Editors’ note: 

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The hardest, most unformal but most liberating truth in the world is that the only way to life is through death. First Christ’s, then your own.

”So then I count it all loss indeed to know that most precious one, Christ Jesus my Lord … to know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made like him through like death, if I may be raised from the dead” (Phil. 3:8–11).

God is a good Creator

In his own creation, God put his own goodness, beauty, truth, love, wisdom and character on display. Man in the image of God is the crown of all creation: created to worship his Creator, to care for the rest of creation and to enrich the lives of his fellow human beings according to God’s good order. Order and creativity, joy and contentment, learning and growth are the good life of creation as it worships its Creator. Music, the arts, exercise in nature, and rational work in working the materials of creation for the benefit of others are created as channels for worshipping God. In this way God receives glory and man receives joy, pleasure and life.

God is just

His good law of love demands that the people he creates always love him with all their hearts above all else. Because he gives only his best to his creatures, he has created us to love himself with our whole being. But following the example of the first Adam, we have loved his gifts more than him. That is the definition of sin. Idolatry.

Following the example of the first Adam, we have loved God’s gifts more than him. That is the definition of sin.

”They have exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things” (Rom. 1:23). We praise what we love above all things. And that is not God. That is why Paul says: ”all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). This is no small thing, but great treason. The character of God is not properly reflected in man, and man lives a lie while hiding the truth. Relationships become a web of manipulation, lies and distrust. The (even good) objects of man’s love without the Creator bind him to death. And creation groans.

God is also merciful

A just God is under no obligation to have mercy on any of his creatures. Nevertheless, God’s own Son appeases his wrath on behalf of sinners. This means that ”God has put forward as a propitiation by his blood” (Rom. 3:25). Christ dies in the place of sinners. As a vicarious sacrifice, Jesus Christ takes the curse of God upon Himself. God’s justice is satisfied. He is just and merciful without compromise.

Let us not trivialize God’s love. God’s love is on display right here in the death of Christ. ”In this is love – not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10). In the death of the Son we see the good justice and merciful love of God. Mercy is not cheap, and justice is not distorted. God is good.

God the Father is the designer and architect of redemption

Jesus’ death was the Father’s idea. It came before the creation of the world (2 Tim. 1:9; Rev. 13.8). ”It pleased the Lord to smite him, to strike him with sickness” (Isa. 53:10).

At the same time, Jesus’ death is also a demonstration of his complete and joyful obedience to his Father. Christ loved us and gave himself for us as a gift and a sacrifice, a sweet offering to God (Eph. 5:2). Let us praise the wonder of God’s love. It is not a touchy-feely love. God scolded and cursed His Son – a Son who at the same time was obedient to the point of death on the cross (Phil. 2:8). Cursed, obedient and loved at the same time. In death.

Jesus’ death is not just an example of God’s love. His death is an expression of God’s love. It gives life. Christ died an effective death for his own sheep (John 10:11), for his own church (Eph. 5:2, 25). His death is sufficient for all those proud rebels who find self-righteousness and boasting in the objects of their own affections, without their Creator, now abhorrent. And at the same time and for that reason they regard Christ as their greatest treasure. Christ as the second Adam represents his own to his Father. His death is an effective death, a personal and corporal act of love. It is my sin and rebellion and pride and idolatry that have been atoned for by death. And not only mine, but of all the sheep the Father has given to Christ and who will come to him. In death, sinners are joined together with Christ and with other sheep. Nothing can or must be added to Christ’s death to set sinners free.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is historical and physical

Jesus did not remain lying in the grave. God raised Christ from the dead to life at a specific historical moment. He was bodily resurrected. This means that his resurrection body is not a spirit or a ghost. It is a physical body. He ate, drank and was physically with people. In the resurrection body. Alive.

Jesus’ resurrection guarantees the resurrection of all people (1 Cor. 15:20–26). The final judgment will be experienced in the resurrection body, which will lead to the new heaven and earth those who trust in Christ’s righteousness. It is more tangible than a hug after a sincere reconciliation and apology between two disputants. Or it leads to eternal damnation, more real than a burn that will never heal.

The resurrection of Jesus and the life-giving work of the Holy Spirit make it possible for Jesus’ followers to die to themselves and to sacrifice themselves for others even now.

The resurrection of Jesus and the life-giving work of the Holy Spirit make it possible for Jesus’ followers to die to themselves and to sacrifice themselves for others even now. This brings eternal fruit (1 Cor. 15:58). ”If we suffer with him, we shall also be glorified with him” (Rom. 8:17). When we suffer for others, we bring life. Therefore, the fellowship of those who have received grace is a fellowship of mutual correction, encouragement, love and suffering, a tangible glimpse of life. That is why we lay down our own lives, that we may bring life to dead bodies who have not yet heard of Life. The more we die each day, the more we already have a taste of life.

The best is yet to come

”The best is yet to come” is written on a pillow in my and my wife’s bedroom. A faithful marriage between a man and a woman, at best, enjoying and suffering for each other, is only a temporary window into the everlasting fellowship and life between God and the redeemed. That ultimate marriage, the union between Christ and the church, we already get a taste of in the concrete context of the redeemed, in the church. In the church, both death to self and life in Christ are present at the same time, in a very concrete way.

The day will come when the whole new creation will be ”full of the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea” (Hab. 2:14). Then those who love the triune God will worship him with all their hearts, and as a result we will care for creation and enrich the lives of our neighbors to the full. Music, arts, exercise in nature and working with the materials of creation for the benefit of our neighbor take on an even deeper dimension. Pride has been eroded. Humility, courage and joy remain. And death is no more.

While we wait for it – let us die to ourselves (Rom. 8:13)!

For further reading:

  • John Stott, The Cross of Jesus. IVP, 2008.
  • John Piper, Fifty Reasons Jesus Came to Die. Wheaton: Crossway, 2006.

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