When I was first witnessed to about Jesus Christ in 1971, I was so ignorant about the Bible and the Christian faith that I did not know that Christians claimed that Jesus had been physically resurrected. I have yet to meet anyone else who is that ignorant of the resurrection as an historical event, but we could all better understand the significance of the resurrection of Jesus Christ to our daily lives. As the Apostle Paul wrote, experientially knowing the power of Christ’s resurrection was one of the focal points of his life:
I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings…
Paul’s desire was to know intimately the Lord Jesus Christ, especially the power of his resurrection. Note that this power is connected to “…the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings….” That means that Paul saw a connection between the power of resurrection and his facing various kinds of “death” in his life. Without a death of some kind, there is no need for, or value in, a resurrection.
The pattern that Jesus lived in the days of his “passion” (i.e., suffering and death) is one that he invites us to follow and to model our lives after. Thankfully, in this day and time we will not have to be crucified, tortured for 40 hours, and humiliated publicly in every way imaginable, but we are going to have to follow this pattern in the footsteps of our Master if we want to grow to our full spiritual potential. Here is the progression:
a) A struggle in our own personal Garden of Gethsemane that invites us to relinquish our will in favor of accepting God’s purposes in our lives.
b) A period of suffering and trial that will lead to
c) the death of something in us that we have held as dear or necessary so that we can
d) experience the power of his resurrection and
e) live in “newness of life” under the authority and Lordship of the resurrected Savior.
Let us examine each of these in turn.
“…not my will but thine…”
In every life that is devoted to God, there are times when one must decide whose will is going to be decisive. Jesus modeled complete trust in God, which included the belief that God’s purposes for his life were superior to his own. This truth, by the way, cannot be embraced from a Trinitarian perspective, which sees Jesus as God instead of as a man having a God and having to trust Him. Clearly the latter view gives us a better opportunity to see ourselves doing what Jesus did.
Jesus’ trust in God his Father was not something that always came easily, as in the Garden of Gethsemane. He prayed intensely into the night, hearing God’s “No” the first and second times he asked, but continuing to pray for other alternatives. Finally, he was able to embrace the death that was ahead of him, and go to the Cross with the joyful expectation of resurrection and eternal rewards (Heb. 12:3). Did not God reward Jesus abundantly for his faith? Will He not do this for us as well?
Will God sometimes ask us to do things that we don’t want to do? Most definitely. Just ask Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Paul, et al. When what He wants is very different from what we want, this can be a struggle. Too often we will not give up our self-centered perspective without the Lord having to wrestle us to the mat! As we grow in faith (trust) by obeying him, we see that the Lord’s ways are the better ways, and we learn to trust him more and more.
There are many examples of this clash of wills that we have encountered through the years. Maybe you can relate to one or more of these:
- God convicts a husband to stop his angry outbursts against his wife and kids that he has used to keep them from annoying and frustrating him—and concentrate on loving and accepting them instead.
- God asks a wife to stop criticizing her husband for his apparent lack of interest in spiritual things and learn to respect him just the way he is—to be thankful instead for all that her husband does to serve her and their kids.
- God wants a teenager to call her parents to come pick her up from a party where the liquor and drugs were brought out after the host parents went to bed, risking being thought of as “uncool.”
- God wants a man to accept a lower paying job with another, newer company in order to have more time with his family—risking both his job security and the comfortable lifestyle made possible by the higher income—not to mention the wounding of his pride.
- God calls an “empty nest” couple to sell their house and belongings and become missionaries in Africa.
- God asks a mature minister to step aside so that others can have an opportunity to minister and learn. She is asked to take on a mentoring more than a performing role.
In each of these situations, God asks someone to give up something they value in order for Him to enrich their lives in other and new ways. Is this not an invitation to “die” to something? Of course we are not going to want that, and will typically resist it as long as we can, but when we finally understand that God’s purpose is to free us from bondage and fear, we can learn to embrace this “death.”
The husband fears losing control and being humiliated. The wife stands to lose her sense of spiritual superiority over her husband. The teenager risks losing social standing. The employee risks financial deprivation. The older couple must face their fears of not being taken care of in their old age. And the minister will lose whatever boost to her self-esteem she gained in performing as an effective minister.
But in every one of these cases, can we not see that the resurrection power of God could bring much deliverance? The husband could find less control but more love and acceptance. The wife could find more joy, peace, and personal fulfillment. The teenager could find better friends with similar values and less pressure to conform to what is considered “cool.” The employee is freed from the need to keep climbing the corporate ladder and finds satisfaction in reasonable job expectations and a richer family life. The older couple finds greater satisfaction in living a life of serving and loving that completely trumps their fears. And the minister discovers to her delight that she derives more pleasure from seeing others succeed with her help than from performing herself.
