It’s a matter of life and death. Whether or not a cancer is detected quickly enough. Whether or not an ambulance arrives quickly enough after a heart attack. Whether or not a family has a mosquito net and knows how to use it. Whether a child has had their Polio vaccine. Whether or not a peace is negotiated in Syria or Iraq. These are all matters of life and death. They are serious, and weighty and are worthy of our thinking, praying, and talking together.
The readings we’ve had today claim that Christian faith is also a matter of life and death. They place the decisions we make about whether or not we follow Jesus faithfully in the same category as the subjects I’ve just listed. It is serious stuff, worth us taking some time to think about, pray about, talk about. We are born, we live, and we die. When our bodies die our souls will have an encounter with God. During that meeting we will be judged. Those who are accepted by God will be raised to life in a new physical body, and will live perfectly with God in eternity. Those who are not accepted by God will be separated from the source of all life and will die finally, for ever.
Our acceptability to God depends entirely on Jesus. Without Jesus, no one would be able to be acceptable to God. We have all sinned, we have all made a mess of our lives, we have all rebelled against God and refused to live in the love that God calls us to. The good news for us is that God wants us to join in eternity. So Jesus came to provide a way for us to be acceptable to God. In his death and resurrection he dealt with all the things that separate us from God, and made us acceptable to God, if we choose to be.
Those of us who have decided to believe this, and have decided to follow Jesus, have already been accepted by God, we have been adopted as God’s children, we have been made part of the family. We have been given the Holy Spirit as a guarantee of this, as a deposit on account in our lives.
In the passages that we have heard read this morning Paul and Jesus both build on these basic foundations and explore what it means to live life like these things are actually true. If these things really are matters of life and death, then they should make a difference in our lives – but what difference does it make to our lives now?
Jesus and Paul both give us some pointers.
Firstly, Jesus tells his followers to expect persecution. When Jesus was on earth his teaching and way of life offended some people and upset other people so much that they killed him. If this was true of the master, then it is likely to be true for us, if we are living in the way that he lived.
As examples, our insistence on being honest in our workplaces might make us unpopular with our colleagues who are looking to cut corners or not be honest in their dealings with customers, suppliers, managers, or workers. Or, our refusal to join in the gossip at the day centre might be seen by others as being “holier than thou”. Today for Christians all over the world , especially in places like Syria, Sudan, and North Korea, following Jesus can be a death sentence.
Secondly, Jesus tells his followers not to be afraid of those who persecute us for being faithful to Jesus. Even those who have the authority to take our lives, or to make our lives miserable, cannot touch our souls. They are kept safe by God.
Thirdly, Jesus tells us to be faithful in acknowledging Jesus as the Lord of our lives. The examples of relationships that Jesus gives us that this might effect can be difficult to hear. I know families that have been torn apart, families in which parents have disowned children because they have become Christians, families were children have refused to celebrate Christmas with their parents because they are not Christians. Jesus is not saying that every family relationship must be broken if someone is going to follow Jesus. What he is saying is that a decision to follow Jesus can damage family relationships, and that if push comes to shove, our relationship with Jesus must come first. This is a vivid practical example of what it means to live in the reality of death and resurrection.
We should expect to be hurt for the sake of our faith, we should not fear those who hurt us, and we should remain faithful to Jesus. We can do this because we know that in the end, we will live in fullness of life with God for eternity.
Paul also gives us some pointers as to what this means practically. He says that we should “consider ourselves dead to sin”. We know that in our baptism we were joined with Christ in his defeat of sin and the death that is the consequence of sin. We know that in the future we will be raised to life with Jesus, just as he was raised to life. We live between these two realities.
It can still seem like sin is a living reality in our lives. We still live in a broken world, where we find ourselves in situations where we end up doing or saying things that we know we shouldn’t/ That we maybe don’t even want to. We know that in God’s grace, there is forgiveness for these times, but there is also a call to live in the reality of Jesus’ defeat of sin, in preparation for our life with him. We must consider ourselves as dead to sin. When we consider ourselves as dead to someone or something, what does this mean. It means we don’t talk with them, we avoid the places they might be, we don’t think about them, we shun them. This is how we are to treat sin.
Let’s take a few sins as examples.
What about using pornography – how might we consider ourselves dead to that sin? We can avoid using computers in private. We can have a trusted friend who asks us about our internet habits and has access to our browsing history. We can avoid going to the shops in which we have been in the habit of buying the magazines.
What about lying – how might we consider ourselves dead to that sin? We can make a decision to be honest with ourselves, and others, even in the little things. When we catch ourselves in an exaggeration to make our stories sound more impressive, or a minimisation that avoids us looking bad, we can make it right immediately by apologising and telling the truth.
I could go on, but I think that you get the idea. You will know what the sins that you continue to struggle with are, and if you don’t, then your spouse, children, and friends might be able to see them.
This is not to make us all feel bad, or guilty and condemned, but actually the exact opposite. It is when we see our sinfulness clearly that we can ask the Holy Spirit to work in our lives and to help us consider ourselves dead to that sin. And as we consider ourselves dead to that sin, it’s influence over our lives will reduce, and we will become dead to it, and more alive to Jesus. Because Jesus, by dying on the cross and being raised to live has defeated sin. In eternity we will live sinless lives, that is what we have been promised. In the meantime Jesus calls us to begin the process of living less and less sinful lives and to live more and more holy lives so that we might start to experience heaven, and may be a sign of heaven to others.
You see, it’s a matter of life and death. Not just our life and death but the life and death of our friends, families, work colleagues, and neighbours. That is why we should think about it carefully, pray about it, and talk about it. This is why we should tell it in the light and proclaim it from the rooftops. The Kingdom of God is near, Jesus is Lord, and it’s a matter of life and death.