and death on our behalf had calmed his fears, stirred his heart, energized his work, and sustained him even in the midst of very great hardships. After all, Jesus’ death and resurrection were not about providing us with an escape from this world. They were about transforming us into the kind of people who will enjoy eternity with God—just as we were meant to do in the first place. This is why Paul writes, “Jesus died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who died and was raised for their sake” (2 Cor. 5:15).
In other words, Paul says that Jesus died so that you and I might live. But what does it mean “to live”? Some people have thought that Jesus died for us so that we could enjoy “the good life,” the American dream of having peace, prosperity, and a healthy family. But that’s not why Jesus offered up his life for you. Other people think that “living for Jesus” means being a good, moral person. You keep your nose clean, stay out of trouble, and obey the laws of the land. While those may be good things, they aren’t the reason Jesus came to die.
Jesus died and rose again so that you and I would, in the power of the Spirit, be able to ‘deny ourselves, take up our cross daily, and follow him’ (cf. Luke 9:23). And that’s precisely what Paul intended to do. He was ready to live for Jesus, even if it meant losing his own life in the process. Of course, Jesus wasn’t mainly talking about physical death. He was talking about a much harder kind of death than that: dying to self. The phrase “dying to self” means putting to death the parts of ourselves that live selfishly in sinful rebellion.
Adventures in Missing the Point
Some have thought that Jesus died for us so that we would try our best to deny ourselves and “live for Jesus” in order to earn his love. That completely offends God because it makes a mockery of his love. It’s like saying that God is the kind of person who will only love those who earn it. What kind of love is that?
Then there are others who think that they must “live for Jesus” in order to pay him back for what he has done. They say, “Okay Jesus. You died for me. I’m going to live for you. Then we’ll be even.” That would be like telling your spouse that you will pay them back for every act of love or kindness they show to you. Can you imagine how offended they would be if you tried to do that? (Not to mention the fact that your acts of kindness that you try to pay God back with are like trying to pay off debts with Monopoly money.)
In Christ, through Christ, for Christ
Let’s come back around to Paul’s situation. He wasn’t trying to risk his life for Jesus out of some desire to repay Jesus or earn his love. Rather, he was motivated to live for Jesus (even if it meant dying) because he was overwhelmed with gratitude and love for what Jesus had already done for him. Paul knew that because he had identified with Jesus through faith, he had already died to sin and be raised to new life in Christ (Col. 3:1-4). Because he was in Christ, he could now live through Christ. It was literally Jesus living in and through Paul (Gal. 2:20) to give him the desires and the abilities to do what pleases God (Phil. 2:13). And if that’s true, then Paul was willing and able to live for Christ. It always works in that order. Those who identity with Jesus through faith are “in Christ.” They live “through Christ” because it is “Christ who lives in them” giving them “the desires and the ability” to do what pleases God.
“You also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Rom. 6:11)
“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.” (Gal. 2:20)
“It is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Phil. 2:13)
For Your Consideration
1. Was it reckless of Paul to go to Jerusalem in spite of the prophetic warning? Would you have done the same?
2. What are some similarities and differences between the death Jesus was willing to die for us, and the death Paul was willing to die for Jesus?
3. How could zeal/passion for something sometimes be a bad thing? How does the gospel change our zeal or motivation to live for Jesus?
4. How does the gospel make “living for Jesus” possible?
Doug Ponder is one of the founding pastors of Remnant Church in Richmond, VA, where he serves in many of the church’s teaching ministries. He has contributed to several published works and is the author of Rethink Marriage & Family. His interests include the intersection of theology, ethics, and the Christian life. Follow him on Twitter @dougponder.