This past summer we went hiking in northern California. The pine trees were as tall as a city building. We stood like tiny ants beside ancient trunks which have reigned over the forest for hundreds of years. I couldn't help but imagine what it would be like to be standing in those woods on the Last Day. The words of Psalm 96:12 were on my mind as we hiked, "Let the field exult, and everything in it! Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy before the LORD, for he comes, for he comes to judge the earth."
During our trek along the trails, I noticed the charred remains of trees interspersed among the Giant Sequoias. We learned from a guide that there are some pine trees that can only reproduce through fire. Their cones only open to scatter their seeds from the heat of a forest fire. They need what would normally be a terrible thing, fire, in order to produce new life. If there hasn't been a natural fire, sometimes the park service will start a controlled fire so that the pines will scatter their seeds.
This irony in the natural world is also at work in our lives as well. The upside down story of Christianity is that life comes from death; ours from Christ's. And as his adopted children, we are called to die to ourselves so that we might live for him.
"Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it." (Matthew 16:24-25).
"He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness." (1 Peter 2:24).
"Count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus." (Romans 6:11).
To grow in faith and bear fruit as a believer, we need to walk through the refiner's fire. We need to be stripped of our sin. We need all those things that keep us from living for Christ removed. We need to then be molded and reshaped into the image and likeness of Christ.
Paul describes in Colossians 3 the things that must die in us: "Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator" (vs. 5-10).
As these things die, new life emerges from the ashes. Paul continues, "Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful." (Colossians 3:12-15).
"In asking you to die, Jesus is giving you eternal life the only way it can be given. He has to call you to die because you are in the way of you having life. It is our pride, our rebellion, our independence, our foolishness, and our denial that stand in the way of his offer of life. We tell ourselves that we are okay. We act as if we're smarter than God. We like our little kingdoms more than we love his. We think our rules are better than his. We tell ourselves that present pleasure is better than eternal gain. If someone doesn't rescue us from our delusions about our lives, we will lose our lives. Yes, we must die if we are ever going to live. So grace is out to kill us. But in presiding over our deaths, grace gives us life--real, abundant, and eternal life. Don't fight the death of your old life; instead, celebrate the new life that is yours by grace and grace alone. And remember that your Savior will continue to call you to die; it is the way of life." (October 19th meditation)
Death seems like the end of things. But like the Giant Sequoia, the death of our old life paves the way for new life. A resurrected life. A fruit bearing life. A life that reflects the One who died and rose again for us.
Have you seen new life rise from the death of your old life?