Years ago, I remember crying out to God. So deflated, I felt I had utterly failed the Lord. I lamented, “Oh Lord, I have failed as a husband, a father, and as a Christian. I give up, Lord!” And then He said, “Okay, now we can begin.” Peace came pouring into my soul. He was waiting for me to give up. And so when Ben wrote and asked me, “I keep failing. I’ve been a Christian for over 10 years now. When will I start improving? How can I improve my walk with the Lord?” I recalled that night. I don’t recall what had brought me to despair, only that freedom came. I know Ben. He prays, reads his Bible, and tells others about Jesus. This isn’t about improving.
I cannot find the word "improve" in my Bible at all! My concordance doesn’t have that word in it. I don’t even see any command to start doing "better." Ben wants what we all want; to walk in victory, excited about our relationship with God. But the answer isn’t in improving.
From all I can tell, Ben, God doesn’t want to improve you. He wants you to die.
Stop trying to become “the best Ben that you can be.” You have to die. We all do. It’s not about shortening our time on earth, either. We are to "reckon ourselves dead." That reckon doesn't mean saying, "I know I'm alive, but doctrinally I'm supposed act like I’m dead." It actually means that we have died, and we need to recognize that constantly. We are to live knowing that our selves have died. Only then can we live victoriously in Christ.
“In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.”
In older English translations of the Bible, “count yourself” is termed “reckon yourself.”
“The wages of sin is death.” That death occurred when Adam sinned. The only way to end this bondage to sin, is to die. We don't improve ourselves away from sinfulness and into a holy state. The secret of freedom from this bondage to sin, which weighs down the soul, is death.
"Thank you Tom, you are such a help!!!"
Oh, don't thank me! I have also “sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” I have to die too. The thing is, I did die. And here is good news for all of us who are in Jesus. When we believed in Christ, we were crucified with Christ. (Romans 6:2) We died to sin. Yes, Jesus is the one who suffered, and paid the penalty for our sin. Just as we were with Adam when he turned from God, we were also crucified with Christ and reconciled to God. You may look human, but if you are in Christ, you died, and now you are a new creature in God’s eyes. And it is His opinion that defines who we are. As the Apostle Paul writes,
"All we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death."
In 2 Corinthians 5:14 we read that:
"One died for all, therefore all died."
We were crucified the day that He was crucified. The cross took us from our identification with fallen Adam, and put us into the life of the risen Christ. I have died, and I must reckon that to be so. I must reckon it to be, if I am to fully enjoy this "new life" that God wants me to have.
Improving is for while we are on Earth. In order to function with these destined-to-perish bodies in this destined-to-perish world, we have to improve our abilities. This world is not the Garden of Eden, and we need to train ourselves to live here. God doesn't need to command us to improve ourselves here on Earth. We’d starve if we didn’t improve. He does want that we receive the fullness of the life that is indestructible and incorruptible. That life isn’t achieved through improvement. It is a gift that we inherit, after we’ve died. The good news is, we’ve already died.
Our minds cannot imagine Heaven. Once connected with God's spirit, our spirits can see, though somewhat imperfectly, that there is an awesome spiritual realm that we are already connected with and that is our inheritance. We tend to falter I think, when we try and visualize it, rather than to be content knowing that it is beyond our imagination, and simply trust God that it is wonderful.
“…No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” but God has revealed it to us by His Spirit.”
1 Corinthians 2:9, 10a
When I have thought of what Heaven will be like, I take what little imagery that the Bible offers us; the streets of gold, the crystal sea, the throne of God, always light, etc. and I picture myself walking past the pearly gates and down those streets. And when I visualize it I see myself there. Oh, mind you I'm buffer and have this really good hair. But I still see Tom. I also see this “improved” Tom, banqueting at the great wedding feast. Since 1985, I have been on a no cholesterol diet. Guess what I see on that table. After 22 years on this diet, pray now that on that great and glorious day; you are not seated between me, and the manicotti!
But in Heaven we won’t be just “improved” us. Just as an oak tree doesn't look anything like an acorn, so when we have finally shed our earthly bodies and have gone to Heaven, we will receive our incorruptible bodies. I won't just be a taller Tom, with tighter abs. In fact, I cannot fathom what I’m becoming. I just know that the day is coming. And I can rest assured. God so far, has blessed me, much more than I could have ever hoped for or imagined. And so I trust, that Heaven will be better than I am imagining. Meanwhile, I need to hit the gym.
Our bodies are dying, and there is this time factor, different for each of us, though the death is certain. With our spirits however, that death has already occurred. We personally have to recognize that we are dead to our sinful selves, in order for our new lives to be experienced on a regular basis. We, in Christ, were crucified on that cross. Sin died on that cross.
Watchman Nee, in his book, "The Normal Christian Life," talks about how seeing this truth changed his life. One morning he was reading his Bible and understood. He writes:
"I saw that I was in Him, (Jesus) and that when He died I died. I saw that the question of my death was a matter of the past and not of the future and that I was just as truly dead as He was because I was in Him when He died. The whole thing had dawned upon me. I was carried away with such joy at this great discovery that I jumped from my chair and cried, "Praise the Lord, I am dead!"
Our death is a wonderful truth. When we try and improve ourselves out of sin and improve ourselves to be fit for heaven, we are like an apple seed that is trying to bear an apple. No, apple seeds must die, which allows a tree to grow, and fruit just appears. If we reckon ourselves dead, we no longer try and produce some kind of heavenly being that we are imagining. "Ah, there I go now, walking uptown, so holy! People can almost see my halo as I pat little children on the head, and sinners rent their clothes, crying "Brother Tom, what must I do to be saved!?!?" And as I pass by the crowd, I hear things like, “I can see now!” Oh, and there's all these furry woodland creatures following me. Kewl!
Oh, sorry, there I go, imagining again! Gag! How embarrassing! Don't tell anyone I was actually thinking that, okay? I died. I'm Tom, and I have died and have been buried with Christ, and apparently, I rose from the dead with Him, and though I'm writing this from my desk, I'm actually told by a more reliable source, that I am “seated in heavenly places.” (Ephesians 2:6) You see I am also to reckon myself, raised with Jesus, in His resurrection. If I can just continue to recognize myself dead to sin, crucified on that cross, then arisen with Christ and now seated with Him in the heavenly places, I won’t live the same way while on Earth. I will bear fruit that will last. I need not know what that fruit will look like.
Instead of improving, which the Bible doesn't seem to think possible (outside of maybe swimming lessons and PBS cooking shows), we need to just know that we have died.
Dead people don’t get insulted when people pass them by. Trying to tempt a corpse just kind of looks ridiculous. And dead people don’t mind being slandered or gossiped about or pick pocketed, etc. In fact, those who are dead and who are raised with Christ, are seated in heavenly places. It’s harder to fret down here, when you are really seated up there. You know?
So, cheer up Ben! You died!!!
“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.”