Our Greatest Problem Is Not What You Think It Is

Mankind has a host of problems to deal with in life.

Some of the major ones we’ve got to deal with are nuclear weapons, war, disease, population increase, cleaner and more sustainable energy, terrorism, injustice, domestic and global economic crisis, climate change, hunger, poverty, and clean water around the world. Some dare to include other problems to this list like tangled ear bud cords, running out of siracha, and posting something on Facebook only to receive a couple of likes. Above these ridiculous first world problems, and above these real global problems we encounter in this life, one problem rises to the top that every man will one day have to face: death.

That statistics will always stand. 10 out of 10 die. Regardless what man in his scientific genius accomplishes in this life the reality of death awaits us all. On this R.C. Sproul says, “Death is the greatest problem human beings encounter. We may try to tuck thoughts of it away in a far corner of our minds, but we cannot completely erase our awareness of our mortality. We know that the specter of death awaits us.”[1]

All the way back in the beginning God told the man Adam and the woman Eve in Genesis 2:16-17, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” They could eat of any tree they so desired as they did life in the garden God had made for them. But they believed the word of the serpent over the Word of God and ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Upon sinning that first time they spiritually died and became unfit to be in God’s presence, so they were banished from the garden. But spiritual death wasn’t only in view. Up until the point they ate the fruit they were going to be with God for all time, but now that they had fallen, physical death would one day come to them. Paul speaks of this sad moment in Romans 5:12-18 where he says sin came into the world through Adam, and death through sin, which led to death spreading to all men. Thus we read God’s pronouncement upon our first parents in Genesis 3:19, “…for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Therefore, the origin of spiritual and physical death is sin.

 

I recently had the opportunity to attend a funeral. Family and friends gathered to honor this man’s life, memories were shared and tears were shed inside the church and throughout the few days we came together. But for me, the most poignant moment of the whole funeral, the moment filled with sobering reality, was when we gathered around the gravesite for the burial. I knew once the casket went into the ground that this man wasn’t coming back out. The finality of the moment was thick. It seemed impossible to escape. The unbelieving worldview simply thinks of death as the last part of a natural process but standing there watching the casket and hearing the sobs of the loved ones I didn’t feel anything of natural order. It made me feel that death is a cruel master, waiting to carry out its sentence on all of us one day where it will harshly sever the unity of body of soul.

Perhaps this is why Louis Berkhof mentions that “…death is something foreign and hostile to human life: an expression of divine anger, judgment, condemnation, and a curse.”[2] I think we feel such things at moments like this because death wasn’t part of our original state before God. We we’re made to live with Him forever but because we chose to sin by rebelling against God’s command all of us now will (because of God’s judgment on us for our sin) feel the pang of death one day. That is, unless Jesus returns first.

But see the beauty of the grace of God in that while He could’ve put forth an exact judgment as soon as Adam and Eve at the fruit, ending humanity once and for all, He didn’t. In His common grace He restrains the full effects of sin and death, and adding glory upon glory, in His special grace to His people He has conquered sin and death through the work of Christ. So it is true what many preachers have said throughout the ages, “Believers are born twice and die only once while unbelievers are born only once and die twice.” Is this not the outworking of Romans 6:23? “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” The wages, or payment, of sin is death. So all those who remain in sin and unbelief will experience death in hell forever. While all those who forsake sin and believe will experience life in heaven forever.

But since the wages of sin is death, and Jesus bore our sin as our substitute, absorbing the wrath of God in our place, since that is true, why do believers still have to physically die? Why can’t God just take us to heaven when we’re saved or sometime before physical death occurs since believers have no more wages for sin to pay? This is a good question, and there are good reasons why God ordains for most of us to go through physical death.[3]

First, for Witness

If we are born again and immediately taken to heaven who would preach the gospel, who would share the gospel, who would gather with the Church? In fact, if God took us away upon conversion there wouldn’t be any Church left on earth, and if there is no Church left on earth, there is no way the great commission would be engaged in, let alone finished. By saving us and leaving us here God gives us the opportunity to be a witness to truth throughout our lives.

Second, for Humility

Nothing humbles the pride of man than an awareness of an impending death. Even if God’s providence brings you death years into the future, the knowledge that death will one day come and bring your life on earth to an end, does much to bring one’s life into focus. That all mankind: rich and poor, young and old, male and female will one day die is a great equalizer.

Third, for Holiness

Death does bring one’s life into focus. The peripheral things get pushed away and the chief things of man come into prominence. And among those chief things that come into prominence, knowing and pleasing God becomes most prominent because He is ultimately the One we must reckon with in the end of all things. Therefore, an awareness of death in the end will lead one to have a greater zeal for holy living in the present.

Fourth, for Heavenly Mindedness

In Colossians 3:1-4 Paul makes this point stating, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.”

The big idea Paul is getting is that we live this life rightly by considering, inclining our heart to, and wholeheartedly entertaining the things that are above, not on things that are on earth. So to set our minds on things above means using all of our energy to know Christ, continually seeking to mature in Christ, getting out there and pursuing the lost with the message of Christ, reading and meditating on God’s Word to grow in the knowledge of Christ, devoting ourselves to prayer to draw closer to Christ, and giving our lives to the service of the Church following the example of Christ. To flip the popular saying, “The only way to be of any earthly good is to be heavenly minded.”

The Puritan pastors used to teach their congregations to think on death often for the sake of gaining the right perspective in our current lives. In the Puritan prayer book, the Valley of Vision, part of the prayer entitled Sleep reads, “May my frequent lying down make me familiar with death, the bed I approach remind me of the grave, the eyes I now close picture to me their final closing. Keep me always ready, waiting for admittance to thy presence… I retire this night in full assurance of one day awaking with thee.”[4]

For the Puritans, our earthly life is only the title page and table of contents, preparing us to for chapter 1 of the never ending book that is eternity with God.

May the same be true of us as well.

 

 

Citations:

[1] R.C. Sproul, Everyone’s A Theologian, page 295

[2] Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, page 670.

[3] I say ‘most’ because the believers who are alive when Christ returns will not have to endure through physical death.

[4] The Valley of Vision, page 163.

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