Out With Death
Many years ago, the Biola University campus was configured a bit differently than it is today. When I initially attended Talbot Seminary, part of Biola, the campus bookstore used to be located in the same building with the anthropology department. My wife, Wendi, studied human anatomy there during her nursing program. They used cadavers in their lab. Though I never entered her classroom, I was familiar with the stench, which permeated the building. Each time I approached the bookstore, I was reminded of the dead bodies in the building. It was the unmistakable smell of formaldehyde. That was the chemical they obviously used to keep the remains as fresh and lifelike as possible, for research purposes and to keep them from smelling a lot worse!
One can soak a corpse in formaldehyde, or even dress it up and apply make-up, but eventually the stench of death identifies it for what it really is. Death becomes an obvious condition after a while. Unfortunately, death is a universal human condition. That may seem like a no-brainer since we all die. Right? But that’s not what I mean. The fact is, death is a universal condition as of the moment we are born. What often follows is an existence of dressing it up to appear lifelike. We soak in all kinds of things to mask the evidence of death, however there is a stench that will eventually be unavoidable.
The Apostle Paul says in Colossians 2:13, “And you, who were dead in your trespasses…” (ESV). In other words, it is a forgone conclusion that if you are a human, you are (or were) among the walking dead. You may have had the appearance of life, but the life-giving connection to the Giver of life had been broken. That separation caused death, from the fruit-eating incident in the Garden forward. Humanity’s disconnect from God meant certain and universal death. The smell of death is caused by sin.
There are healthy and unhealthy ways of dealing with the problem of deadly sin. The human reaction is to pull oneself out of the situation by attempting to overcome through personal effort. Dead people don’t have much success in reviving themselves. Have you noticed? But nonetheless, they try through keeping the rules, legalism, religion, etc. Paul says these things “…have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom …but are of no value against fleshly indulgence” (Colossians 2:23).
It’s human nature to try to impress God. God is simply not impressed with our efforts to impress Him. It is even common with those who have come to Christ and already been made alive. He has paid for our sins with the ultimate payment and should be deeply insulted by our efforts to demonstrate what perfect Christians we are. The need to feel perfect by one’s own effort can prove deadly to an effective walk and witness for Him. The following illustrates:
Teenager Caroline McDonald of Virginia found a two-headed turtle behind her home. She said the two heads did a tug-of-war over a piece of meat she was feeding them. According to scientists, two-headedness can occur in all animals but the survival rate is short. The reason is that each head tends to work independently of the other, controlling its own side of the body, creating disunity, confusion, and frustration.
One cannot say that Christ is the Head and then demand compliance with the Law for salvation. Jesus will not try to compete with a second head in your life. It will end in disunity, confusion and frustration.
There’s nothing wrong with spiritual discipline. That’s not the point. Paul was not reviling the action of doing the right thing, but the attitude. Spiritual disciplines are helpful if—and only if—the attitude that accompanies them is one of true, not false, humility. It is an attitude that requires no human recognition for its noble actions. Our perfection—our life—is found only in Christ.
“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.’” — John 14:6