Suffering and Trial
After we have declared our commitment to doing the will of God, we should expect a reaction from our flesh, and from Satan, who plays upon the strings of our flesh like a master cellist. The world will test our commitment to God, and we will suddenly have multiple opportunities to break our word. Whether we have determined to lose weight or to witness more, we should expect that our commitment will be met by spiritual opposition. But “this too will pass.” We must stand strong in these times of trial, letting them wash over us. Rather than trying to gut it out on our own, we must keep asking the Lord to give us strength in these times to help us overcome. To do the will of God requires that we have the power of God—the power of resurrection. As Jesus bravely accepted the trial of his faith, not becoming angry and resentful, so must we. Learning to love, be at peace, find joy, and be kind to others while in a faith trial is good training in Christ-likeness.
It is interesting to consider that, according to the Bible, all bondage or limitations on our freedom come from one source: the fear of death.
Hebrews 2:14 and 15
(14) Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death―that is, the devil―
(15) and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.
So it is only logical that in order to expand our freedom to love and serve, we must overcome the fear of death in all its forms. There have been literally thousands of phobias identified, but they all have one thing in common: a fear of death. In counseling settings I have often heard people speak of death when expressing their feelings about having to change something in their lives. If they were to give up control, they would “just die.” If they were to admit they were wrong about something, they would be trampled to death emotionally by those who overpower them. If they were to accept some negative feedback about themselves, they would die. If they gave up their commitment to appearing youthful, they would quickly slide into senility and death. But the truth is, all these “deaths” are fictional, and hold us in bondage. Once we face them and refuse to be tyrannized by them any longer, and trust that God will be there on the other side of letting go of these things, we discover greater faith, peace, joy—all the things that only God can provide.
So losing our fear of death in all forms is a great way to expand our freedom. And can’t we expect our loving God to work in us to free us from this fear of death in all its forms so we can love Him and others more? Facing and enduring trials of faith can bring about an increase of faith in God’s power to deliver and resurrect. But they also often involve us giving up some of our attachments: to comfort, to knowledge, to ease, to looking good, to being the giver rather than the one in need, etc. We have to allow these things to die in us before we will see the great power of God in our lives. Paul often speaks of death as that which frees us to serve God and bring life to others.
But now, by dying to what once bound us (i.e., the law), we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.
2 Corinthians 4:10-12
(10) We always carry around in our body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.
(11) For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body.
(12) So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.
2 Corinthians 6:4, 5a and 9b
(4) Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses;
(5a) in beatings, imprisonments and riots;…
(9b) …dying, and yet we live on…
The Power of His Resurrection
Believing that God would raise Isaac from the dead is what enabled Abraham to be obedient to sacrifice him (Gen. 22:5; Heb. 11:17-19). Our faith in the resurrection power of God in Christ Jesus will enable us to put to death anything in the flesh that is limiting our ability to love and serve God. Nothing else that we believe will help us as much as recognizing that whatever we give up, or put to death, God will resurrect into something far more beneficial.
In a way, we grow spiritually like organisms that have exoskeletons rather than internal skeletons made of bone. For them to grow, they have to shed their old hard “crust” and grow another, bigger one in its place because what has protected them in the past is now stifling their growth. We develop such “skins” of self-protection–abilities that we depend upon too much, or formerly successful ways of being that are no longer helpful or fruitful. In fact, they are killing us. We must shed the old and trust that God will give us something better in place of it. We must believe that His creativity and resourcefulness is sufficient to provide what we need.
Living in “Newness of Life”
The last stage of the pattern Christ gave us is what we might call “the lifestyle of grace.” As we continually live in humility, acknowledging our weaknesses and the infirmity of our flesh, we are transformed more and more by grace into the likeness of our Lord and Savior. We live as those who have been purchased with the price of his life, and allow him to live his life in us through our obedience. By living under his authority, and acknowledging his Lordship over all aspects of our lives, we relinquish our pride, our autonomy, our self-will, and we come to desire to please the Lord more than pleasing others or ourselves. We know that his wisdom is vast, and his spirit is within us, enabling us to live every minute as if we have been raised from the dead. What joy was set before Jesus, enabling him to go the Cross knowing that he would be raised again to glory. So too we can face our lives with joy, knowing that our God and our Lord will give us grace to overcome our trials, and resurrection power to be raised from the various “deaths” we are called to die.
This has been a basic exploration of a practical perspective on the resurrection of Jesus Christ. As his resurrection is the most important fact of the life of Jesus Christ, so living in the power of his resurrection is the most important key to enjoying the abundant life that he promised. This is not a life without trials, but one full of deliverance and the overcoming of obstacles. It is also a life marked by the joy that comes from being loved by One so wise and wonderful, who can be trusted to the uttermost.
Addiction and Grace: Love and Spirituality in the Healing of Addictions, Gerald May, M.D., (Harper Collins Publishers, New York, NY, 1988).