Seeming paradoxes are found throughout scripture, but one of the most perplexing is about life and death. Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10) Jesus is talking about the work of Satan vs. His work to give us abundant life in this world as well as eternal life with the Father. After Jesus returned to His heavenly home, the apostle, Paul, said of himself and those ministering with him, “So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.” (2 Corinthians 4:12) That statement was preceded by a description of all the hardships he and his group had endured. “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9) If Paul and others on the front lines were being so challenged, where was that demonstration of abundant life? What did he mean by saying that death was at work in them?
The vast majority of us who have asked Jesus to be the Lord of our lives understand two things: that our spirits became alive in Him in that moment, but that our old ways/thoughts/behaviors did not immediately change. Paul actually has a lot to say about putting off the old self to receive our new nature in Christ. (Ephesians 4:22-24) That indicates that we must replace the old self with the new, and that it is generally a process. Paul also gives many descriptions of what the sin nature looks like, vs. the Christ nature (please read Galatians 5:16-25), so that at any time, we can make a personal assessment of our progress. We tend to speed-read this scripture, because the reality of meditating on it convicts each of us with regard to the number of items on the “bad” list we have not overcome, along with items on the “good” list we have not mastered. If we’ve tried our very best to put off what is bad and cling to what is good, yet haven’t had victory, how is this actually accomplished?
I believe the process is contained in Paul’s description of death at work in them. “ …because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son. Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:6-7, 11) Hardship has a way of focusing us. The more dire our circumstances, and the more helpless we are, the more likely we are to go to God for help (…having exhausted all other avenues). When our focus turns to God, He seizes a teachable moment.
Perhaps the greatest lesson we can learn is that when God is literally all we have, He truly is ALL we need. Our utter dependency on Him teaches us the nature of His love, mercy, grace, and provision in a way we would never otherwise learn it …just ask most anyone who has survived natural disasters, been brought back from the brink of death, or walked through anything catastrophic. Crises have a way of identifying what is really important. Letting go of the rest – counting some old ways and ideas dead – now brings freedom and additional meaning to this word from Philippians 1:21, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”
How often have we mistaken adversity as God’s judgment, or Satan’s attack, rather than God’s abundant-life discipline to teach us what we don’t know, and to mold us into the image of Christ?