Death is a Door
The question that seems to occur to many at this point concerns the actual initiation and outworking of this “abiding” relationship. Our emotional lives have been cultivated for so long that they have, as Charles Finney stated, become “tremblingly alive” to the things of the world. How is it possible to live in the spiritual realm while our emotional lives are geared to the natural? Jesus gives us the answer.
Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. John 12:24
If it die—it bringeth forth fruit. Jesus, using the analogy of a seed falling to the ground, losing its form and eventually bringing forth fruit, sets forth the spiritual principle of life from death. Death, in this case to self, represents a doorway to the spiritual relationship that is referred to as being “in Christ.” This relationship is complete when we love Jesus and keep His words. Of a man at this stage Jesus states, “My Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.” (John 14:23).
Except it die—it abideth alone. The individual who chooses to hold on and resist the world through abstinence rather than abiding is fighting a losing battle. We are simply too ill-equipped to conquer sin while abiding alone. Relationship is crucial. As Watchman Nee declares,
Abstinence is merely worldly. Yet how many earnest Christians are forsaking all sorts of worldly pleasures in the hope thereby of being delivered out of the world! You can build yourself a hermit’s hut in some remote spot and think to escape the world by retiring there, but the world will follow you … It will dog your footsteps and find you no matter where you hide. Our deliverance from the world begins, not with our giving up this or that but with our seeing, as with God’s eyes, that it is a world under sentence of death. Watchman Nee, Love Not the World (Christian Literature Crusade), pp. 40, 41.
I recall a young man several years ago caught in the grip of an intense inner struggle. Brought up in a Christian home, well versed in doctrine and blessed with a fine intellect, he was nevertheless gripped by spiritual unrest. After spending many days analyzing his situation in hopes of isolating the root of his seeming paralysis, I was on the brink of discouragement when the Lord all at once provided the answer from a most unexpected source. A few days prior, I had been reading a novel about a deadly plague ravaging the Algerian port of Oran. Near the end of the story, the author described the ordeal of one particular man who contracted the plague after working tirelessly as a volunteer in the overloaded hospital. He was stricken at a time when it appeared the plague had passed. The account of his struggle to prevent the plague from claiming him as one of its final victims created a poignant drama.
I looked at my friend as the Lord brought the story to my mind and said, “Jerry, you’re resisting the Divine Plague! You’ve been fighting tenaciously to hang on to your life, and God wants you to let it go. He wants you to succumb, Jerry … to die!” As long as you fight to retain control of your life, He is unable to possess you and perform all these things you have been asking Him to do in you and through you. I realize it’s terrifying to feel the reins of your life slipping from your hands. Death is never easy because it is veiled on the side of the living, and we just don’t know what’s to become of us.
Until we all are prepared to yield completely, God will faithfully trouble us, as Malcolm Muggeridge suggests in his book Jesus Rediscovered.
God comes padding after me like a Hound of Heaven. His shadow falls over all my little picnics in the sunshine, chilling the air; draining viands of their flavor, talk of its sparkle, desire of its zest … one shivers as the divine beast of prey gets ready for the final spring; as the shadow lengthens, reducing to infinite triviality all mortal hopes and desires. Malcolm Muggeridge, Jesus Rediscovered (Tyndale), pp. 45, 46.
We hang on to our lives tightly because we are afraid of what we will lose should we let them go. This fact is in itself revealing. It shows us what we are really living for. As we waver over the conscious and the tangible, it reveals a short-sighted desire for the immediate. Like the children of Israel seeking a “table in the wilderness,” we ask, “Can God provide flesh for His people?”
We find out soon enough that God will give us our own desire. Down it comes, flesh, the tangible something we can sink our teeth into, the immediate. Delighted with our circumstance we “fill” ourselves with that which will never fill us. But in time the euphoria is gone. We discover that the “immediate” looks less real all the time.
We are all, in a sense, like thirsty desert wanderers. It is natural for us to jump at the first “sighting” of desperately needed water. But the wise man will not run after it long. He will not fail to notice that the water which he had spotted and with which he sought to quench his thirst is keeping its fair distance no matter how much ground he covers. Yet today so many are actually increasing the thirst they seek to quench by continually rushing after mirages. Jesus said:
He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it. Matthew 10:39
God is not attempting to strip away our dreams and ambitions altogether. He is merely trying to encourage us toward that which will really satisfy. He encourages those who “hunger and thirst after righteousness” that “they shall be filled.” We hear the voice of God across the desert, “Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters ….” (Isaiah 55:1). The man who “loses” his life doesn’t die in the desert chasing mirages, but discovers out of the somewhat frightening, trembling expiration of self, a new, inner oasis.
But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life. John 4:14
Those who will release themselves utterly into the hands of God will discover a sense of abandonment to the things that previously occupied their hearts. It’s at once a feeling of near weightless relief, after the pressure of managing our own affairs is dispensed with, and a sense of being borne up into the heavenlies where life suddenly takes on brand new perspective. We are freed from the burden of governing our own affairs that we might focus our attention on the King’s business. Although the process of giving ourselves wholly to God involves giving up our sin as a first step, the matter by no means ends at this point. There is also an emptying involved that drains out all ostensible rights. He will take rightful but loving control over every area of our lives; mere confession of sin is not enough. He does not want us to give up our sins and keep ourselves, He wants us to give up the whole package.
The Christian way is different: harder and easier. Christ says ‘Give Me all. I don’t want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want you. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it.’ C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (Macmillan), p. 167.
Not yielding up to God what is rightfully His, Fenelon calls “sacrilegious theft.” We might even venture to say that holding on to our rights amounts, in effect, to spiritual suicide.