I’m sure most of you reading have had a near death experience at some point in your life. Some have wilder stories than others, but I’m sure you have had one.
While I’ve hung from the side of mountains, seen sharks while surfing, and encountered some shady characters in my day, my most harrowing near death experienced occurred when I was 16. A couple of my friends and I were driving to our friend’s house. He’d challenged me earlier to scare him, and up to this point, I hadn’t succeeded, so I took it one step further. I began doing what you shouldn’t do in a car at 70 miles an hour, I was shaking it back and forth.The car couldn’t handle it and it ended up sliding out. When it did, I immediately tried to correct it by turning the wheel the opposite way instead of into the slide. I learned later that is what you are supposed to do — turn it into the slide so that it spins around. I didn’t know that then, so when I tried to correct it, it caught and propelled us head first into a palm tree. After slamming into the tree, the car went airborne for a moment and then landed on my side, shattering my window, and leaving me hanging by my seat belt. By God’s grace, we were all okay, and we were able to climb out the passenger side of the car.
By far that was my most harrowing near death experience. I literally could have, and probably should have, died in that accident.
Thinking about my experience and you thinking about your experience brings death to mind, but most of us don’t think about death on a regular basis. We push it to the back of our mind and only let the thought come to the forefront every now and again. As Christians, however, we must think about death, and we must do so often. I know that probably sounds weird and morbid, so let me explain.
For Christians, death is not only how we gain a relationship with the Father, but it is also how we are able to worship God on a daily basis. If you have been in church any length of time, that last phrase might bring to mind Romans 12:1-2. Paul, the late apostle and missionary, writing to the Romans says starting in verse 1,
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Ro 12:1–2)
As you look at these verses more carefully you notice Paul begins verse 1 with an appeal to action. We will get to what he wants us to do in a moment, but first I want you to notice the basis of Paul’s appeal and that is the “mercies of God.” “The mercies of God” is what he uses to motivate the Romans and us to give our bodies as a living sacrifice.
The Mercies of God
“The mercies of God” is an interesting phrase. One we need to consider because it quite literally is the bridge that allows us to move from sinner to saint; it is what allows us to go from those who live in rebellion to God, to those who are able to live for God.
To what do the mercies of God refer?
The phrase is shorthand for and representative of Paul’s argument up to this point in the letter to the Romans. Essentially it tells us that:
The Death of One Man Leads to the Life of Another (vs. Ro. 3:23-25a; 5:1)
More specifically, Jesus’ death allows us to experience life and a restored relationship with the Father.
Hearing that some of you might be thinking: Why was that necessary?
Why was it necessary for Jesus to die?
Jesus’ death is explained by the mercies of God. Up to this point in the letter, Paul has not only proven we are sinners, but he has also proven our sin has damaged our relationship with the Father. Essentially making it impossible for us to desire Him and His ways. As a result, we have rejected the Father’s way for our own way. That is what it means for us to be a sinner. It means we completely reject God and His way of doing things.
Because God is holy and loving, He must do something about sin. On the one hand, means He must destroy sin. Since we are sinners, that means we deserve to face God’s wrath. But on the other hand, God’s love and His desire for us to experience His love, drives Him to make a way for us to have a relationship with Him. He does that by sending His Son Jesus to die for us. We read about the progression from sin to God’s love in Romans 3. Starting in verse 23 Paul says,
“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.” (Ro 3:23–25a)
While we are sinners, it is God’s love, it is His mercy and grace that drives Him to give us what we don’t deserve — salvation through Jesus’ death on our behalf.
According to Romans 5:1, those who believe that Jesus is their Savior — that He died in their place, satisfying God’s wrath against them — will experience peace with God.
“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Ro 5:1)
Again, experiencing God’s love and a restored relationship with Him is made possible by God’s grace, and it is what Paul refers to as the mercies of God. Essentially, packed into that little phrase is the gospel message. It is the idea that the death of one man leads to the life of another, and that death occurs because God is gracious and merciful.
Thus, in order to experience that life, we must think about death. The death of Jesus and what that death means for us.
Christians, however, not only need to think about the death of Jesus, we must also think about our own death on a daily basis because:
Dying to Self is the Key to Worshipping God Daily (vs. Ro.12:1)
Look at the second half of verse 1. After Paul presents his appeal, he tells us what he wants us to do and why. He says we are:
“to present [our] bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is [our] spiritual worship.” (Ro 12:1)
While different sacrifices were offered in the Old Testament, they all involved death in some way or another, either the death of an animal or the death of your ability to possess the thing you offered to God.
Think about the sacrifice of a lamb. When it was handed it over to the priest, the one who handed it over didn’t expect to get it back. It was gone, quite literally. The priest not only killed it, but he also burnt it, which killed your ability to use the lamb for your own benefit.
In a similar way, that is what Paul is calling us to do. Except he isn’t calling us to offer a lamb, he’s calling us to offer ourself as a sacrifice. In other words, he’s calling us to die to self each and every day. Hence the idea Christians must think about death daily. Not physical death, but the death of self, the death of our own desire, the death of doing things our own way instead of God’s way. Commenting on dying to self, one author says,
“God does not ask us to bring in our livestock and burn it on the altar; he asks us to give ourselves, to put ourselves alive on the altar. To be a Christian means to live a life of sacrifice, a life of presentation, making a gift of ourselves to God. Some people think that all it takes to be a Christian is to scribble a cheque or to give a few hours of service here and there on special projects for the church. But that’s not what believers are called to. My life is to be set apart and consecrated to God. That is what is acceptable to him; that is what delights him; that is what pleases him; that is the appropriate response to him and for him.”
R. C. Sproul, The Gospel of God: An Exposition of Romans (Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications, 1994), 195.
When we offer ourselves as a living sacrifice, we end up worshipping God
In reality that is what it takes and means for us to worship God. It takes us dying to self. Unless we are willing to die to self, there is no way we are going to be able to live for God. That’s because our heart can’t exist in limbo. It’s either going to be devoted to one or the other. It’s either going to be given to God or to self. That’s why we must be a living sacrifice. Why we must kill self in order to worship God. But, as my father-in-law likes to say, there is just one problem with being a living sacrifice
“Living sacrifices have a habit of crawling off the altar.”
After a while, our self has a tendency to take back over. That takes place because we haven’t yet been freed from our sinful nature. As Christians, we do have the ability to follow God and not sin, but our sinful nature is there constantly pulling and tugging at us, making it difficult for us to follow God. The tension we feel as Christians to please self and follow God is not going o end until Jesus returns. Until then, we have to daily die to self so that we consistently remain on the altar as a living sacrifice.
But how? How do we daily die to self? We will discuss that in more detail next time.
Question for Reflection
Do you see the necessity for Jesus to die on your behalf?
Do you see why it is important to die to your own selfish desires?
Post developed from my sermon: Why is death important to the Christian?