In the the first century AD, a man named Paul wrote these stunning words about his faith in Jesus Christ:
Philippians 1:21 (HCSB)
21 For me, living is Christ and dying is gain.
Galatians 2:20 (NIV)
20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Those are amazingly strong words. That is real, eternal hope in Jesus. Hope that once your earthly life ends, you will spend eternity with Jesus in heaven. That is what the phrase “dying is gain” from Philippians 1:21 is talking about. And history tells us that Paul was ultimately martyred because of his faith in Jesus Christ.
But the kind of real, eternal hope that Paul had in Jesus also changed the way that Paul lived his life on earth. He did not live for himself or his pleasures anymore. He realized that he had been so transformed by Jesus Christ that his life was forever changed. He realized that everything he did was to be done with Jesus in mind. He realized that the spirit of Christ – the Holy Spirit – was now living in him.
Paul’s life was radically transformed. He knew that he was loved by God. He knew that God had tremendous plans for him, and that for him to be in God’s will he must live by faith in Jesus. This meant that he must passionately pursue God’s will. He must live a life that followed after the pattern of Christ. His words, his actions, his thoughts, and his motives all needed to be patterned after Jesus Christ. His decisions, his goals, and his priorities needed to line up with those found in the Bible.
What about you? Is your life sold-out to Jesus Christ?
Some people think that living a life sold-out to Jesus Christ means totally separation from the activities of the world. But in the Bible we see Jesus totally engaged in his culture. He was incarnational. He lived among us. He was in the world, but not of the world. Listen to Jesus’ words to his followers and to us about what it means to follow Him:
Luke 9:23 (HCSB)
23 Then He said to them all, “If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me.”
Some of the great heroes of the faith have modeled this for us. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, for example, was totally sold out to Jesus Christ. He spent his life studying the Scriptures, serving others, building strong friendships, teaching others to follow Christ, and opposing evil forces all around him in Nazi Germany. But he also enjoyed playing sports, visiting museums and art galleries, and spending time in nature. He lived his life incarnationally. He knew that his ultimate goal was to live for Christ. He was to live in the world but not of the world.
Because of his deep commitment to Christ and the decisions that led him to make, Bonhoeffer was ultimately martyred. One observer at his death, Dr. H. Fischer-Hullstrung, said that he had hardly ever “seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God.” Bonhoeffer’s life and his death teach us what it means “to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”
Paul wasn’t a perfect man. Bonhoeffer wasn’t a perfect man. Only Jesus was perfect. His life on earth shows us the way to live. His death on the cross provides the means for our salvation. And His resurrection gives us hope for eternal life.
This is true life: following Jesus Christ. This is abundant life on earth, and eternal life starting now and lasting for all of eternity. This only comes from Jesus Christ.
Let us commit our lives to daily dying to self so that we might live for Christ. Let us passionately pursue God’s will in the new year to come.